Three times the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy have met this year. Three times they've turned in memorable encounters. A total of 16 goals have been scored in those matches, with the Earthquakes grabbing the 2-0-1 edge.
If this rivalry had started to dissipate in the years since the Earthquakes returned to MLS, this year seems to have brought back in a major way. Now, with them meeting in the playoffs for the first time since 2005, the rivalry is set to reach new heights.
It's also a good time to look back on what was once one of the great MLS rivalries. Prior to the Earthquakes moving/taking a hiatus following the 2005 season, these two franchises had met four times in the playoffs.
The first of those meetings was in the league's inaugural year, when San Jose was known as the Clash. They also met in the 2001 MLS Cup Final, a game the Earthquakes won in added-sudden death overtime on a Dwayne DeRosario goal.
The encounter most people probably remember though is when the Earthquakes overcame what was at one point a four-goal aggregate-goal deficit to win their Western Conference semifinal 5-4 on their way to their second ever MLS Cup title.
After seven years, we are finally about to be treated to what has the looks of another epic matchup. In a way, this has the potential to be even bigger than any of those previous meetings.
The league has grown immensely since 2005. There are seven more teams, total attendance has more than doubled and the league now has players that are much more widely known. While their last matchup in 2005 had the intrigue of Landon Donovan facing off against his old team, this one has story lines galor.
The Earthquakes have engineered one of the greatest regular-seasons in league history, with Chris Wondolowski tying the MLS single-season record with 27 goals to lead the Earthquakes to an eye-popping 72. Steven Lenhart, his usual partner in crime, has so infuriated opponents that Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez threw a virtual tantrum after their last meeting.
On the other side, you have the questions surrounding Landon Donovan's future, which suddenly seems very cloudy. The longtime poster boy of American soccer is telling just about everyone that he's planning to take some kind of break after this season and there are questions about how much longer he intends to play. There's also the very real possibility that this will be David Beckham's final MLS experience, as the 37-year-old nearly left the Galaxy after last season.
However it turns out, this is an undeniably great thing for MLS. As has been stated many times over, sports thrive on rivalries and few have the potential of this one.
While Seattle-Portland is interesting, it's much more in a "wow, look at those crazy kids" way. The East Coast rivalries seem to struggle to catch on with the populations at large. But this one potentially has it all.
In Los Angeles as the Bay Area, you have the two biggest population centers on the West Coast and two enormous TV markets. The Galaxy have always been one of the premier clubs in MLS, but the Earthquakes are finally showing some potential to get closer to that point. San Jose has already broken ground on their new stadium and the local populace is finally starting to take notice of their soccer team.
This should be good.