The top of Major League Soccer's Western Conference resembles Los Angeles' rush hour at the midway point of the season, with six of the seven teams separated by only three points. When the two clubs leading the traffic jam square off on Thursday night at the Home Depot Center, expect some 405-style road rage.
Because even though the battle for the top spot in the West will add some extra spice to the showdown between Chivas USA and the Los Angeles Galaxy (both at 21 points with a 6-6-3 record), the prize of SoCal bragging rights will really get their blood boiling.
The two teams are drastically different in image, financial clout and fan base. Yet they share a strong mutual dislike that rears its head every time they play and is actually a major positive for the league.
Local derbies are a staple of all big soccer leagues, and they add color and spice to the season. The Super Clasico is the only genuine same-city derby in MLS, and the way it has developed – and continues to do so – is pleasing.
Of course, the limited history of the rivalry (Chivas only joined MLS in 2005) means it is foolish to compare it with similar clashes in Manchester, Milan or Buenos Aires. However, the depth of antipathy the clubs share makes these games compulsive viewing.
Thursday's contest, which will be televised nationally on ESPN2, should be no different.
"Derbies are the first games that you always look for when the schedules come out," said Galaxy midfielder David Beckham, who has taken part in some of the world's biggest intracity rivalry games during his time with Manchester United and Real Madrid.
"We know it is important we play well against Chivas because there is a lot of passion and a lot of spirit – and rightly so. – When you do come up against rivals you can see the rivalry that is there between the players, between the teams and between the fans."
L.A. hasn't forgotten the two 3-0 hammerings by Chivas last season, bad losses that piled even more embarrassment on to an already woeful campaign. A 5-2 victory in April did little to sate the Galaxy's appetite for success over their local foes, but it has given extra motivation for Chivas, which was infuriated by Landon Donovan's antagonizing of coach Preki while celebrating one of his three goals.
Everything points towards another fiery encounter. Chivas was unable to cope defensively with the Beckham/Donovan connection last time around and may try to exert a more physical presence. Beckham, in particular, does not like being pushed around, as evidenced by his furious charge towards Chivas midfielder Jesse Marsch following a rough tackle.
"We did well against them the last game obviously," Beckham said. "I think the score flattered us because we played really well and we deserved to win, but we got a few goals at the end of the game and Chivas didn't play that badly on the day. We know it is going to be tough but hopefully we will beat them again."
Chivas striker Ante Razov played his part in stirring things up this week when he insisted he welcomes the noisy attention he gets from Galaxy supporters.
"That (booing) comes from fear," Razov said. "They must fear something I do to them. They don't boo bad players usually. They boo guys who they fear might do damage to their team."