It has become the best rivalry in Major League Soccer, and after last season's dramatic playoff performance, the battle between California's two MLS teams promises to be even more heated this season. The San Jose Earthquakes host the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday at Spartan Stadium at 7:00 p.m. in the first meeting of 2004 between the clubs.
Throughout the previous nine years the series has often tipped in the Galaxy's favor, with Los Angeles owning an 18-8-4 overall regular season record vs. San Jose. But it is the Quakes who have won the two most important games the team's have played, downing L.A. 2-1 in overtime in the 2001 MLS Cup Championship and then eliminating the Galaxy from the 2003 playoffs in a dramatic 5-4 aggregate goal win that has been called the "greatest MLS game of all-time."
All that history, however, will not mean anything once the game begins according to San Jose captain Jeff Agoos.
"It is a new season," Agoos said. "What happened last year isn't going to affect this game. This is a new start for both teams. That said, it always is a really tough and physical game against L.A. There is a history between these teams, and that always makes for a great game."
The reigning MLS Player of the Week, Pat Onstad believes that the Earthquakes unbelievable comeback against the Galaxy in last season's playoffs that saw them recover from a seemingly insurmountable 4-0 aggregate goal hole will be something Los Angeles might think about.
"I am sure that is one thing on their mind," Onstad said. "But for us, we need to stay focused on the way we have been playing and just continue to do the things that we have been doing well recently."
Onstad will be forced to lead a Quakes team that has been hard-hit by injuries. San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear will be forced to make even more adjustments to the lineup that pulled out a 2-1 win in Dallas as Chris Brown will miss Saturday's match with a sprained ankle and Ronnie Ekelund will not play due to a neck infection.
"Thank God we drafted a lot of people this year," Kinnear joked after practice on Friday at Spartan Stadium. "But, when guys have gone and people have been given the opportunity, they have responded."
In addition to Brown and Ekelund missing Saturday's game, the Quakes will be without Troy Dayak (upper back strain), Todd Dunivant (left quadriceps strain), Eddie Robinson (right hamstring surgery) and Chris Roner (right ankle surgery). Jamil Walker (right ankle sprain) and Craig Waibel (right groin strain) are also struggling with injuries.
"Since I have been here, it never seems like we play with the same eleven guys week in and week out," Onstad said. "That doesn't seem to matter here though. Everyone knows the system and knows their role, and I don't see it being a problem."
For the second straight week, the defense in front of Onstad will likely be made up of Wes Hart, Jeff Agoos, Ramiro Corrales and rookie Ryan Cochrane, who made his MLS debut last week against Dallas. Injuries will force Kinnear to shuffle the midfield, with a combination of Brian Mullan, Landon Donovan, Richard Mulrooney and Ian Russell likely. Dwayne De Rosario and Brian Ching are probably set to start at forward.
While injuries have forced the Quakes to change, Sigi Schmid's Galaxy lineup has been completely overhauled due to injuries. The Galaxy's leading scorer Carlos Ruiz will miss the game with a sprained right ankle, as will Tyrone Marshall, Danny Califf, Peter Vagenas and Jovan Kirovski.
The injuries didn't appear to slow L.A. down, however in a 4-2 win over D.C. United on Wednesday when Alejandro Moreno scored three goals aided by first-year MLS player Andreas Herzog's three assists.
"I think over the past two years, the Galaxy have really depended on Ruiz for just about everything," Kinnear said about the revamped Galaxy team. "This year, you can see that is not the case. They have Kirovski up front, and I think that Herzog is the key for them. He can just make that killer pass. If you give him space, he will be able to put through that pass that will free someone up. He is a good player."
With familiar Galaxy faces like Kevin Hartman and Sasha Victorine attempting to keep Los Angeles in first place, Herzog adds a new dimension to the on-going rivalry between the top two teams in the west.
"It is going to be a really good game," Agoos said. "It always is between these teams. Because of the proximity and the history, these two teams always come to play and it is going to be tough."