California Clasico as relevant to San Jose Earthquakes as it was in 1996

SAN JOSE, Calif.—The San Jose Earthquakes might have put together MLS’s greatest comeback ever at the LA Galaxy’s expense, but the rivalry at the heart of the California Clasico is not resting on the laurels of that famed playoff series from 13 years ago.

Instead, a series of some of the matchup’s most memorable moments – Mike Magee in goal, Alan Gordon without a shirt, Clarence Goodson leaping into the stands, Chris Wondolowski saluting the crowd – has helped to stoke the fires in recent years.

“I think it’s part of having a rivalry,” said Quakes attacker Simon Dawkins, who reentered the Clasico fray this season after four years away from California. “All this extra stuff sort of happens in rivalry games, more than regular games. I’m not sure why that is, but it does happen.”

The Galaxy and Quakes combined to form one of MLS’ most hotly contested rivalries in the league’s first decade, including epic playoff battles in 2001 (San Jose besting LA in the MLS Cup final), 2003 (San Jose scoring five straight goals to win 5-4 on aggregate) and 2005 (LA knocking off a Supporters’ Shield-winning San Jose en route to the league crown).

But the Quakes left for Houston after the 2005 season, and there were no more Clasicos until 2008, when the San Jose franchise was reborn as an expansion team. While the rivalry might have “never been let go” by Quakes fans, in the words of San Jose coach Dominic Kinnear, the hiatus still turned the heat down a little bit.

“I can compare it to Celtic and Rangers,” Kinnear told reporters this week, referring to the Scottish rivals who will finally be reconnected next year after Rangers’ finance-induced fall from the top flight. “There’s been no rivalry for four years, because the other team’s not around.”

Things started to pick up again in 2011, when Magee stepped between the posts at Buck Shaw Stadium after the Galaxy lost one goalkeeper (Donovan Ricketts) to injury and the second (Josh Saunders) to a red card before halftime. Magee finished with three saves to preserve a scoreless draw and a place in Clasico lore.

“Mike Magee going in goal, that’s only happened once and just funny enough, it’s happened in the LA-San Jose game,” Kinnear said. “And you look, Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart playing really makes it heated, too, back in the day. There’s great moments in a lot of games, but I think when it happens against your rival, obviously it’s a little bit more blown up in front of everybody.”

It didn’t hurt ratings when the Quakes featured Gordon and Lenhart as the physical 1-2 punch in front of a record-setting Wondolowski. The installation of the Galaxy as a permanent fixture for the Quakes’ mid-summer turn at Stanford Stadium, beginning in 2012, marked a new chapter in the rivalry, putting the Clasico on display for some 50,000 fans to see.

“It’s up to the fans to really make it a rivalry, I feel,” said Quakes forward Chad Barrett, who played for the Galaxy in 2011-12. “If the fans make it so, the players will react to that, and we’ll want to fight even more than we usually do. Against LA, it’s intense. It’s the battle for California.”