CARSON, Calif. – The soccer derby of Los Angeles is not built upon a platform of religious or political allegiance, and the Home Depot Center will not suddenly transform into a cauldron of simmering hatred on Thursday night.
No one can pretend the grandly named Honda Super Clasico is about to develop into a storied neighborhood rivalry such as those in Manchester, Milan, Glasgow and Buenos Aires, to name but a few.
Yet even so, only three years since its birth, the battle for bragging rights between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA already bears a few of the key hallmarks reminiscent of soccer's fiercest duels.
There is the ethnicity factor, with Chivas, a spinoff venture by the owner of the famed Mexican club of the same name, attracting a colorful, passionate and predominantly Latin audience. There is also the age-old tale of the "haves" and "have-nots" with David Beckham's Galaxy salary of $6.5 million a year more than triple the entire Chivas payroll.
However, in terms of points and performances in Major League Soccer this season, the England midfielder's team is playing the role of pauper and must look up at its rival's position in the Western Conference standings with envy.
While Beckham's arrival guaranteed that the MLS spotlight would remain focused on his new club, L.A.'s "other" team quietly went about the business of setting itself up for a postseason run.
Even though Thursday's match is officially a Galaxy home game, the Home Depot Center is something of a fortress for Chivas, which has six wins and a draw in seven home games at the venue it shares with the Galaxy. But even ahead of the season's first encounter, set to be televised nationally, Chivas manager Preki and his players are refusing to get carried away.
"We don't pay too much attention to the hype and we go about our business our way," Preki said. "Obviously, the focus is very much on the other side, but hey, they bought one of the most exciting players in the world.
"There are not many derby games over here but they are special. Everyone is excited, everyone talks about it and you can't wait to step on the field. Players rise to the challenge and it is a big occasion."
MLS chiefs had some reservations before rubber-stamping Chivas's admission into the league in 2004. But Preki's succinct appraisal is the perfect argument for why a good, healthy, local rivalry is a valuable asset for the organization. It's enough of a positive to conquer any fears of clashes in demographics or other conflicts of interest arising from having two teams in the same city.
All across the world, derbies are the games revered more than any other due to their ability to provide the rawest of emotions and the most striking of contrasts. In Europe and South America, they divide families, provide the sweetest of victories and deliver the most sickening of defeats. Success in an intra-city rivalry can add momentum to a faltering season or bring the kind of failure that sucks the life out of what looked like a seamless campaign.
Speaking of contrasts, there can be few more pronounced than the one between the two Englishmen likely to be on display – Beckham and Chivas's John Cunliffe.
Beckham followed his soccer vision to North America, with the lofty goal of giving the world's game a widespread audience in the United States. Cunliffe slipped through the net of top clubs in England despite showing promise as a youngster. The 22-year-old ended up breaking scoring records at NCAA Division II Fort Lewis College in Colorado before being selected seventh overall in the 2007 MLS draft.
As a Manchester United fan, Cunliffe watched Beckham play from the stands and admits it will be a slightly surreal experience to face him on the pitch.
"I remember the 1999 season when United won three trophies. I have some great memories of him from that year," Cunliffe said. "It is good that he is here. I'm not that bothered if I get to meet him or shake his hand, but it would be good to play against him. My lifestyle is pretty different to his. He has had a great career and I am trying to build mine.
"This game will be big for Chivas, we have been doing well and there is no limit on how far we can go. A lot of people are looking at the Galaxy, but it is a derby and we want to go out there and win it."
- the Home Depot Center
- Chivas USA