Ronnie Ekelund

West Coast rivalry heats up in July

After a hard-fought match that resulted in a 1-1 tie against Kansas City on June 26, the San Jose Earthquakes are preparing this week to continue their rivalry against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday, July 4.

Last Saturday, San Jose welcomed midfielder Landon Donovan back to MLS play after he spent time with the U.S. national team. Midfielder Ronnie Ekelund, who entered as a substitute in the 76th minute, was pleased to return to the field for the first time since May 8 after recovering from a neck injury. Midfielder Richard Mulrooney scored the equalizing goal against the Wizards, his first regular season goal since June 8, 2002. The tie against the Wizards kept the Quakes within five points of second-place Kansas City.

"With Kansas City in front of us in the standings, getting at least a tie was important for us because it didn't allow the Wizards to gain any more points on us," said Mulrooney. "I try to be aggressive like that in every game, just some times it's more effective than others. I just try to contribute to the team in any way I can, whether it be assists or goals or working hard."

After keeping Kansas City at bay in the standings, Mulrooney and the Earthquakes are now getting ready to take on the first-place Galaxy this holiday weekend as they resume their Northern vs. Southern California rivalry. San Jose will travel to Los Angeles for the two teams' second match-up of the season on July 4th at 7:00 p.m. PT at The Home Depot Center.

The rivalry between the Quakes and the Galaxy is the strongest in Major League Soccer, as the two teams have faced each other 31 times in the regular season since 1996. Many post-season match-ups have also fueled the fire for the intense San Jose and Los Angeles competition. The Quakes vs. Galaxy game in the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals has been called the "greatest game in MLS history," as the Earthquakes came back from a 4-0 aggregate goal deficit to beat the Galaxy 5-4 in the series.

"L.A. beat us in the first year in the playoffs, and even though very few of us current players were on the team then, I think the rivalry still goes back to 1996," said Mulrooney. "We beat them in the MLS Cup in 2001, they won the Cup the next year, and then we beat them in the postseason again last year. Since we're both strong teams, it seesaws back and forth who wins. But being the only two teams in California, whichever team wins gets bragging rights."

The Earthquakes have continued to play tough against their in-state rivals this season after beating Los Angeles 4-2 on May 22. San Jose had a stellar night with two goals from forward Brian Ching and one goal and two assists from forward Dwayne De Rosario. Mulrooney, who has personally been more successful against the Galaxy than any other team, notched two assists in the game to break the Earthquakes all-time club record for assists. Even with the previous Quakes win, Ekelund admits that anything can happen in a game against Los Angeles.

"Obviously it helps a little bit that we won the last game against them," said Ekelund. "That game was at home; this time we're playing away. Also, L.A. flew in from the East Coast after a Wednesday night game to play in California on Saturday, so they could have been a little bit tired. I wish I could say right now that we'd get another 4-2 win, but, against Los Angeles, you never know if that will happen."

History aside, the third-place Quakes must focus on the present to chase down their Southern California rivals who sit in first place, seven points above San Jose. However, the Galaxy has played 15 games while the Earthquakes have only played in just 12. With a win over Los Angeles on Sunday, the Quakes would move within four points of the Galaxy and have three games in hand.

"This weekend's match is a big game," said Mulrooney. "Even though we do have some games in hand, it is important that we start to close down that gap. A win would be huge, both points-wise and confidence-wise, especially since it's getting close to the middle of the year. You want to set the tone for the second half of the season."

Ekelund said the Quakes are only concentrating on getting the win on Sunday.

"It's a new game," Ekelund said. "This San Jose team goes out to win every game, regardless of where we are in the standings. No matter what our past history with the Galaxy, we're going down to Los Angeles looking to get three points."

Follow the Earthquakes in their quest to move closer to first place as they take on the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday, July 4 at 7:00 p.m. PT on Fox Sports Net and on the radio on 1590 AM KLIV.

Stay connected: The official MLS app keeps you connected with the latest news, highlights, scores, standings, and analysis all for FREE. Download for iOS (Apple) or Download for Android