CARSON, Calif. — When the MLS schedule was released, the first SuperClásico of 2011 may not have been one of the more anticipated fixtures of the first part of the campaign.
While the rivalry between the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA typically feature energetic crowds, the games themselves have not matched the atmosphere. With Chivas USA coming off an 18-loss season in 2010, the first SuperClásico this year (Saturday, 10 pm ET, ESPN2/Deportes) looked like it would feature a table-topping Galaxy against a bottom-feeding Rojiblancos.
But that’s not the case.
Both Home Depot Center residents have been on a tear of late. Since the beginning of April, neither team has lost more than one game as the two have combined for a 7-2-7 record. The Galaxy are topping the table entering the match and the Goats, with a win, could climb into fourth place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
"In my opinion, this is arguably the hottest team in the league we're playing right now," Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said.
Donovan sees similarities between this year's Rojiblancos — who missed the MLS Cup Playoffs last season — and the LA team that went from also-ran in 2008 to Supporters' Shield contenders the next year, and winners in 2010.
"When we all saw Robin [Fraser] got appointed [as Chivas USA head coach], we knew it was just a matter of time before they started at least playing collectively and as a team," Donovan said. "It reminds me of the way we started to turn things around when Bruce [Arena] got here [in 2008].
“They have an identity now. They're getting pieces that they want that fit into the way they want to play. They play as a team, they're committed and they're starting to believe in themselves."
The Rojiblancos indeed believe in themselves, but their most recent victory also made believers out of others around the league. Justin Braun's hat trick propelled Chivas USA to a 3-2 upset of New York at Red Bull Arena last Sunday.
"It's not easy to go over and win, with the type of squad [New York] has," Galaxy forward Juan Pablo Ángel said. "It's a good message they've sent to the league: We're here, we're playing well and getting results."
The Galaxy, though, have sent plenty of messages over the years to their in-stadium rivals. Carrying a 12-3-5 all-time record against Chivas USA — plus victories in the 2009 MLS Cup Playoffs and the 2005 US Open Cup — Galaxy players seemingly have always put a little extra emphasis on the SuperClásico.
“[It means] a hell of a lot,” Galaxy midfielder David Beckham said about the upcoming derby. “At the end of the day, it's just another game, it's another three points that we want to get, but when we're talking about rivalries, it's not just another game. You want to win these games.”
Dealing with confidence, though, is something Galaxy players have handled in the past. Chivas USA’s last victory over their cross-hall rivals was in 2007, but Galaxy players have done well to protect against overconfidence and it’s just something else the team will have to deal with before Saturday.
“Psychologically, you could say we have the advantage but I think the way they've played the last couple of weeks would give them some confidence for sure," Donovan said. "A lot of the players don't know what's happened in the past and they'll play fearless on Saturday."