Major talking points

CARSON, Calif. -- It might not have the history of Mexico's America-Guadalajara, the passion of Scotland's Rangers-Celtic, the hatred of Serbia's Red Star-Partizan or the social import of Argentina's Boca Juniors-River Plate, but the "SuperClasico" between the L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA is American soccer's best contribution to the "derby" -- soccerese for the most heated rivalries, especially those involving clubs from the same town.

The 22nd meeting will take place Thursday night at the Home Depot Center, and the tension has been ramping up all week.

"There's a friendly atmosphere between the teams, but once it gets into this week, everything kind of rises," says Galaxy assistant coach Cobi Jones, who played a significant role in L.A.'s dominance in the series before his retirement after the 2007 season. "You stop talking to the people you see in the hallways. ... Yeah, you can shake hands, but deep down inside, when you're walking away, you're saying, 'Aw, I want to kick that team's butt.'"

The Galaxy has done most of the butt-kicking in the rivalry, which began when Chivas USA was created five years ago as a satellite of Club Deportivo Guadalajara -- Mexico's most popular club, universally known as "Chivas" -- posting a 12-3-6 record and winning the biggest matchup yet, a first-round playoff series in November.

Chivas hasn't beaten L.A. since 2007 after winning only one of the first 11 meetings.

"I'm sure the Galaxy players think they have our number, and mentally they know they can beat us," says Chivas coach Martin Vasquez, who was a Galaxy assistant before Chivas arrived. "We have to change that. We have to start off by giving ourselves a good chance to win, to get a good result, and then things will hopefully change in the future."

The Galaxy and Chivas USA share a stadium, a weight room and a grid of hallways in the bowels of the Home Depot Center. Their locker-room showers are separated by a wall. And there's a healthy dislike of each other, at least among those who wage battle on the field.

What is the rivalry about? Here's what those involved have to say.


Former Galaxy midfielder Kyle Martino, the color commentator on Thursday's ESPN2 telecast: I think there's two components of the rivalry. One is, certainly, two teams sharing the same arena. The other one is that sort of underlying rivalry between the United States and Mexico. At the national team level, that's one of the biggest rivalries we have.

Chivas USA president Shawn Hunter: We were natural rivals from day one, and it's only intensified over the years. I think this is American soccer's only true rivalry.

Chivas USA defender Jonathan Bornstein: It's basically like a playoff game every time you step on the field with them.

Chivas USA midfielder Michael Lahoud: It's the type of atmosphere you dream about as a young soccer player growing up in this country.

Galaxy midfielder Jovan Kirovski: Since the beginning, it was the first game that felt like a real European environment. It's a great rivalry. We always love playing them -- well, I do, anyway. We always love beating them.

Martino: If there's any true rivalry that's up there with the River Plate-Boca Juniors, Duke-North Carolina, it's this. Most teams will circle the games against the Galaxy on the calendar, and this is probably the one time a year the Galaxy circles someone else on the schedule and says this is a game we need to make sure to get up for.

Chivas USA defender Ante Jazic, who formerly played for the Galaxy: It's definitely the funnest game of the year. The atmosphere is just different than a league game. There's a lot of pride involved. It's definitely the best game for players to play in, that's for sure.

Galaxy forward Alan Gordon: We don't like them; they don't like us. We don't want to lose to them just as much as they don't want to lose to us.


The Home Depot Center, built on the Cal State Dominguez campus by Galaxy owner Anschutz Entertainment Group, was designed to be the Galaxy's home. Chivas USA, it is said, is merely a rent-paying tenant.

Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant: This was our home turf, and they were kind of coming in on that. They were in our stadium, using our facilities -- you don't take offense at it, but you want to protect your own turf.

Galaxy midfielder Chris Klein: We want the Home Depot Center to be thought of as the Galaxy's home, not Chivas' home. It's kind of like, "Ah, this is ours." There's a [sense of] ownership to it.

Jazic: I'm sure the Galaxy thinks they own the stadium and that we rent it, so it's personal. [When I was with the Galaxy,] I thought the same thing: They're renting the place, and we own the stadium.

Chivas USA captain Sacha Kljestan: They have their high horse, I guess, and this is their place. Maybe we are visitors, maybe we're just renters, though I think we also have a great fan base that supports us. And they hate the Galaxy probably more than we do.


The Galaxy won all five meetings in the first year of the series, four in league play, plus another victory en route to the U.S. Open Cup title. Some of the games were not competitive.

Jones: I remember the first game we played against Chivas, when they first came into the league. I remember going out to warm up, and usually at warm-up, you have maybe a few hundred people [in the stands]. And this time the whole lower bowl was pretty much packed. The big flags were up, the Chivas fans were cheering, the Galaxy fans were cheering, and this was just warm-up time. I was walking off with Jovan [talking about] how this was one of the first games with a European atmosphere, like a true rivalry.

Gordon: It's always been pretty intense. The difference was they weren't very good back then. But now they're a good side. They have been the past few years, and it's really a battle.

Chivas USA coach Martin Vasquez: In two games, the Galaxy was better than us. In the other games, we were close. We played well. They were not better than us. I mean, they were better because they won, but in the flow, we put up a great fight, but we ended up losing.

Jones: You have to realize when you're an expansion team, it's going to be tough. Once they got a few years under their belt, they developed more unity and put more results up on the board. As we've seen the past few years, they've been pretty good.

Vasquez: We understood how they play the game. We knew their tactics, we knew their key players, but for some reason or another -- inexperience, individual mistakes -- they score and the mental aspect became huge. That's what it has been. And that's how it is right now. The mental edge: They have it over us just because they have gotten more results.


Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan were Chivas USA's breakout stars -- finishing 1-2 in the MLS rookie of the year vote -- in 2006, when Bob Bradley took charge of the Goats and turned the team around.

Bornstein: Everyone knew what had happened the year before. We'd been beaten by them every single time we stepped on the field. A lot of us were new to the team that second year, so we wanted to kind of erase that from Chivas' background and how people thought about the rivalry. Because in the past it wasn't much of a rivalry. It was all Galaxy.

Kljestan: I remember my first Clasico. We were winning, 1-0, pretty much the whole game, and in the last five minutes, Cornell Glen scores two goals on us, and we lost. So it was a tough introduction to the Clasico.

Bornstein: One of my memories I keep with me is my first Galaxy game. It was tied, 1-1, and it was, like, the 88th minute, and I got the ball on the left, and I tried to dribble one guy, and then Landon swooped the ball from me and ran down the field, and they ended up scoring on that play. It's a constant reminder than you've got to bring your A-game every day. You can't slip up for one minute.

That 2-1 Galaxy win, on the only goals Glen ever scored for the club, was L.A.'s sixth successive victory in the series. Chivas notched its first win, a 2-1 triumph on two Ante Razov goals, in the next meeting, but the trophy stayed with L.A. following a 3-0 romp at the end of September.

Bradley departed after the 2006 season to become the U.S. national team coach, and Preki took over and guided the Goats to the Western Conference regular-season title. They also won the Doug Hamilton Trophy -- the annual prize to the series winner, named after the Galaxy's late general manager -- posting 3-0 victories over the Galaxy in late August and mid-September.

Galaxy captain Landon Donovan: They overtook us, and we kind of took a step back. They got to the playoffs, and we didn't. They beat us a couple times, and that made it real.

Kljestan: The [3-0 wins] were really good performances. I remember just completely dominating the games. We're going into those games thinking there's no way we're going to lose, and then once we got on the field, it was like we had total control. It was a great feeling. There was nothing better than celebrating with that little trophy we got for winning. You don't really win anything -- it's just this little intrastadium trophy -- but we were excited about it.

Klein: Believe me, we don't forget those losses and what was said after those losses.


The SuperClasico promises intense, physical, often chippy play. Emotions sometimes boil over, and scuffles and scrums develop. Some of the biggest headlines in the series: Preki going after Donovan after the Galaxy forward celebrated a goal in front of Chivas' bench, Preki going after Galaxy midfielder Dema Kovalenko after last year's playoff series and Galaxy star David Beckham getting into former Chivas midfielder Jesse Marsch's face after he was taken down from behind.

Jazic: There's tension. Everyone's going to argue every whistle, so guys get in each other's faces. It's just part of the game. For the 90 minutes, we don't get along at all.

Kljestan: It's funny. We see them in the gym every day, and it's proper -- "Hi, how you doing?" Stuff like that. And you get out on the field, and it's just like ... all the words I can't say here, but we'll say to each other on the field. And then after the game -- maybe not right after, but a few hours later -- I can basically forgive and forget, and we're all buddies again.

Jazic: Every tackle feels important. Every call's important. Every call's contested. It seems like every play is so important, that could be the determining factor in the game.


It's only natural that players on the teams are friendly with one other. Some are teammates on the U.S. national team, and some have played together with other clubs or in college or during their youth club days. But it's not so friendly the week leading to the game.

Bornstein: I'd say we all get along pretty well. It's not always like everything is about the game. When you see them in the parking lot, you might say hello and talk. But during that week heading up [to the game], I don't think many hellos are exchanged.

Donovan: Most days, you'll say hi and whatever. Usually this week, when you're playing each other, you don't see much of each other. I don't know if it's just coincidence or if you avoid each other or what.

Lahoud: You can definitely feel the tension. You can tell something big is coming around the corner.

Gordon: You just put your head down, you know, and it's like, "We'll see you on the field." There's some grudges. You try to hold that back, be professional, but once you get on the field, all that comes out.

Kirovski: I ignore them all the time. I blank them. I hate them. ... Nah, there's a couple guys I say hello to maybe. ... I don't like them, I really don't.

Klein: It's a good feeling when you're able to walk through [the hallways] after a win. Loss, it's not good. Loss, you kind of put your head down and say, "Good job, guys." But when you win -- for us, we try to move on and do everything respectfully, but there is that extra feeling of ownership when you can get the best of them.


The Galaxy have dominated the series, winning the Doug Hamilton Trophy four times in five years.

Jazic: It seems Landon Donovan always comes to play in these games. He always seems to score or do something. He had the ability to change the game in a second, and that always seems to happen. ... If you have a Landon Donovan on your side, you always have a chance to win the game, especially if you're solid defensively. And now they are solid defensively. But we're good, we're good defensively, and hopefully we score a couple of goals.

Donovan: I think we understand what this means. For me, it was interesting being in England [on loan with Everton] and seeing some of the different rivalries and how important they are. While we don't have that historical context to compare it to, I think we all appreciate this is a big deal. Fifty years from now, you want to look back and say we've consistently beat them, we've had the better record, we're the better team.

Scott French writes the Football Futbol Soccer blog for ESPNLosAngeles.com.