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A rivalry between soccer clubs gains momentum in Los Angeles (Videos)

The L.A. Galaxy, in white jerseys, hosted Chivas USA on March 17 in the first of the teams' three meetings this season.
The L.A. Galaxy, in white jerseys, hosted Chivas USA on March 17 in the first of the teams' three meetings this season.
Charles Castaldi/KPCC
The L.A. Galaxy, in white jerseys, hosted Chivas USA on March 17 in the first of the teams' three meetings this season.
Members of the Black Army fan club are staunch supporters of Chivas USA.
Charles Castaldi

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On a sunny Saturday afternoon at the Home Depot Center in Carson, two soccer teams are battling it out.  But these aren’t professionals. They’re actually fans, member of clubs that passionately support the local teams: The L.A. Riot Squad roots for the Galaxy and The Black Army 1850 backs Chivas USA.

The pro teams share the same stadium, and they face each other three times during the season in games called Super Clásicos. And fueling the rivalry are the fan groups that are unique to soccer.

As Chivas fan Alan Matthews, a native of Ecuador, explains: “Basically it’s live or die with the team. When the team is losing and they’re not doing good, you’re still there, you’re still supporting. And if we’re down three-zero, you’re still supporting, you’re still on your feet. You’re still chanting, you’re still there for the team."

Angel Mendoza, from Gardena, is Matthews' Black Army teammate. He says Chivas is David to the Galaxy's Goliath: “We’re the underdogs, we’re the working man’s team. The Galaxy, they’re the Hollywood-Beverly Hills team. You know, the superstars.”

And that, in a nutshell, is what this rivalry boils down to — not just for the fan clubs, but for the teams they support.

The L.A. Galaxy has been a winning team in the American soccer league, and until this year it boasted one of the biggest stars in soccer, David Beckham.

Chivas USA, was established here in 2004 by the same owners of Chivas Guadalajara, a championship team in the Mexican soccer league. The idea was to draw fans from L.A.’s large Mexican community. At the outset, Chivas prided itself on a roster made up entirely of Mexican players. The problem is that Chivas USA has hardly been a match for the Galaxy.

Video: Watch a game video from LA Riot Squad, Thursday Night from Luis Sanchez on Vimeo.

To some Galaxy fans, like Don Loney, exporting a Mexican team to L.A. to attract Latinos was just a cheap marketing trick.

“They are such a patronizing embarrassment to American soccer and American culture,” Loney says. “They are like the Taco Bell of Major League Soccer. They are a fake. They are ersatz. They are artificial. And they had the nerve to say they were going to run the Galaxy out of town and force us to be their fans.”

Loney’s passionate dismissal of Chivas is not uncommon among Galaxy supporters. They regard other teams in the league, such as the San Jose Earthquakes, as real adversaries. Chivas, they say, is not worthy of respect.

“I am counting the hours until they go,” Loney says. “I am a Galaxy Hamas. I do not recognize their right to exist.”

Jason Barquero, who covers soccer for Univision, agrees that up to now it’s hardly been a level playing field. “Chivas isn’t there yet,” he says. “I think they’re still what the Clippers were several years back and what the Angels were a very long time ago. But I think Chivas can change that around if they start to win.”

Barquero also points out a unique aspect of this rivalry: Galaxy fans are much more ethnically mixed, he says, and come from all walks of life.“Chivas USA is very niche,” he adds. “You’re going to find a certain fan base that covers a little more blue-collar, a little bit of the everyday Mexican and Mexican-American, both first- and second-generation.  In many cases it’s all Spanish speaking, in some cases they’re bilingual."

This is especially noticeable in the sections where the support groups sit.  Most of the Galaxy chants are in English, while Chivas fans tend to chant in Spanish.

Last Sunday's game had a bit of a surprise in store for both sides. Chivas held the Galaxy scoreless for most of the game, even after they lost a player to a red card and played one man down for the entire second half.

Galaxy forward Jack McBean scored in the 83rd minute and it appeared that, once again, the Galaxy would walk away from another Super Clásico as the victor. But with one minute left to go, L.A. native Carlos Alvarez scored for Chivas and the game ended as a tie.

For Chivas fan Andres Morales, who came from Riverside with his wife and two kids, tying the Galaxy was like a victory. “I didn’t expect it,” Morales said, barely able to contain his joy. “I thought we were going to lose. But it’s a sweet goal right there. So nice, especially in the middle of all the Galaxy fans.”

Video: Listen to the chants and watch interviews with two Chivas USA supporter groups, Black Army 1850 and Union Ultras from VancouverWhiteCapsFC on YouTube.

Morales was born and raised in Mexico. Perhaps the original idea of drawing Mexicans and Mexican Americans might be working after all.

“It’s a traditional team that most of my family follows,” Morales said. “So it’s like I follow it, my son follows it, my daughter. So it’s like having part of home over here.”

Susan Brand, outfitted in all forms of Galaxy paraphernalia, came from Torrance to see the game with her husband. They both caught the soccer bug years ago when their daughter started playing. She thinks the rivalry might actually turn into something exciting to watch.

“Yeah I think it’s going to be bigger now,” Brand says. “Chivas I think is an improved team this year. Past couple of years, you know they haven’t been that good. But this was a tough game.”

Indeed, if Chivas continues to play well, it could mean more fans, more rivalry and more respect.

By the numbers:

Chivas USA
LA Galaxy
2004 Founded 1995
José Luis Sánchez Solá "Chelís" Coach Bruce Arenas
ChivaFighter (goat) Mascot Cozmos
Start at $17.00 Tickets Start at $12.50
13,056 Attendance 23,136
Jorge Vergara Madrigal OWNER AEG
First in Western Conference in 2007 best season MLS Cup Champions in 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012
Sascha Kljestan (USA), Jonathan Brornstein (USA), Claudio Suarez (Mexico), Paco Placencia (Mexico) notable former players David Beckham (UK), Luis Hernandez (Mexico), Carlos Hermosillo, Jorge Campos, Mauricio Cienfuegos (El Salvador), Cobi Jones (USA), Martin Pavon (Honduras), Eduardo Hurtado (Colombia)
La Irrevente Supporters Galaxian
Union Ultras (Section 101) Supporters Angel City Brigade (Section 121/122)
Black Army 1850 (Section 138) Supporters LA Riot Squad (Section 137/138)
Read Black Army 1850 chants The chants Listen to Angel City Brigade chants

*Average home game attendance from 2012 season.