For Schelotto, meeting Almeyda takes backseat to pomp of Cali Clasico

Guillermo Barros Schelotto - square on shot - Galaxy

CARSON, Calif. — Guillermo Barros Schelotto has crossed paths often with Matias Almeyda over the past two decades, as rival midfielders, teammates with Argentina's national team, and later as coaches in one of the country's bigger rivalries.

They'll hook up again Saturday, when Schelotto leads the LA Galaxy into a California Clasico faceoff with Almeyda's San Jose Earthquakes squad at Stanford Stadium (10 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+, MLS LIVE on DAZN). And Schelotto knows that's among the bigger storylines — in MLS and among Argentine media — heading into a vital Western Conference showdown.

He just doesn't necessarily care.

“Just I am thinking about the derby,” Schelotto told following LA's training session Wednesday at Dignity Health Sports Park. “I am thinking about the three points; it's very important for us for the future. Not that we are playing with Matias.”

Schelotto is just seven-and-a-half months older than Almeyda, and their career timelines nearly match up perfectly. They've battled as players — Schelotto with hometown club Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata and Almeyda with River Plate — and as coaches of archrival clubs near Buenos Aires. Yet they maintain a warm relationship.

“We're not [close friends], because it was just national team, we share the locker [room],” Schelotto said, “but we did get along, and we [have a] very good relationship.”

Both began their playing careers in 1991, reached their greatest heights after moves to greater pastures — Schelotto to Boca Juniors, Almeyda to Spain and Italy — began their national team careers around the same time, returned to their original clubs as their careers neared their ends, retired in 2011, and began coaching shortly afterward.

Almeyda's career, with two World Cups and nine seasons in Europe, shined a bit more brightly than Schelotto's.

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“He was like a chief,” Schelotto said. “He liked to organize the team around him. He played with big players ... . He organized the defense to give possibility for attack, and he was very organized. ... He had a really good career.”

They dueled as coaches twice in Argentina, in 2015 when Schelotto was in charge at Lanus and Almeyda at Banfield. Both won on the road: Lanus 2-1 in April, Banfield 1-0 in September.

“It's a derby, the South Derby, because both cities are south to Buenos Aires,” Schelotto said. “I remember that moment was a good moment. He's got a very clear idea for how to play ... and he always tries to beat [you]. He's a winner, so you need to take care about that.”

Now both are in their first season as MLS head coaches — Almeyda arrived last November from Guadalajara, and Schelotto took charge of the Galaxy in January — and have their clubs playing their best soccer in several seasons. LA (10-6-1), one of two league sides to reach double-digit victories, sit second in the Western Conference, six points behind LAFC. The Earthquakes (6-6-4), who won just four league games in 2018, are sixth in the West after starting the year with four losses, going 5-1-4 in their last 10 MLS outings.

“I think he improve [San Jose] a lot from the team last year ...,” Schelotto said. “He plays very direct, with a [4-3-3 formation], a lot of activity, dynamic for sure, because he likes to play in that way.”

Schelotto said he looks forward to catching up with Almeyda.

“Not sure we have time for something more [on this visit], but for sure say hello in the stadium and talk, like in the [MLS Draft] Combine,” he said. “In the Combine, we spend a lot of nights together eating and talking about the MLS.”