The LA Galaxy’s Greatest All-Time Rivalries

Editors Note: This article was researched and co-written by two of CoG’s writers – Chandrima Chatterjee and Bobby Saberi

There’s less than a week (hopefully) remaining till the season kicks off, MLS asked fans to pick their favorite rivalry. This made us all wax on about old-timey MLS rivalries and league history. Looking back… there are a few that ah, make us salivate: 1. Seattle v Portland (Tried and true.) 2. LA v SJ (Don’t worry, we’ll dive in to this.) 3. DC v NY (There’s a very physical rivalry here but perhaps the most memorable still is the Alecko Eskandarian incident, who famously sucked on a Red Bull and spit it out after scoring a goal in 2006.) 4. Dallas v Houston (Apparently Texas isn’t big enough for both of them, and there’s something about the Dallas Cowboys that we’re not clear on.) 5. RSL v Rapids (Rocky Mountain rivals.) 

But let’s get to the LA Galaxy and their all-time rivalries.

1) San Jose Earthquakes

This classic NorCal v SoCal rivalry dates as early as 1995. San Jose v LA was always meant to be a rivalry for the ages. Marked by intense playoffs, epic comebacks and fan clashes, the animosity reflects that soccer is about more than just the game. It’s about lifestyle, culture, sentiment. It’s fun but it’s also a flammable combustion. We don’t need to explain how Landon Donovan’s migration from SJ to LA fueled the flames, do we? And to this day, the lines of battle remain intact. Which reminds us, have LA Galaxy fans yet accepted Gordon? He’s trying to make good on his new loyalties. All told, 29 players have played for both the Galaxy and San Jose.

The rivalry started almost two decades ago, in the days of the San Jose Clash, but it reached its peak from 2001-2005 around when SJ Earthquakes and LA Galaxy each won 2 MLS Cups within a 5-year period.

It begins with the 2001 MSL Cup played at Columbus Crew Stadium in front of a sold-out crowd of 21,626. LA Galaxy took the lead with a goal from Luis Hernandez who scored on a half volley just inside the box. But right before halftime, Landon Donovan scored one for the Earthquakes. The match ended at 1-1 after regulation, and for the second time in MLS Cup history, the final was won by a golden goal with Dwayne De Rosario scoring in the 96th minute to break the Galaxy’s hearts.

The Galaxy and Earthquakes once again played in a heated Cup series in 2003, one which San Jose still calls their greatest comeback ever.

It was the heated Western Conference Semifinals of 2003. The LA Galaxy won the first leg at the The Home Depot Center. However, the second game turned into one of the craziest and saddest Galaxy games EVER witnessed. LA had an early 2-goal lead in the match, (a 4-0 aggregate) and we all thought it was over. But not so fast. San Jose miraculously fought back, scoring 4 goals with a 90th minute, stoppage time goal by Chris Roner taking the game into extra time, where Rodrigo Faria scored the winner, breaking LA’s hearts. The Earthquakes carried that wind of victory through to their second MLS Cup championship.

MLS history is peppered with many more epic California Clasicos. Carlos Ruiz, dubbed a Quakes killer in his day, scored last-minute game winners twice at the Rose Bowl in 2002. Fast forward ten years to May 23, 2012: Gordo stuns LA with a 94th minute bullet (LA 2, San Jose 3). Then, in June 2013, in a packed Stanford Stadium, Alan Gordon does it again (and you wonder why Galaxy fans have a hard time forgetting the past?) with an incredible dramatic flare in the 93rd minute and San Jose became the first MLS team ever to win a game in extra time with 10 men.

LA Galaxy have 31 wins, 18 ties, and 21 losses in the full series of 70 matches with the Earthquakes. Goal tally: 94 scored. 82 allowed.

With less than 400 miles separating the two cities, traveling is not too difficult for supporter clubs, and it has sparked numerous clashes. One infamous incident occured in October 2012 at Buck Shaw Stadium when a fight reportedly took place and two smoke bombs were ignited in the Galaxy fans section. Riot-geared officers cleared out the Galaxy fan section and 7 arrests were made for the offenses.

Hurt feelings abound on both sides for supporters, but the reality of geography means players are likely to switch teams often. In the end who do you support, the player or the team? For most fans, it’s the team. The same goes for the players — play for team, love your team, it’s all part of the game!

Honorable Mention: Just a few of our favorites that warrant discussion.

2) DC United

DC United Dynasty from early MLS days... Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
DC United Dynasty from early MLS days… Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

We justify calling this a rivalry because of their early Cup duels. The rivalry with DC also dates back to 1996. Both teams were members of the MLS original ten, and found themselves battling for the first-ever MLS Cup. LA took an early lead with a goal by Eduardo Hurtado in the 4th minute, then scored again in the 56th minute (Chris Armas). But the fates quickly shifted when Tony Sanneh and Shawn Medved both scored to end the match in a 2-2 tie. In the 94th minute of extratime, Eddie Pope hit a header past LA’s Jorge Campos, to give DC United the first MLS Cup Trophy.

The Galaxy once again faced United in the 1999 MLS Cup. This was DC’s 4th consecutive appearance in the MLS Cup Finals, and they’d won all but one. At the NE Revolution’s Foxboro Stadium, with an attendance of 44,910, LA only produced 1 shot on goal during the entire final. Jaime Moreno gave United a 1-0 lead when he scored a rebound off a Kevin “El Gato” Hartman save. A second goal for United came from Ben Olsen (DC’s current head coach). And with it, DC was on a historic roll. To this day, sit and stare at the emblems of the glamour years within the aging RFK stadium. No soccer afficianado can deny the beauty of DCU’s early years. It’s a magical feeling for all soccer lovers.

As for the Galaxy fans, the one thought back then was if they could ever beat DC…

And they did! LA Galaxy finally won a game against DC United at home, on the road to the 2000 CONCACAF Champions Cup. The LA Galaxy tied that semifinal match through regulation time and then won on penalties 4-2. LA continued on to a 3-2 win over Honduran side Club Deportivo Olimpia in the final. United (in 1998) and the LA Galaxy (in 2000) are the only two MLS clubs to win a CONCACAF title.

The new millennium began a new era for MLS: the 12 teams were divided into 3 regions, with four-team conferences named the East, West and Central. And with that, the landscape of rivalries was changed forever.

But DC and LA still have had 2 of the best atmospheres in the league (in our opinion) with DC United fans making RFK a very tough stadium to play in with their screaming eagles fan base.

Between the clubs, they have won 9 of the 19 MLS Cups, with the LA Galaxy taking 5 and DC United taking 4.

3) Seattle Sounders

2014 Supporters Shield battle part 1 - StubHub Center.  Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
2014 Supporters Shield battle part 1 – StubHub Center. Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

In no way are we saying this rivalry beats the Portland-Seattle one. It doesn’t. It can’t. But LA and Seattle have been competitors ever since the initiation of the Sounders back in 2009. There have been many a physical battle, producing eight red cards over the years. They have faced each other in the playoffs three times, with the Galaxy winning all three aggregate series.

Who could forget the 4-0 lashing of the Sounders on May 5, 2010 which led to a refund for all Sounders’ Season Ticket Holders? The Galaxy have also faced the Sounders twice in the US Open Cup with losses in both matches (2-0, in 2010 and 3-1, in 2011). The MLS playoff series with the Sounders have all been close. In 2012, the Galaxy won the opening leg 3-0, with goals by Robbie Keane(2) and Mike Magee(1), but the next match in Seattle led to one of the most entertaining games we’ve seen: Seattle scored two goals and created real hope for the Sounders. But a 68th minute penalty awarded to Robbie Keane sealed the deal and took the Galaxy to MLS Cup.

Just this past season, this rivalry pushed even higher stakes when the Galaxy and the Sounders faced off in what was arguably the closest we’ve ever come to a European-style championship. Heart-pumping playoffs are where rivalries are formed. In the 2014 MLS Cup Western conference playoffs, the Galaxy’s do-or-die second-half goal was scored by Marcelo Sarvas, who famously fell to the ground with elation afterwards. Then the Galaxy traveled to Seattle and trailed behind 2-0, but with the controversial away-goal rule in effect, still stood a chance. So it was a fateful 54th minute moment in history, when Juninho blasted a shot that bounced off the post into the back of the net to lead the Galaxy to MLS Cup 2014 Cup. It’s possibly one of the most significant goals in Galaxy history.

4) Real Salt Lake

First leg of Western Conference Semifinals 2014... Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
First leg of Western Conference Semifinals 2014…
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

This is about recent playoff history. The first time LA met RSL in postseason was in 2009 when Real beat the Galaxy in the MLS Cup in penalties. In 2011, the Galaxy won in a one-game conference finals played in LA, 3-1. In 2013, LA Galaxy lost to RSL in a two-game semi-finals round on aggregate, 3-1. And last but certainly not least, in 2014 LA settled the score in a goal-fest with Landon Donovan scoring a hat-trick to halt all rumors of it being his “last game” and with Keane and Sarvas collecting 1-apiece. After outshooting LA 16-3 in the first leg at Rio Tinto Stadium eight days earlier, RSL was outshot 19-4 on Sunday and LA came away with a lovely 5-0 win that lives on in our minds as a glorious night.

In Conclusion…

To recap, because let’s face it, this warrants a recap. What are the key factors to a proper MLS rivalry? It’s the blending of all of them that makes something memorable and lasting, almost like a living, breathing soulful entity.

  1. Geography. For fans and for teams to play each other often and fuel the flames
  2. History. How often have they faced each other and how heated did those games get?
  3. Supporter clubs. Can’t stress this factor enough
  4. Superstars. Given the parity in the MLS, rivalries of superstars isn’t likely to happen, but think about it a moment – the Thierry vs Landon in a final to end all finals, of 2014 didn’t quite come to fruition, but would have made for tremendous headlines. We can still dream of it though. And players who ‘defect’ from one team to another are that special ingredient all good rivalries need.

Who would you pick as LA’s biggest and most memorable rival? Sound off (no pun intended)!