MLS is having a very good week. On Sunday, the Seattle Sounders - Portland Timbers derby pulled an 0.6 rating with a Euro 2012 lead in; MLS' best regular season rating since 2001. ESPN put rivalry promos into heavy rotation before the match, and during the match they started plugging for this weekend's derby broadcast at 7pm on ESPN2; the California Classico.
In reality, both derbies are fairly strange in the American soccer landscape in that they're both long standing and survived hiatuses. The Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders have been playing in one form or another since the 70s, starting off in the NASL. The San Jose Earthquakes can trace their heritage back to the NASL as well, but they've only been playing the LA Galaxy since 1996.
Of course, that's not continuous since the original MLS Earthquakes moved to Houston in 2005. This version of the Earthquakes has been playing since 2008. With it came the rebirth of the California Classico, but the series just hasn't felt the same.
For one, the first San Jose franchise was a winner. With a young Landon Donovan on their team, the Earthquakes won two titles between 2001 and 2003. The 2001 Cup came with a victory over the LA Galaxy, their third MLS Cup loss without a win.
The seeds for rivalry were planted, and then after the Galaxy evened the Cup tally at two a piece the Quakes moved. Down in Houston the franchise won two more titles (without Landon Donovan) so really San Jose could have been the DC United of the 2000s.
The other factor taking away from the interstate rivalry was that the Galaxy gained an inner-city rival in Chivas USA. Who Galaxy fans considered the bigger rival became a matter for debate. However, Chivas' more promising days are a few years past, and San Jose has reemerged under Chris Wondolowski.
Wondolowski won the MLS Golden boot in 2010, snatching it off Edson Buddle's foot on the last day. Last year, he was top player in the Castrol Index. He's currently the league leader with 13 goals, has the Earthquakes first in the West with the most points in the league; 33 in 16 games.
With the Galaxy reigning MLS Cup champions (finally leading the Cup tally 3-2), the time is right for the rivalry to be rekindled. Landon Donovan, who has been on two Galaxy Cup winners, is heating up winning player of the week with three goals and two assists as the Galaxy grabbed nine points in seven days.
The final component to this puzzle is more of a head scratcher. For Galaxy player Alan Gordon won the Cup with the team in 2005, and since his release from the team has made it a personal mission to score on the Galaxy every chance he gets. He's scored five goals for San Jose this season, including the game winner over the Galaxy a few weeks ago at The Home Depot Center.
Landon Donovan isn't the only Galaxy player who was on a San Jose Cup winner. Todd Dunivant and Josh Saunders were also on the Quakes 2003 Cup winning team.
While Portland-Seattle may be more spirited, and New York-DC may have more history, no derby has been as even as LA vs SJ. Like Dodgers-Giants, Rams-49ers, and Kings-Sharks before it, MLS has a darn good rivalry in Galaxy-Quakes.