Wow. That was the overriding feeling I was left with after the latest edition of the California Clasico.
This game had a little bit (ok, a LOT) of everything: drama, emotion, bookings, and, most importantly, goals. The stage was perfectly set–both teams were coming off hot streaks (San Jose’s a little longer than LA’s) and after the Quakes last-minute win the last time these teams met, LA came into town with a point to prove.
Add more than 50,000 fans at a packed Stanford Stadium and David Beckham’s rapidly spiraling attitude, and it was a perfect recipe for one of the most intense games of the season.
Steven Lenhart opened the scoring very early on, tapping in the rebound from Galaxy ‘keeper Josh Saunders’ block of Marvin Chavez’ shot in the 7th minute. The Galaxy responded with a vengeance, scoring 3 goals in the space of 10 minutes, starting with David Beckham’s beauty of a goal off a free kick just outside the Quakes 18 yard box. All credit must be given to Becks for this goal; however, one should not overlook the fact that one of ‘keeper Jon Busch’s eyes was swollen almost completely shut at this point after a collision with his own center back.
Within 5 minutes defender Jason Hernandez had sent in a heart-breaking own goal. Landon Donovan found himself on the scoreboard 5 minutes later after a regrettable play by Hernandez that set the Galaxy offense up beautifully.
I was crestfallen. After having such a stellar game last week, Hernandez was now having his worst games that I have ever seen. But his fellow defenders were there for him and did not allow his mistakes to swallow him or the team. In fact, in the 44th minute, just 3 minutes after Donovan’s goal, center back Victor Bernardez scored his first goal in an Earthquakes uniform off a Chavez corner kick.
It was quite a comical moment actually, as the intimidatingly large defender looked about to celebrate before putting on a stern face again. His teammates celebrated enough for him, with 5’5″ Chavez running and jumping onto his 6’2″ compatriot. (The funny thing is, any time any one else scores, Bernardez always has a huge smile and bear hug waiting for them).
The Quakes rode this momentum into the second half. Sam Cronin scored his first goal of the season in the 47th minute, bringing San Jose even with the visitors. Chris Wondolowski sealed the deal with a sweet back heel goal in the 61st minute. One of the most awesome moments of the game was after his goal, when he and a few of his teammates ran over to the service members who had been honored at half time and celebrated with them.
Although the Galaxy really turned up the heat in the closing moments of the game, 22-year-old goalkeeper David Bingham, who had come on at the half for Busch, made some clutch saves and preserved a clean sheet in the second half. Final score: San Jose 4 – LA 3.
As mentioned before, this game was not without its share of controversy and drama. There were a couple times the Galaxy players were screaming for handball calls in the box. David Beckham was booked for kicking a ball at injured Sam Cronin while he was on the ground and play was stopped. There was a bit of a scrum after that, as you can imagine, with young Rafa Baca and captain Ramiro Corrales getting into it with Becks.
The drama did not stop with the final whistle. Beckham made sure everyone around him (including Q, the Quakes mascot) knew how he felt. Granted, the San Jose fans had made it very clear throughout the game how they felt about him as well; but that is something he has dealt with his whole career and it should not have been a factor.
Don’t get me wrong, I have always been a David Beckham fan and still am, but last night was not his finest moment. The night had a rather unfortunate ending for him, with water bottles raining down on him from the crowd as he finally exited the field.
Aside from that rather ugly moment, the night overall was amazing. There was a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium and the 1906 Ultras did us proud, singing and chanting for the full 90 as always. I brought along a couple of European friends, one of whom started out with the usual criticisms of American soccer.
Within 20 minutes or so, however, both were chanting “Beat LA” along with the Ultras and responding to every twist and turn of the game with as much emotion as I was. This is the kind of game that is the epitome of American soccer–a physical battle between two hard-working teams. I think it was a good introduction for them!
These two teams will meet again at Buck Shaw Stadium Oct. 21. One can only guess at what kind of shenanigans might take place. One thing is for sure, the rivalry between Nor Cal and So Cal is alive and well. I have to say, it’s nice to be on the winning side this season!
Image courtesy of mlssoccer.com (German Alegria/LA Galaxy)