Through the first 73 minutes of play, the game was a bit of a laugher.
The Earthquakes, without their top scorer, Chris Wondolowski, were down 2-0 to the reigning MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy with less than 17 minutes to play.
But then, courtesy of a Steven Lenhart header, San Jose scored. And then scored again — and again.
The dramatic 3-2 stoppage-time win the Earthquakes stole at the Home Depot Center last month was the last time San Jose shared the playing field with their Southern California rival. But that will change Saturday.
The first-place Quakes will host the once-struggling, but now surging Galaxy at Stanford Stadium, a 50,000-seat venue that has already sold out.
“Hopefully we can send them home happy,” Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop said in regard to the expected crowd. “But tough game. Tough, tough game.”
After starting the season 3-8-2, Los Angeles has won three straight, including a recent road toppling of current second-place club Real Salt Lake.
“They’re the champions,” Yallop said. “They’re a good team. They’ve got the big three — Landon [Donovan], David [Beckham] and Robbie Keane. Those three on any team ... they’re going to be good. We just gotta be on our game.”
But in the first half of the 2012 season, Los Angeles hardly looked the champion. While San Jose, which lost in the Open Cup quarterfinals 1-0 at Kezar Stadium to the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday, surprised many with their early splendid play, the Galaxy struggled.
But Yallop, despite a possible raucous home-field advantage, is expecting the best of his opposition.
“If you’ve seen their lineup in the past two games, they’re starting to get all of their players back,” he said. “In a lot of games, I thought they dominated. But just a little bit unlucky with some of the goals and missed chances.”
But unlike the first round of the California Clasico last month, Los Angeles will have both Donovan and Keane on its roster — the Galaxy’s two leading scorers.
“You speak of one of the big clubs in this league,” San Jose keeper Jon Busch said. “They’re a big club. Bruce [Arena] has got them going all of a sudden. They’re starting to find their groove. They’re going to be another tough challenge for us.”
But while many can get lost in the highs and lows of the season’s first half, what happens in July through October is of greater importance when determining the positioning of teams poised for the postseason.
“Every game now becomes a little bit tougher,” Busch said, “a little bit more important as we slowly creep through the second half of the season.”
The second half of the season starts Saturday.