May 21, 2011. If you’re the ecumenical type, Saturday is Judgment Day (which, for me, is kind of cool because I get to see my name on billboards — even if it’s just a reference to scripture).
If you’re the sporting type in the Los Angeles area, it’s a day to take notice of something else: the return of the only crosstown rivalry that still matters in LA’s pro sports landscape.
I’ll repeat that so I make sure I’ve got your attention: LA Galaxy vs. Chivas USA is the only Battle for Los Angeles that has relevance right now.
Granted, it’s a rivalry sporting a name that was originally forced upon it by marketers. And yes, it’s a rivalry that so heavily favors the Galaxy, it’s not even funny at this point.
But Saturday’s matchup between LA’s two MLS teams (10 pm ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes) comes at the perfect time to stick it to the other pro teams in town. When the red-hot Goats “host” the first-place Galaxy, it’ll be a battle for actual supremacy with real significance in the MLS standings.
Chivas USA, who have alternately sputtered to find consistency on the field since their founding six years ago and a real identity in the shadow of their stadium-mates, are on one of their most positive upward trajectories in three seasons. They’ve lost only once in seven games since April and are coming off a stone-cold thumping of Eastern Conference-leading New York at Red Bull Arena last weekend.
In the span of a month, the Goats have gone from shaky and inconsistent to confident and effective, all while their chemistry appears to be improving every game. That’s completely thanks to first-year head coach Robin Fraser, who has instilled a patient, disciplined calm over a squad that is one of the biggest pleasant surprises early in the 2011 season.
Meanwhile, the Galaxy have done much of the same. Which is odd considering they made it to MLS Cup in 2009 and then won the Supporters’ Shield last season. But some of the little tweaks Bruce Arena has had to make to his squad — replacing Edson Buddle with an aging Juan Pablo Ángel, shuffling his back line which has looked porous in key stretches and dealing with yet more injuries — well, it’s all starting to click for LA who, much like Chivas, have lost only once in nine games since April.
In short, the 21st regular-season edition of the SuperClásico is one of the more relevant in recent memory. Chivas USA have their best chance in a long time to snap an eight-game winless streak against their down-the-hall rivals and send another warning shot to the rest of MLS.
Now let’s talk a little bigger in scope. Both teams have never had a better window to put on a show to grab some attention in Los Angeles, either. Angelenos famously love a winner. And right now, it’s not a feel-good time for the rest of the pro franchises in town.
The Dodgers — the nostalgic jewel of the Southland — are mired in mediocrity on the field while scandal has ripped the team apart off it. Once a pillar of stability, the six-time World Series champs are in a tug-of-war of the messy divorce between their owners while MLB Commissioner Bud Selig attempts to take control of the storied franchise.
The Angels — the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, that is — are trying to rebuild their stranglehold on the American League West and somehow regain the heights of their 2002 World Series run. The so-called Freeway Series rivalry with the Dodgers has lost much of its shine as both franchises are trying to get back on their feet.
Hockey in the LA area has its core following, and there are plenty of passionate Kings and Ducks fans. But hardly ever are both teams good at the same time. This year marked the first time both made the Stanley Cup Playoffs — and both were bounced unceremoniously in the first round.
Then there’s basketball. While the rest of the country is taking delight at the epic playoff collapse of the Lakers, millions of Angelenos still can’t process how it all went wrong for Kobe & Co. For a team that has appeared in more than half of all the NBA Finals ever contested, it’s a bit disorienting. Almost enough to make one a Clippers fan.
It all adds up to a long summer in LA. And this is where the Galaxy and Chivas USA need to fill that void. The timing for Saturday’s SuperClásico couldn’t be any better, and both teams have never had a better opportunity to grab some of that spotlight.
As a Los Angeles-raised kid, I know exactly what I’ll be watching on Saturday night. I’m not going so far to suggest that Donovan, Beckham and Ángel vs. “Braunzilla,” Moreno and Pearce is quite at the level of Lakers vs. Celtics. But right now, there is no better cure for a wounded LA sports fan. For the Galaxy and Chivas USA, Saturday is truly Judgment Day.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. “The Throw-In” appears every Thursday.