City pride rests on Chivas-Galaxy match

Martin Rogers

CARSON, Calif. – Saturday's derby between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA is known as the Honda SuperClasico but it might as well be called the Credibility Cup.

So much more than three points will be at stake when the two teams from the City of Angels square off at the Home Depot Center in their first meeting of the 2008 campaign.

The dramatic contrasts between the two clubs make this derby as intriguing as any in world soccer, even if the standard of play and the depth of history cannot compare to storied rivalries like those in Manchester, Milan, Spain or North London.

This game runs deeper than a simple tale of the haves and have nots. It is in the subplots and undercurrents that the contest ultimately will be decided.

The fortunes of the local rivals have differed markedly in recent times, and it is not being unfair to the Galaxy to suggest that the past 12 months has provided a strong measure of embarrassment.

Since their blockbuster signing of David Beckham, the Galaxy has been a team in the spotlight, and that glare has highlighted every weakness and deficiency in painful detail.

No one close to the club can dispute that last season's dismal run was embarrassing. So too was the failure to make the playoffs in a league where eight out of 13 (now 14) teams make the postseason.

Even at the start of this campaign, with Beckham back to full fitness and a new head coach, Ruud Gullit, firmly in place, the disappointment has continued. An excruciatingly poor 4-0 defeat on opening day at the Colorado Rapids and a home defeat to Toronto FC punctuated a couple of better displays.

But no defeat has been more painful to the Galaxy than their twin losses to Chivas last season.

Likewise, for all of Chivas' 15 wins in 2007, none gave them more satisfaction than a 3-0 win on Aug. 23 and an identical scoreline on Sept. 13.

Since then, Chivas rightfully has laid claim to being the best team in L.A., a fact rammed home by their position at the top of the Western Conference standings in 2007.

Fans of the Goats relish in their underdog reputation, as do some of the club's players. Midfielder Jesse Marsch, who sparked a minor brawl when he lashed out at Beckham in the August game, likely will be in aggressive mode once more.

Chivas feel they have often been slighted by the Galaxy and are irked at being referred to as the tenants of the Home Depot Center.

Another victory, this time over a full-strength Galaxy with an in-form Beckham and Landon Donovan, would be further justification of the work they are doing in building a team capable of challenging the best in MLS.

Coach Preki bristled when asked if he would make special arrangements to contain Beckham this week, but he would be foolish not to put in place provisions to negate the effect of the league's most dangerous crosser.

For the Galaxy, this may be the most important game they will play in the first half of the season.

It is hard to be taken seriously as a global brand if you are not even the best team in your own city, and this could be the first step in what the club hopes will be a prolonged period of substantial growth.

So on Saturday, as the tackles fly in, the tempers flare and both teams scrap as if their very survival is at stake, remember there is more on the line than a "W" and a bit of momentum.

This is about the chance to hold your head high in your own building, for bragging rights and for credibility.

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