Major League Soccer clubs San Jose and the Los Angeles Galaxy square off in a sometimes fierce rivalry dubbed the California Clasico. It was a bit more friendly Saturday night, but still a delight for a sellout crowd of 12,659 at Chukchansi Park.
In what was billed as the Central California Cup and also represented the first all-MLS exhibition in Fresno, the Galaxy edged the Earthquakes 2-1 in a preseason exhibition.
Marcelo Sarvas opened the scoring in the 31st minute and Gyasi Zardes doubled the Galaxy lead in the 54th. Sarvas took a through ball from Landon Donovan that he met past the Quakes back line and then rocketed across and past the keeper and into the upper corner of the net.
San Jose scored in the 68th when defender Josh Morton knocked in a corner kick from Sam Garza.
But beyond the score, the game put World Cup talent on display in the Valley, including U.S. footballers Omar Gonzalez and Donovan, who both started for the Galaxy.
American nationals Chris Wondolowski and Clarence Goodson play for San Jose but were not on the eligible roster at gametime Saturday.
San Jose coach Mark Watson said Wondolowski sat out as a precaution.
"He had a little groin tweak and we decided not to risk it," Watson said.
Wondolowski made up for his absence from the field by interacting off it with the big fan turnout. He signed autographs and took pictures with fans on the concourse after the game.
The meeting of the normally intense foes definitely looked like an exhibition on the field, too, as both coaches carved into their regulars' playing time to give younger players more game experience.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena was especially satisfied with what he saw from Brazilian forward Samuel, who Arena said is playing the best he has since arriving in Los Angeles.
In the second half, Samuel was cornered by two defenders but got out of the jam using a little homeland joga bonito (beautiful play) and dazzling the fans with his dribbling skills.
Despite the loss — and not taking home the Cup — Watson was content with the work rate of his players.
"When you play preseason games, your focus isn't the result but getting your guys used to each other," he said. "It's about finding the right balance and we didn't veer from that plan tonight."
Gonzalez and Donovan each played 60 minutes before being subbed off to a roar from the crowd. Those cheers were second-best, though, to the reaction to Zardes' golazo — or awesome goal.
"Playing here in Chukchansi Park was great," Gonzalez said. "This is great preparation for us and it's good we played San Jose because they are very aggressive and get in your face."
Gonzalez and Donovan both hinted at a potential rematch next year, though a 2015 Central California Cup has not been confirmed.
"The fans came out tonight and hopefully we will be back again next year, it seems like, and hopefully we can keep the Cup," Gonzalez said.
Said Donovan: "I was really impressed with the crowd. I thought it was great and there's no reason why we shouldn't come back here again."
Both teams' fan clubs made the trip, with the more than 200 Earthquakes fans that make up the 1906 Ultras at the south end and a couple of dozen representing the LA Riot Squad.
"It's convenient and we were able to get really good numbers out," Ultras organizer Mike Bitondo said. "We've traveled for preseason games in the past, but this is the biggest crowd we've had for an exhibition."
The Ultras even challenged the brisk Fresno weather, tearing off their shirts after Morton's goal and dancing shirtless while watching the final 20 minutes.
• Earlier in the day, goals by Paul Islas and Justin Finch carried Premier Development League club Fresno Fuego to a 2-1 victory over the Earthquakes reserves.
It capped a run of three matches at Chukchansi Park this week, including a Thursday game in which the Galaxy's USL Pro team beat the Fuego 2-1.