Of all the rivalries in Major League Soccer, the California Clasico between the San Jose Earthquakes and the LA Galaxy is among the most spirited.
Just ask Landon Donovan, who played for both sides during his career.
His favorite moment in the enduring series came in the two-legged 2003 Western Conference semifinals. The Quakes dropped the first leg 2-0 on the road before returning home for the second.
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”We were down 2-0 after the first 15 minutes, down 4-0 on aggregate, and then in the next 75 minutes we scored four goals then scored in overtime to beat LA,” he said. ”So that’s probably the most exciting game, in that way, of my career.”
Donovan was among the Quakes who scored in that second leg, but Rodrigo Faria had the Golden Goal in the 96th minute to advance San Jose 5-4 on aggregate.
The rivalry itself predates Donovan, going back to 1996 with a two-year break in the mid-2000s. Los Angeles leads the all-time series 34-25-21.
The 81st edition of the California Clasico will be played Sunday in Carson, California.
Donovan, 35, started his Major League Soccer career with the Earthquakes from 2001-04, on loan from Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen.
He helped the Quakes to MLS Cup titles in 2001 and 2003. In the latter championship, he scored two goals in a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Fire and was named Man of the Match.
He played for the Galaxy (with a few stints in Europe) from 2005 until his first retirement at the end of the 2014 season. He came out of retirement for six Galaxy matches at the end of last season.
Donovan’s marks with MLS are numerous, including a record 145 goals and 136 assists. He was on six MLS Cup-winning teams. The league’s MVP award was renamed after him.
He said the California Clasico is about more than just a NorCal-SoCal rivalry. It’s a time-honored tradition.
”In Major League Soccer, early on it was hard to develop rivalries because there were only 10 or 12 teams, and because of that there weren’t many teams that were close geographically,” he said.
The Clasico was also boosted by competitive games.
”When Chivas and the Galaxy began that rivalry back in the day it never really developed because the games weren’t that good,” he said. ”The Galaxy won pretty easily most of the time.”
The California Clasico has had its share of memorable moments, including Dwayne De Rosario’s Golden Goal that handed the Earthquakes the 2001 MLS Cup. De Rosario also had a free kick in 2005 that stands out.
And Galaxy star David Beckham bent it like, well, Beckham, with a free kick over the wall in a 2012 match.
So since he played for both teams, who does Donovan root for in the rivalry?
”I spent 10 years with the Galaxy, so that’s a huge part of my heart. I had four of the best years of my life, the most formative years of my life, in San Jose,” he said. ”I always want the Quakes to do well, but in this particular instance I’m Galaxy all the way through.”
AND ABOUT SAN DIEGO: More recently, Donovan has been part of San Diego’s bid for an MLS franchise. Right now the effort is ”in a holding pattern” after the San Diego City Council declined to hold a special election this fall for the SoccerCity initiative. The city’s chances will largely depend now on when the league decides to move forward with awarding the final two franchises, he said.
MATCH OF THE WEEK: Let’s call it ”Matches of the Week.” In addition to the California Clasico, there are five other rivalry games this week, starting with Houston at Dallas on Wednesday night. The two teams played to a 3-all draw in the third and final meeting this season. The Sounders host the Timbers on Sunday night in a Cascadia Cup match, the New York Red Bulls host NYCFC on Friday night in a game that will impact the top of the table in the Eastern Conference, the Colorado Rapids visit Real Salt Lake in the Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry, and the Montreal Impact host East leaders Toronto on Sunday.
BEST OF THE REST: It’s a rare double rivalry week for the Sounders, who visited Vancouver on Wednesday night in a 1-1 draw. Taking a look at the Cascadia Cup standings – which are determined on points – the Timbers lead the chase with seven points.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: The Impact’s Ignacio Piatti won MLS Player of the Week honors after four goals that helped boost Montreal’s playoff chances.
The Argentinean midfielder had a pair of goals in Montreal’s 3-0 victory over Chicago last Wednesday, then added two more in a 3-1 win against Salt Lake on Saturday. He has 14 goals this season.
DATE SET: The league announced Wednesday that the 2017 MLS Cup will be played on Dec. 9 and televised on ESPN. The game is hosted by the team making the final with the best regular-season record.
CONNECTICUT?: The Sept. 23 match between NYCFC and the Houston Dynamo was moved to East Hartford, Connecticut. The move was prompted because of a rescheduled rainout game at Yankee Stadium.
The move – the two stadiums are more than 100 miles apart – drew some raised eyebrows, especially on social media.
”We have worked very closely with Houston and MLS to find an alternative venue prioritizing our supporters and sporting department,” NYCFC President Jon Patricof said in a statement. ”While we understand this will be an inconvenience for some, we are confident we have put together an excellent variety of ticketing and transportation options for our fans.”