There is fierce intensity in this game. The San Jose Earthquakes take on the rival Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday night at Stanford Stadium. Call it the California Clasico. The 50,000-seat stadium is sold out. Expect it to be loud. There will be fireworks on the field and off.
San Jose started the season as the dark horse. It charged out the gate and now leads the field, sitting atop its conference. No small feat for a team that last year failed to make the playoffs.
Hang the current form on a powerful defense, a creative midfield and hungry attack. Scoring in the twilight of the game has become a team habit. Striker Alan Gordon is often deployed as the late sub that sinks the opposition. He has five goals off the bench this year. Defenders must quiver when they see him coming on. He's a vital part of the Quakes crew that guns for goals - Chris Wondolowski is the league's top scorer, maverick Steven Lenhart adds to the tally.
Frank Yallop is the Quakes' boss. He knows MLS back to front, winning two MLS Cups in his coaching career. His thoughtful approach to the game rubs off on the players. Camaraderie is his coin in the locker room. It has to be. The players are not the highest-paid in MLS but they possess something more valuable. They play for each other. "We've got good chemistry," says Yallop, "I like the way we hang out in social settings. I think that makes a difference when you go on the field. We like each other."
This is part of the honest feel about the Quakes. They play in the simple but homely atmosphere of Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University. Buck Shaw is not the sort of real estate today's MLS likes to promote. The league's desire for global credibility is partly predicated on teams having their own modern stadiums. The days of sharing line markings with the gridiron are over. Plans are afoot to break ground on a new Quakes stadium soon. Until then, the rumble rolls from Buck Shaw unless David Beckham and the Galaxy are visiting. They expect to play in a bigger house - and so to Stanford.
Down at the Galaxy, economics are a little different. Their players wage bill requires more accountancy. Beckham and Landon Donovan command the kind of dollars we expect sports stars to earn. But the green has been slow to rub off on defending MLS champion L.A. this year. A poor start to the season, including a home loss to the Quakes, had many thinking the unthinkable. Could the Galaxy miss out on the playoffs? Coach Bruce Arena has turned the ship around in the past three games with wins. The club's brass is relieved. Owning the silver is expected in Los Angeles.
Over in Eastern Europe - Euro 2012, the summit beckons. Spain and Italy have carried their flags to the top. The final is Sunday in Kiev, Ukraine. Depressingly, finals are usually thin on goals. Fear the penalty kicks. Are there any alternatives? One idea to reduce the possibility of a shootout is to play extra time with seven-a-side, including the goalie. This would open up much space on the field. Yes, the players would be knackered, but three fresh subs could be inserted. The action could at times look like a soccer Keystone Cops, but at least the outcome could be decided by actual play and not set pieces.
Who: Quakes vs. Galaxy
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Stanford Stadium
Euro 2012 final
Who: Spain vs. Italy
When: 11:45 a.m. Sunday
Where: Kiev, Ukraine