The Los Angeles Galaxy begin their quest for another Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title Wednesday night at the Track and Field Stadium at The Home Depot Center. Their opponent is a familiar one. Chivas USA will line up on the other side of the field for the fourth time this season against L.A.
To date, the Galaxy have owned the budding rivalry with their stadium roommates, winning the first three games, all of which were in league play. Wednesday's game should be different though.
For starters, Chivas USA have been much-improved over the course of the last month. With the MLS Cup Playoffs still a faint glimmer for the future, the Open Cup is their best and maybe last chance to bring home some hardware this season.
That's exactly why the Galaxy are taking the fourth-round Open Cup match so seriously.
"This is a big game for them," said Herculez Gomez, who has been a rising star for the Galaxy in recent weeks. "They might have a chance to make the playoffs, but this is pretty much going to be it for them."
Galaxy captain Pete Vagenas put things even more succinctly: "From Chivas' perspective, this is their season. This is what they're looking for to redeem themselves."
All the tension that surrounds a knockout tournament, coupled with the fact that the Galaxy's opening match is against their new in-house rival, puts head coach Steve Sampson in a difficult position.
On one hand, the Galaxy spends the rest of August on the road. With players like Landon Donovan, who's played a ton of soccer over the last couple months, and Chris Albright, who's just returning to fitness after an injury, Wednesday night would normally be looked upon as a chance to rest some battle-weary players for the Galaxy.
Yet knowing how seriously Chivas will be taking the game, Sampson will be hard pressed to field a less than full strength squad.
One change that Sampson has already planned on making is in goal. Steve Cronin will make the start against Chivas as an opportunity to get some time with the first team. Sampson also tipped his hand just a bit saying that he'd like to use Landon Donovan for 45 minutes max, and ideally not at all. Albright, who normally runs end line to end line from his right back position could also be pushed into the midfield to alleviate the amount of ground he has to cover.
Regardless of who plays where, don't expect the Galaxy to be taking Chivas USA lightly.
"Any time they (Chivas) play the Galaxy they want to make a statement," Sampson said. "You can throw out the significance of the match because when these two teams play, there are no friendlies."
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.