After laboriously crawling over the finish line of disappointing seasons in 2018 — to varying degrees — California rivals LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes knew widespread changes were necessary.
Both clubs let go of their managers toward the end of the campaign, in which the Galaxy again missed the playoffs and Earthquakes finished bottom of the league. LA misused a 22g/10a debut season from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while the Quakes endured a cacophony of misery, including legend Chris Wondolowski publicly saying he'd be gone if it wasn't for the fans, and adding "I don't know how" they stuck by the club.
Each rival turned to an Argentinian coach to help change course.
In October, the Quakes hired Matias Almeyda, a charismatic manager best known for his time on the sidelines at River Plate and Chivas Guadalajara, as well as his unique man-marking system. A few months later, the Galaxy hired Guillermo Barros Schelotto, a former MLS MVP best known for his time on the sidelines with Boca Juniors and Lanus, as well as his ability to manage big personalities and handle young players.
Both have paid immediate dividends.
Now the pair will manage against each other for the first time in MLS play on Saturday (10 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada) as Schelotto's Galaxy travels to face Almeyda's Quakes in the first California Clasico of 2019.
How did we get here?
Almeyda | Courtesy San Jose Earthquakes
When Almeyda was appointed, many assumed the Quakes revival required patience. After all, he had to install a brand new system that none of the incumbent players had any familiarity with, with minimal flexibility in the transfer market. A few reinforcements were on the way, but Almeyda wouldn't have a squad truly in his image for multiple transfer windows.
Four games into 2019, with four straight losses and a minus-12 goal difference, that conventional wisdom held true. Then something funny happened: The Quakes got good fast. Since, they've ripped off a record of 6W-2L-4D and climbed from the bottom of the table and above the playoff line into sixth in the Western Conference.
After making just a handful of signings in the winter, another one is already official for the summer. Carlos Fierro will join the squad soon while Andres Rios is heavily linked to be the club's second acquisition of the window.
With minimal turnover in San Jose in the offseason, though, Almeyda's 2019 success has been a case study in maximizing assets. Tommy Thompson, moved from the midfield to right back, has been a revelation. Shea Salinas, able to play his natural position on the wing, set a career-high in goals by April. Jackson Yueill, given the chance at consistent playing time, earned a call-up to the US national team. Still, one can only wonder what the roster might look like after a few transfer windows.
Schelotto | USA Today Sports Images
Schelotto, meanwhile, has led an ever-changing Galaxy squad to second in the Western Conference. He had to deal with the Giovani dos Santos saga this winter, everything that comes with the Zlatan Ibrahimovic Experience as well as key players going out (dos Santos, Ola Kamara) and coming in (Diego Polenta, Joe Corona, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Uriel Antuna and more). General manager Dennis te Kloese has repeatedly said how invaluable Schelotto's knowledge and contacts have been in that process.
He has also helped open the pathway for young players, as Julian Araujo, Diedie Traore, Efra Alvarez and Ethan Zubak have gotten chances in the first team.
Schelotto has navigated this season with more stability than the Galaxy have had in recent years and are on course for the playoffs. Having Ibrahimovic doesn't hurt, but not all managers can handle everything that comes with it.
He also didn't inherit the greatest roster compilation, something te Kloese helped turnover immediately. The Galaxy haven't particularly reached their peak with their squad but have picked up results nonetheless. What will the Galaxy look when they hit full form?
Both managers have made profound impacts on their new teams just months into the gig. Here's hoping this weekend's Cali Clasico is the first chapter of many installments of the Argentinian flair to this rivalry.