SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As the LA Galaxy prepare to visit the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday (6:30 pm ET, FOX Soccer), this year’s first leg of the California Clásico has as much importance in the standings as it does in the stands.
It’s not just a rivalry game for the Quakes, who want to rebound from a 1-0 loss at Kansas City on Friday, but also a chance to gain some ground on the league-leading Galaxy.
“It’s a huge game for us,” Quakes midfielder Sam Cronin said. “Obviously, the rivalry is one thing, but apart from that, they’re doing well and it’s a Western Conference opponent. Really, it’d be a big swing if we could pick up three points.”
For Quakes coach Frank Yallop, this week has been a matter of keeping the focus on those magical three points. The KC loss snapped San Jose’s six-match unbeaten streak and blunted the Quakes’ rise up the standings, so continuing their run of three straight wins at Buck Shaw is now of paramount importance.
“We had to play catch-up,” Yallop said. “We’ve caught up a little bit, but now we have to keep the run going. ... Playing the Galaxy always has a little bit of a ring to it, if you like, but it’s still a three-point game that we’re just trying to get a home win.”
Yallop will be gratified to learn his lessons have been resonating even with players who are about to be introduced to the intrastate feud.
“It’s just another game,” San Jose rookie Anthony Ampaipitakwong said. “Sure thing, they’re the Galaxy and the No. 1 seed and we’d love to take them out, but we’ve got to worry about ourselves.”
Along those same lines, San Jose general manager John Doyle sees the match as a guideline to determine just how far the Quakes (5-5-4) have to go to catch up with the Galaxy (9-2-7).
“Whether it’s the Galaxy or whoever it is, you want to measure yourself if a team’s doing well,” Doyle said. “You kind of say, ‘Where are we with the team?’”
San Jose’s modus operandi over the past three years has been to make significant use of the mid-season transfer window, which opens on July 15, but their plans for this season are still shrouded in mystery. On Thursday, Doyle seemed to be trying to downplay expectations when he told MLSsoccer.com that he’s “pretty happy with the team we have now.”
Unsurprisingly, the match is a sellout, but the buzz from the stands might be a little more muted than in past years due to the absence of Galaxy star Landon Donovan, who is on US national team duty at the Gold Cup final. Donovan, who sits second on San Jose’s all-time goal-scoring list, still engenders ill will from diehard Quakes fans rankled by his desire to head south years ago.
Without Donovan on hand, Yallop might be the biggest link between the two clubs. But the former Galaxy boss, who spent a season-and-a-half in Los Angeles before rejoining the expansion Quakes in 2008, won’t admit to much in the way of extra personal motivation.
“When you play against a team that you’ve coached, the first time is a little uncomfortable,” Yallop said. “But then once you’ve done it once, it’s over. I don’t know many of the players anyway. There’s Todd [Dunivant] and Landon. I don’t think there’s anyone else.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes.