CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy know what to expect from their first California Clasico meeting of the season with San Jose this Saturday (10:30 pm ET, watch FREE on MLS Stream of the Week), and after last year's playoff triumph over their rivals, they believe they know how to deal with what's coming.
The Earthquakes carried the regular-season series last year and led after the Galaxy's home leg in the playoff battle, in good part because of their physical approach to the game, especially up front, where big bashers Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon like to throw their weight around.
The aggressive style drew a sharp rebuke following an LA loss last October from defender Omar Gonzalez, who called San Jose “a bunch of jokes,” “obnoxious” and “embarrassing.”
Before the postseason series, Landon Donovan said he thought the Quakes “definitely bend the rules as much as they can, and you have to rely on the officiating to some extent to make sure they're protecting guys and seeing things and calling plays that deserve to be fouls.”
San Jose, Supporters' Shield winners in 2012, are in a far different situation now, sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference with a 4-7-6 mark (and a minus-10 goal difference) and regrouping after reigning MLS Coach of the Year Frank Yallop was ousted and Mark Watson promoted to interim head coach.
“I haven't really seen too much of them, but I can assume they still have that fighting mentality, and when that's working for you, why change it?” Gonzalez said as the Galaxy (7-6-3) prepared for Saturday night's showdown at Stanford University. “And so they'll be out there and getting in some good challenges, and we have to meet them at that level and not be afraid to step up and play our game.”
A.J. DeLaGarza, Gonzalez's partner in central defense, was asked if the Quakes cross the line between aggressive and dirty. He was circumspect.
“To an extent that they play hard,” he said. “But we're going to have to be just as nasty and not let them get away with it, [just] like we did in the playoffs.”
San Jose, regardless of their record, provide a difficult test for LA.
“I think it poses a different kind of challenge,” Gonzalez said. “They like to impose their big bodies and get into challenges, but they can hurt you with their skill also. And they're always getting open on crosses and getting open and laying balls off, so you've got to be really aware of people making runs off [Lenhart and Gordon], because they create a lot. We just have to be aware and really keep our head on a swivel and make sure we understand what's going on around us.”
Scott French covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com.