SAN JOSE, Calif. — The annual California Clasico at Stanford Stadium is the one game on the San Jose Earthquakes schedule that everyone in the Bay Area circles on their calendars. Crowds exceeding 50,000 are the norm for the Summer of Soccer’s biggest event, and Saturday’s game against the LA Galaxy is expected to feature a vibrant atmosphere.
For the players, the game is their showcase, and the large crowd always provides a boost in motivation. And the drama of the Cali Clasico seems to raise up a notch as a result, as many a famous moment has resulted from the annual affair. Last year’s game ended in a 3-3 draw, with both Galaxy headliner Zlatan Ibrahimowic and Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski scoring twice for their respective sides. More fireworks are expected this year as well.
“All of our focus is on Saturday,” Wondolowski said. “We want to beat LA. We want to win. It’s always a big game, it’s a big rivalry game, but also we just want to stay above that red line right now. It’s a nice place there and we don’t want to look back anymore.”
The Earthquakes (6-6-4, 22 points) enter the weekend in sixth place, but they have their sights on moving even higher up the Western Conference table. The Galaxy (10-6-1, 31 points) sit safely in second place, having won three of their last four games. For Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili, who scored in last year’s Cali Clasico and netted both goals in the Quakes 2-0 midweek win over the Houston Dynamo, the chance to top their rivals is one the team must capitalize on.
“Yeah, it is very important because we are in the playoffs zone now,” Vako said, “and we just need to stay there and keep going and continuing to be focused. We now have an important game.”
The shutout against the Dynamo was the team’s fourth of the season, and it was a result of a complete team effort. Keeping Ibrahimowic off the scoresheet will certainly pose a challenge to the Earthquakes defense, but it’s just such challenges that fuel the fire for the players, especially centerback Florian Jungwirth. The German defender can’t wait for Saturday’s showdown with the Swede.
“We are ready,” Jungwirth said. “It’s the highlight of the season, of course, and coming off a win we can be even more excited about it. Now we can look forward.”
Wondolowski, whose four game goal scoring streak came to an end against the Dynamo, is ready to start a new one. He was one of many players from Wednesday night who acknowledged the need to manage their recuperations properly, but he also was hopeful the shorthanded Quakes would be able to welcome some reinforcements to the lineup.
“We have a lot of games coming up,” Wondolowski said. “It’s nice though we have a couple guys I think that are going to be getting healthy very soon and some key guys as well, so it’s going to be nice to get those guys back in the fold.”
Nick Lima and Harold Cummings are still with their respective national teams as part of the Concacaf Gold Cup, and Anibal Godoy is out for two months due to injury. Some good news on the recovery front involves Shea Salinas, the hero of the Cali Clasico two years ago, who is nearing fitness and available to play. Danny Hoesen and Paul Marie also do not appear on the injury list for Saturday’s game, providing head coach Matias Almeyda with more choices for his gameday 18.
Partnering in the center of the back line with Jungwirth will be Guram Kashia, who has battled back from early season injuries and played himself back into the starting eleven. The two centerbacks played as a tandem for the first time this season in the clean sheet victory against Houston, and they both are confident ahead of the big task ahead with Ibrahimowic in town.
“Our partnership was really good,” Jungwirth said. “He’s a great player with a lot of experience, and I wasn’t scared that we couldn’t play well together.”
Following Saturday’s game at Stanford Stadium, the Quakes will face the Galaxy again in less than two weeks time, as they’ll make the trek down I-5 to meet their rivals at Dignity Health Stadium on July 12. The Cali Clasico comes as part of a difficult stretch in their schedule, as San Jose is in the midst of playing four games in 11 days — a tough task for a depleted roster. But the Earthquakes will look to build off the momentum of a productive Gold Cup break and convincing win over Houston to keep progressing into the summer months.
“In reality, we have not rested,” Almeyda said. “We’ve been playing in the Open Cup. We’ve been traveling. We’ve never had three days off in a row. The players are training hard, and we are invested in our goal to keep improving. We have many matches coming up, and we’ll try to get as many points as we can.”
It will require a full team effort, something Almeyda stresses to the team every day, but one the players have adopted wholeheartedly. The Earthquakes know the task at hand, and they all seem prepared for the next chapter of the storied California Clasico.