CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy aren't quite sure what to expect from Chivas USA in the year's first SuperClasico showdown on Sunday afternoon (5 pm ET, UniMas), but they expect an emotionally charged match no matter what it is they do see.
Chivas USA are rebuilding almost from scratch, with new management, a new coaching staff and more than a dozen players -- a great percentage of each with Mexican experience -- and their first two Major League Soccer encounters haven't provided all that much definition of what they're about.
“Our meetings have been sort of 'We don't know what formation they're playing' and 'They've been kind of hard to read,' ” defender Omar Gonzalez said following the Galaxy's training session Friday morning at the Home Depot Center. “They won their last game, but having said that, I don't think Dallas had their best game. It's a whole bunch of new players, a new coach, and so we're really just going in there not blind, but, you know, unsure.”
Chivas struggled to string passes together in their season-opening 3-0 loss to the Columbus Crew two weeks ago, then rallied from a deficit with a spirited 3-1 victory over FC Dallas last weekend. Mexican coach Jose Luis “Chelis” Sanchez Sola used different lineups in midfield and up front while employing a 3-5-2 formation that slipped easily into a 4-4-2, and this week he's been toying with a 3-4-3 in training.
“We don't have a great feel for their team, since it's still early in the season,” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, whose team is the home side Sunday. “We're playing against a bunch of players who, for the most part, we don't know. That's usually the case in every game early in the year.”
Arena said it was “apparent they're an improved team, their style of play is certainly different than it's been in the past” and that Chelis' “track record speaks for itself. ... I think he's given this team inspiration and organization and leadership, and I think they've responded well.”
Chelis demands that his teams fight, and that spirit has been clear so far.
“They try to win the ball back right away, as soon as they lose it, and if they don't win it, they try to foul or disrupt our play,” midfielder Mike Magee. “They're going to try to frustrate us and kick us, and we're ready to do the same.”
The tension is thicker around HDC this week, as is normal before SuperClasico games. It's part of what makes the cross-stadium rivalry special.
“You tend to see them more,” Magee said. “I think they try to show their faces more and maybe make their presence felt, and we're doing the same. There's a battle over weight machines in the gym, who gets there first and things like that.”
Said Gonzalez: “Tensions are a little bit higher. Today they were in the gym [first], and a lot of our guys couldn't really get in there, so that was a little different, kind of awkward.”
“Usually, when you see those guys, you'll talk awhile,” Magee said. “This week the conversations are much shorter.”
Are they more pointed?
“Actually,” he said, “there's no conversation this week. It's more of a nod, hello. This week it's all business.”