In the constantly improving world of MLS, the rivalry between the StubHub Center tenants continues to slip down the pecking order.The tight quarters – one locker room a short walk from the other, one team serving as the landlord for the other – naturally breed some contempt. Chivas USA and Los Angeles shifted their natural enmity to the field in the best of times and treated MLS to a derby worth relishing.
Los Angeles always maintained the upper hand (17 victories in 27 league meetings, including last night's 1-0 win) without depriving any rancor or weight from the affair. The meetings always created some form of intrigue, even if the final result almost always favored the Galaxy. The one-sided nature of the rivalry made those rare Chivas USA triumphs – including a 1-0 win last May, a first success in 12 attempts over the reeling Galaxy – sweeter.
It also opened the door for other, more pressing concerns to take priority when the level dropped. The scrappy affair soon felt like a game of checkers compared to the venomous fury unleashed in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. The comparisons between this increasingly pedestrian meeting and several other nasty exchanges between other sides did not reflect favorably. Other venues offered more atmosphere. And the appointment for this match suddenly shifted to catch a more compelling game in Kansas City, Montréal or Sandy, Utah instead.
This latest edition of the Carson bunk mates served as a rather flat cap to the weekend. Exploits in Columbus, Frisco, Philadelphia, Portland and Sandy provided more than enough talking points from games with more buzz and more relevance. Chivas USA's woeful form and Los Angeles' general air of competence all but assured the result before the match started, even in the parity-fueled world of MLS. Gyasi Zardes confirmed the Galaxy's routine collection of three points with a stunning header decidedly out-of-place on this otherwise mundane and relatively lifeless night.
Unfortunately for Chivas USA, the circumstances permitted more rumination about the unflattering comparisons between the sides and the widespread inadequacies placed in painfully stark relief. Several fervent supporters paid to have an airplane fly over the newly-dubbed stadium with the message “Fuera Vergara” lighting up the night sky. The corresponding chants reinforced the message during the game, reverberating around the half-full stadium.
José Luis Real's side issued little in the way of a rebuke to the discontent or a threat to end a barren run, but the problem does not lay with the new manager or his overmatched players. They stand out as collateral damage in the wider pursuits of the club at the moment, an operation designed to excavate talent in southern California and ship it to Guadalajara. The sight of Eric Avila and Giovani Casillas (admittedly, a loan signing already) linking up with the parent club for preseason hardly reassures a beleaguered group of supporters wondering when the losses will end (two stretches of seven straight defeats inside a calendar year) and the seats mights fill again (14,575 in attendance for this nominal home game).
The answer on both counts: not any time in the near future. The increasing irrelevance of one-half of this rivalry renders the bold and outlandish nickname for these meetings utterly superfluous. Truth be told, this isn't even a classic anymore, just another nondescript game in a season already littered with them.
Five Points – Week 17
1. D.C. United finally breaks its duck: Chris Pontius brought a merciful end to United's 13-game winless run with a cool first-half penalty in the 1-0 victory over San Jose. The best part for Ben Olsen and his players: they actually deserved the points. United cobbled together an acceptable first half with decent work in possession and the odd threat on goal. The work after the interval didn't quite hit those heights, but the Earthquakes' shoddy finishing in the late stages – the absence of Chris Wondolowski (foot) always hurts in this regard – ensured the home side celebrated its first triumph since March 9.
2. Arne Friedrich's retirement leaves Chicago exposed at the back: The former German international announced his retirement from the game and the termination of his deal with the Fire on Sunday. His departure looked likely from a health perspective several months ago due to lingering back concerns and a mathematical standpoint once Bakary Soumare arrived from Philadelphia, but it will still sting nonetheless.
The recent, Mike Magee-inspired revival (the talismanic forward chested home the winner in the 2-1 victory at Columbus on Saturday night) does not wipe away the potential problems created when the opposition presses high against the rearguard. Friedrich offered a calm, soothing presence in those times (after an adjustment period to the league, of course). Austin Berry (hounded in possession by Dominic Oduro in the buildup to the Crew's goal just days after Deshorn Brown stripped him similarly in midweek) and Soumare do not supply that sort of assurance on the ball. They must quickly find their footing in that regard to provide the firm backing required for the Fire's continued push up the Eastern Conference table.
3. Who needs Istanbul when you can have Frisco?: Walker Zimmerman might have joined the U.S. under-20 national team in Turkey with a cleaner bill of health and a more regular stretch of games over the past few months. He probably could have made the team half-fit and out-of-sorts based upon the Americans' shoddy work in central defense in the defeat to Spain on Friday. But he instead remained with FC Dallas and thumped home a 90th minute header to hand his side a 2-2 draw against 10-man Sporting Kansas City in a cracking affair. A first MLS goal counts as a decent consolation prize, right?
4. The metronome steps out of beat to hit a stunner: Kyle Beckerman uncorked a strike of genuine quality to place Real Salt Lake ahead just before the break in the Claret-and-Cobalt's 2-0 home victory over Seattle. The former playmaker revealed his ample technical ability and his precise technique on a particularly difficult opportunity. Javier Morales' deflected free kick came across his body and caromed off the ground at a difficult height and a peculiar angle between his strides. His resulting half-volley off the underside of the crossbar underscored that his reliable work in midfield stems from more than positioning and work rate.
5. Will Johnson claims the spotlight once more: Portland's industrious captain continues to spur his side with his contributions all over the park. His quick free kick prompted Frédéric Piquionne's opener inside the first 15 minutes. His sublime bit of skill – clever flick into the air, crisply-taken half-volley past the stranded Clint Irwin – added a bit of flourish to the otherwise direct second. And his Timbers – now unbeaten in 15 matches after the facile 3-0 victory over Colorado – continued to prove their credentials as one of the top sides in MLS with yet another complete performance.