California Clasico heats up again as San Jose Earthquakes eye crucial win vs. LA Galaxy

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Anytime the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy meet, the match receives a significant measure of derby hype.

But with the Galaxy’s still in the Supporters’ Shield hunt and the Quakes remaining in the must-win mindset they’ve held for weeks now, the 54th regular-season edition of the California Clásico -- set for Sunday night at the StubHub Center (9 pm ET, ESPN) -- might take things to a whole new level.

“Every game [between the Quakes and Galaxy] is big because of the rivalry, and there’s always points on the line,” interim San Jose coach Mark Watson said. “I think aside from an actual playoff game, this is as big as it gets.”

Added Quakes GM John Doyle: “That’s how rivalries really get heated, because for some reason or another, here they are, standing in our way to making the playoffs. It’s kind of ironic, how it comes to us playing them.”

The Quakes finish out the season Oct. 27 against FC Dallas, but that match will be rendered meaningless if San Jose don’t come through against their fan base’s most hated opponent.

“That game’s going to be huge,” San Jose star Chris Wondolowski said. “That’s something I love about this locker room, that we seem to rise up in big occasions, and I wouldn’t expect anything less. But LA is a great team, so we know we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”

For San Jose players with no previous connection to the rivalry, the last two seasons -- featuring the Quakes’ series of comeback victories to the Galaxy’s triumph in the teams’ 2012 playoff series --have offered a true indoctrination to the California Clásico.

“With them knocking us out last year, we were disappointed with that early exit from the playoffs,” Quakes midfielder Sam Cronin told “We know the history of the rivalry, but in recent years, we’ve had some crazy games against them. I think the rivalry’s at an all-time high.”

San Jose also hope to wash away the taste of the clubs’ most recent meeting. In the absence of suspended midfielder Rafael Baca, the Quakes switched to a 4-1-4-1 formation Aug. 31 and LA pasted San Jose 3-0 behind two goals from Robbie Keane and a third from Landon Donovan.

That was the Quakes’ last loss; San Jose have gone 4-0-1 since then to keep their playoff hopes alive.

“We can’t let them dictate the pace of the game for large periods of time because if you do that, they will at some point break you down,” Watson said. “And I think we need to go in there and keep the ball at times. We can’t defend for 90 minutes, either. That doesn’t work.”

A tie won’t work either. Colorado’s 3-2 victory against Vancouver on Saturday all but ensures that San Jose must win out in order to have any hope of making the playoffs.

Stay connected: Get access to breaking news, videos, and analysis from North America's best soccer reporters via "This Week in MLS" newsletter or using our FREE mobile app.