It's Heineken Rivalry Week in MLS. To kick things off, we've got the LA Galaxy versus the San Jose Earthquakes on Friday night at Dignity Health Sports Park (10:30 pm ET | ESPN2).

The California rivals have found varying degrees of success this year, with the Galaxy third in the Western Conference standings and San Jose sitting ninth, though just a point off the final playoff place. Whenever these two meet, there's always big hype.

Here's how both clubs have gotten here in 2021.

Greg Vanney's French revolution

Let's roll Greg Vanney's appointment as head coach and the club's 2021 transfer strategy into one bigger blurb because they're connected.

When Vanney took over this winter, many assumed this was a project, not a quick fix. The Galaxy have struggled mightily in recent years, save for Zlatan Ibrahimovic dragging them to the playoffs and even a Round One victory in 2019. Vanney even used the phrase "I'm a builder" a few times during his early post-Toronto FC days, signaling the long-term nature of his vision in Los Angeles.

In short order, LA have become not only competitive but a force hoping to lock down a home playoff game in a combative Western Conference. Vanney taking the job is the most important reason why the club have rebounded so quickly, getting better performances from incumbent players both young and not-so-young. But the front office has also hit on most of their additions this winter. And a number of them came from France's top two divisions.

The Galaxy acquired Kevin Cabral as a young DP, Samuel Grandsir on a TAM deal, and then Sega Coulibaly and Rayan Raveloson from the top two divisions in France. Those are four players who seem to be first-choice starters when everyone is fit. Sacre Bleu!

Vanney's French revolution has been successful, while fellow new signings Jonathan Bond, Derrick Williams and Victor Vazquez have all added to a really strong Primary Transfer Window.

A hugely respected and successful coach with a strong offseason is a formula for good things.

Advertising

Chicharito is BACK ...

I mean, this one is too easy. Quite obviously one of the Galaxy's defining moments this season is Chicharito proving that 2020 was a blip and that he's reverted to a form that more closely resembles the entirety of his career at six other clubs. He scores goals. You knew this. These are simple thoughts. But worth saying nonetheless.

Chicharito has scored 10 goals in his 10 games played this season, helping lead the Galaxy to valuable early-season points as Vanney's ethos was being instilled and new signings arrived later than hoped with visa/travel complications brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. He was a Landon Donovan MLS MVP candidate at the time of his injury, one of the very best stories in the league ...

And still gaining points when Chicharito is injured

... but he's missed the Galaxy's last 10 games. He won't play tonight either, ensuring that the Mexican legend will have missed more games this year than he's played. This is wildly unfortunate considering the form he was in and the narrative that was building.

The Galaxy struggled in their first five games without him, winning just once, with three of those games coming against teams currently below the playoff line. They've gone 3-1-1 in their last five, with their only loss coming against the Colorado Rapids on Tuesday.

The on-field product is unmistakably a Vanney team now, with more and more games coming to evolve. It also comes down to elevated form from Cabral, playing through the center at first then on the wing to compliment U22 initiative signing Dejan Joveljic. They're floating on without their best player and goalscoring force.

Cade Cowell's breakout season

Cade Cowell didn't come out of nowhere.

He was a big-time US youth international prospect, one who signed his first professional deal with the Quakes at age 15 and provided great excitement during limited cameos in 2020.

Still, Cowell exploded onto the national scene with a handful of huge performances to start 2021. He had two goals and three assists in San Jose's first three games, winning MLS Player of the Week and proving – at just 17 years old, mind you — that he's ready for the spotlight and consistent minutes.

Cowell has four goals and four assists in 19 appearances (13 starts) this year, playing in all but one of San Jose's games. He's even an MLS All-Star. Enjoy the ascension.

Advertising

Cade Cowell - April 2021 - San Jose

Win at Seattle to stop winless run

Traveling to Seattle to face the (at the time) league-leading Sounders, the Quakes were mired in an 11-game winless run and cratered well below the playoff line. Behind a goal from Cristian Espinoza, San Jose earned a momentum-swinging 1-0 win.

The last four games of the winless run were draws, and they still haven't lost since, so they spun a winless streak into an unbeaten streak, up to nine games now (though seven have been draws, to be fair). They have pulled within a point of seventh-place Portland.

The fight for the playoffs out West is going to be a lawless free-for-all, with fifth place (Real Salt Lake) and 11th place (Vancouver Whitecaps FC) separated by just seven points. Three spots for seven teams.

Change in the front office

San Jose parted ways with GM Jesse Fioranelli on June 29. Normally, a midseason front office change doesn't mean a ton for the day-to-day ongoings of the first team in the immediate short term – unlike, say, a coaching change – and particularly so given there were only a few weeks left in the transfer window.

How much leeway was technical director Chris Leitch going to receive as the club opened their search for a new chief soccer officer? Was he going to be granted proper resources to hopefully change course for the season? Or were they going to save assets until a new CSO was hired?

We got our answer on deadline day, when the Quakes officially acquired forward Jeremy Ebobisse from Portland in a blockbuster trade for $1.167 million in General Allocation Money. To boot, Paul Tenorio of The Athletic reported the expectation was Ebobisse would sign a new contract.

Ebobisse is yet to score in three appearances with his new club, but the Quakes are unbeaten in those matches. They have their No. 9, an MLS-proven one at that.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising