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Apr 21, 2005

Super Clasico is born

The two teams have yet to even play a match against each other, yet their rivalry is already alive and well. And, in true American fashion, the Chivas USA-Los Angeles Galaxy derby not only has a name, but a sponsor.

So when the two teams face off against each other on Saturday night in the stadium they each call home, the inaugural match of the "Honda Super Clasico" series will officially be born.

While some rivalries are natural due to their proximity to each other such as Duke-North Carolina, it's not always one that can be manufactured no matter how much money or hype is put into it. Look at Lakers-Clippers or Jets-Giants. The Lakers and the Clippers has never been a sexy rivalry because it's hardly ever been a competitive series. And even though the New York teams share Giants Stadium, they play in two different conferences and do not meet every year.

Chivas USA-Galaxy may very well end up being an uneven series for the next few years. The Galaxy are one of the most successful franchises in the 10 seasons of Major League Soccer, while Chivas USA is simply an expansion team still seeking its first victory. But where this rivalry takes a twist is that the two sides actually have to coexist on a daily basis in the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. That's not the case with AC Milan and Inter Milan, who each play their home matches at San Siro Stadium, and it's certainly not the way it is for the Jets, who spend their days in Long Island and the Giants, who alternate home games at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., during the fall.

From the moment the Galaxy players found out they'd have to share the sparkling new facility with another team, the resentment started.

"To be honest, they're impeding on our territory," said Galaxy defender Tyrone Marshall on Wednesday evening. "We're sharing everything with them. When the stadium was built, it was built for the Galaxy. And now, two years later, there's another team in there. It just feels that they are coming in and imposing their will on us, so to speak. It's like if you have a house, and someone else comes in and starts living. It's as if one of your relatives starts taking over. Your space isn't there anymore. And that's how we feel.

"So there's definitely going to be some bad feelings there on Saturday night."

Oh yeah, it's on.

If Chivas USA is much like John Belushi in the old Saturday Night Live "The thing that wouldn't leave" skits according to the Galaxy, then the 2002 MLS Cup champs are the stuck-up older brother that is far from welcoming. Even in the offices within the HDC, there's a rivalry that Chivas USA's communications coordinator, Keegan Pierce, describes as "already intense."

The two front offices were apparently supposed to play a match on Thursday to kick-off the weekend's festivities with the losing team getting free lunch at the posh Stadium Club over looking the field at the HDC. But the Galaxy called it off.

"They are claiming they have to 'concentrate' on the game," said Pierce. "Like they are playing on Saturday or something."

The Galaxy's Nick Ammazzalorso counters, saying that his side is the designated home team for this match, and is in charge of selling the tickets and preparing for the match.

"Almost 20,000 tickets are sold," he sold. "We're hoping for a sellout."

The Galaxy believe they'll have more fans in the stadium. So does Chivas USA. Even if it is bi-partisan, the Galaxy are making sure that it'll look like their home match, no matter which way you look at it. At the kickoff, 2,000 gold balloons will be released along with 1,000 streamers. They've also been practically canvassing the SoCal area with gold "Go for the Gold" t-shirts, hoping that fans will pack the stands with them to overshadow the familiar red and white that Chivas has been known for around the world long before MLS was born.

To expect the HDC to look like Texas Stadium during the Red River Rivalry when one half of the stadium is wearing Oklahoma colors and the other half wearing the burnt orange of the University of Texas is a bit much, but that's the thinking moving forward. At least by the league. Either way you look at it, the match is drumming up plenty of support as all six newspapers in the greater Los Angeles area have already run stories on the match this week, which is a rarity. ESPN Deportes is also jumping into the mix, broadcasting all of their shows from the stadium throughout the day Saturday in a "College Gameday" manner, culminating in their first MLS broadcast.

That's all for the Galaxy and their staff to worry about this week, though. Chivas USA will have their chance to be the official home side when they play the second of their four-game series on May 28 as part of Memorial Day Weekend. And that's probably a good thing. If there's any team, including all front-office staff members, that has to "concentrate," as the Galaxy supposedly put it, it's Chivas USA.

After three games, Thomas Rongen's side is 0-2-1 with a league-worst 8 goals against. They've also only averaged 15,595 fans in their first two home matches, which is far less than was forecasted. As much as they'll be trying to beat their neighbors for bragging rights around the stadium grounds, Chivas USA is just plain desperate for a victory against anyone at this point in time.

"It's a little more intense this week because we need a win," said rookie defender Aaron Lopez, "We're starting to get a little spread out."

He's right. FC Dallas, which breezed by Chivas USA last weekend with a 3-1 victory, leads the Western Conference with seven points, while Chivas USA has only a single point to their credit. The Galaxy sit in third-place with three points.

Going against a side that now features U.S. national team star Landon Donovan and several other internationals to go with the already-strong returning group led by goalkeeper Kevin Hartman and Jovan Kirovski, Chivas USA cannot afford to waste any opportunities in this match as they did last week.

"We need to take our chances and put them away early," said Lopez. "We had a couple of chances in the first half against Dallas. If we had put one of those away, it would have been a different game. We've also been concentrating on our spacing because we've given up some pretty simple goals. If we do that, we'll have a good chance."

Lopez downplayed the rivalry, saying that "we almost never see them" and that many of the players are friends. The fact that his team has started up its franchise in Galaxy's home turf is par for the course in soccer.

"Everywhere else in the world you have two or more teams playing in the same city," said Lopez. "Soccer in this country has been waiting for something like this to happen."

Indeed. There's been talk of another New York team, perhaps based in Long Island. Look into the future and you can easily see another franchise sprouting up in New England, perhaps out of Hartford's Rentschler Field, or even in Chicago, depending on how well the new stadium draws Fire fans in.

But that doesn't make it any easier to swallow for the Galaxy. Forget what happens in London or Milan. Chivas USA is an unwanted guest in a stadium that they know was built for them. That animosity will surely spill out on Saturday night.

"We thought we were going to play them in the season opener, which I was hoping for," said Marshall. "I mean, let's get this battle started."

Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: marc@oakwoodsoccer.com.