Xolos-Galaxy grudge match fosters Liga-MX vs. MLS grudge match
The region is once again abuzz with feelings over a big game. The regional rivalry with second-division Sinaloa is now small potatoes. The obligatory sell-outs against Chivas and Club America, long forgotten. Even after a tough loss this weekend in Mexico City, Xolos fans are expectant that their squad can once again achieve big things.
Local radio is filled with the excited, pseudo-aggressive ramblings of fans who quickly find villainy in the visiting team. The Los Angeles Galaxy are a team for the rich, who have found success by bringing in players that no other team on the continent could dream of. They’re the underachieving cream of an underachieving crop called MLS that has nothing else but humiliation of the "mighty" Liga MX on their minds. Budding rivalry? Yeah.
It should be noted that this will be only the fourth match both teams have ever played since 2007. Not counting friendlies, it’s only the second, with the first coming a week ago, just over 130 miles away from the Estadio Caliente in Carson, California.
The first leg, a classic example of the Mexican style against the American style, featured an over-eager Tijuana looking to score with an intense flurry of activity. The Galaxy, sitting on a 1-0 lead it got early in the match, preferred to sit back and counterattack. The game ended 1-0 to the Galaxy.
"We have to replicate the intensity of what we did during the second half in Carson, if we play that way from the first minute, weâll be fine," striker Dario Benedetto warned during Monday’s press conference in Tijuana. It would seem, that it’s a lesson not learned. Or, that the confidence in home-field advantage and the build-up in momentum is more than enough.
Whatever the final result, the series between the Xolos and Galaxy has served as a microcosm of sorts for the relationship between MLS and Liga MX. Despite Mexico’s dominance in this, the CONCACAF Champions League, cogent excuses can be expoused. MLS’ atypical calendar has long forced teams who make the final eight into long layoffs before they face home and away, do-or-die series.
Even then, MLS has made strides. This year, not one American team exited its quarterfinal home match against a Mexican team with a loss. Real Salt Lake, 2011’s finalist, was as close as any team has been to ousting Monterrey from its domination of the competition over the last three years (they failed to qualify for the current tournament).
A decade ago, it was quite common to see aging European-based stars spend their final years lounging in Mexico City, Monterrey or Guadalajara as well-paid Liga MX players. The growing waves of violence in the country that engulfed the Calderòn presidency starting in 2006, as well as Los Angeles’ coup of David Beckham in 2007, altered the landscape significantly.
Nowadays, the Alessandro Nestas and Robbie Keanes of the world are most likely found in New York, not Nuevo Leòn. As teams north of the Mexican border continue to increase their payroll in a collective sense, Mexico’s dominance on the region, long questioned at the national team level, now finds a more troubling challenge at the club level.
This week’s slate of games has the potential to be remembered as yet another red herring for MLS’ stride towards dominance, or Liga MX’s last stand amidst a growing tide. In Tijuana, the most American of Mexican teams plots its defense against MLS’ most cosmopolitan representative.
The "Clasico of the Californias" may very well be on its way, but in the end, it might be little more than a satellite war for two leagues striving for superiority.
"Eric Gomez is a Journalist based in Mexico City. Born in Chula Vista, Gomez is an alumni of San Diego State University, and is currently the Chief Editor for FOXDeportes.com. Follow him on Twitter @EricGomezFox"