CARSON, Calif. – Among the SuperClasico's greatest figures is Ante Razov, Chivas USA's all-time goals leader, who spearheaded the group that, under Bob Bradley and then Preki, led the Goats to their greatest successes, including a Western Conference regular-season title and its first three playoff berths.
He scored six goals in nine Chivas outings against the LA Galaxy over three seasons, including both strikes in a 2-1 triumph in June 2006, the first time the Goats beat their landlords at the Home Depot Center.
Razov started his pro career with the Galaxy but saw action in only 11 league games, including four starts during the 1996 MLS Cup playoffs. He now serves as head coach of LA's U-14 academy team, so his allegiances have shifted since he played his last game for Chivas in 2008.
He's keenly aware, though, of the club's struggles under shifting management in the four years since his final appearance in red and white.
“It's obvious there's been a lot of things going on over at Chivas,” he said. “It's known and documented. ... I think some of [what was special about the rivalry] has been lost with all that has gone on over at Chivas. ... Life goes on. They are what they are. I don't really have anything to say about them.”
Razov, who is from Southern California and starred at UCLA, has plenty to say about playing in the Clasico and what it meant to Chivas as they rebuilt into one of the league's best teams after a horrendous inaugural campaign in 2005.
“You had a team that obviously struggled and had done very little for itself [in the first year], and so for a year, a year-and-a-half, [it was about] trying to put yourself among the big boys and have a chance at some of the more important games, and it was quite fun,” he said. “It became a game of two rivals in the same building and a team that we have put together there in 2006 just wanting to show we could play some decent soccer.”
Chivas finished ahead of the Galaxy in 2006 (and in 2007 and 2008, too), but they didn't win the season series until the next year, when they twice beat LA by 3-0 scorelines – and might have gone on to win MLS Cup had Razov and fellow forward Maykel Galindo not gotten hurt down the stretch.
Beating LA for the first time “kind of gave [the SuperClasico] something,” Razov said. “Regardless of how close you are, in terms of distance, it's not a rivalry until both sides are [competitive], so the first year there was nothing. It was nice to get in there and mix it up with the Galaxy, and then they brought over David [Beckham], and that certainly brings more hype to it.
“There were some fun games, some intense games, and so for a year or two we were able to get in there, make some noise and win a couple. It brought about a different feel than most games in the league, and there were some good moments there.”
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Only Galaxy forward Landon Donovan, with 11 in eight seasons, has scored more SuperClasico goals than Razov, who says he “probably scored some of the best goals I've ever scored in my life in some of those Clasicos.”
Like the “volley I hit first time out of the air that probably would have knocked [Galaxy goalkeeper] Kevin Hartman's head off if it had hit him. I've never hit a ball harder than that.” Or another eye-popper that bent drastically en route to the net.
Some of the best fun was just seeing the other guys around the HDC – and around town.
“A lot of guys [on both teams] lived down in the South Bay,” Razov said. “It'd actually be pretty funny: There'd be a coffeeshop, and you'd have four or five, six players, a couple from each team, drinking coffee in the afternoon. You'd see the guys, be friends with a lot of those guys. Good banter and good intensity, and you always want to beat your friend on the field. A lot of that played into it.”
His pick for Sunday's first encounter of the season?
“Having seen the teams play” he said, “games can go either way. But I think the Galaxy is still the team to beat and will be there again.”