Ten minutes into the second half at Home Depot Center on this Saturday night, the P.A. booms “¡Arriba las Chivas!” so loud the ushers flinch. The grito over the loudspeakers whips up the sold-out house of 18,800, almost of all of them here to cheer for the opponents of the L.A. Galaxy, Los Angeles' star-studded Major League Soccer team.
The Galaxy's rivals haven't come far for the match — the fans that send “¡Arribas!” up to the roof are here for Chivas USA, L.A.'s other soccer team. The team, which also uses Home Depot Center as its home field, was formed in 2004 as an L.A. outpost of Mexico's most beloved club, Chivas de Guadalajara. Tonight's game, the SuperClasico, is held twice a year, pitting Chivas against its cross-hallway adversary.
Also called the Battle of L.A., tonight's game is a microcosm of our twin L.A.s, Anglo and Mexican. The game itself has many names, in English and Spanish: the Battle, El SuperClasico, the L.A. Derby, El Clasico Angelino. And so do the teams — it's the Galaxy or Los Galácticos versus Chivas, the Goats, Los Rojiblancos. There are different names for different ways of living in our layered metropolis. As Chivas fan Jesse Arciniega says of having a Mexican team right here in Carson, “It feels good to have. Soccer is so international, having two teams in L.A. makes you feel involved. You know, like, 'I don't have to go to TJ to see my team.' “
There's one other way El SuperClasico reflects our Mexican-American moment: Chivas just can't catch a break. Despite their lofty lineage, the Goats remain heart-tugging underdogs — Chivas' last SuperClasico victory was in 2007. In fact, the team has scored only one goal against the Galaxy in the past three years and 11 games.
It's not just the SuperClasico: Most comparisons between Chivas and the Galaxy are lopsided, with the advantage squarely in the Galaxy's possession. For one, the Galaxy has soccer demigod David Beckham, whose 2011 salary of $6.5 million outstripped Chivas' entire payroll by $2.5 million. Four days before this game, Becks and the Galaxy were at the White House, where President Obama congratulated them on their 2011 MLS Cup Championship.
Tonight, Chivas has been designated home team, and the south end of the stadium is filled with Rojiblancos fans waving red-and-white checkered flags. The stands here are a patchwork of different supporters' groups, each with their own take on what it means to support a Mexican team that makes its home in L.A.
The largest group, the Union Ultras, fills the stands south of the goal line, chanting in Spanish. Parents and children wave the flags of Mexico, England and El Salvador, as well as the bear flag, California's official herald. These fans root for other teams in other countries but unite here.
To the east of the Ultras, Black Army 1850's motley gang of friendly rockabilly punks and low-rider goofballs chose to commemorate the year California became part of the United States, while across the field, Legion Kalifas left their hearts in Guadalajara. For them, Chivas USA is a convenient fill-in for their true love, its parent club, and they prove it by drumming and chanting straight through “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Galaxy's various support groups have been combined in one section in the north bleachers. But tonight's real rivalry is measured in volume and is fought between Chivas' fan clubs — by Ultra and Legion, which make their home in the south stands, which are strewn with confetti homemade from Nuestra Gente and PennySavers.
Happy-go-lucky Black Army allows a group of tipsy friends, decked out in both Chivas and Galaxy jerseys, to make a home in its section. One swings his beer into the air and announces, “We're 20 guys from Oxnard. Half of us are Galaxy fans, half are Chivas fans! No matter what goes, we gonna be happy!”
The game? Scoreless until the 69th minute, when a foul is called against the Galaxy for a hand ball. Chivas forward Jose Erick Correa sets up for a penalty kick and sails it cleanly to the back of the net. The south end loses it — Ultra has two men beating each drum, while Legion releases blizzard after blizzard of confetti into the air. The Ultras' leader resorts to his megaphone and English for the first time, shouting at his squad, “Get your flags up! We're fucking winning. Put your fucking flags UP!”
The next 19 minutes run by without another goal, and so for the first time in five years, Chivas USA wins. Despite the fact that a curse has just been lifted, fans in red, white, blue and gold trickle sedately out of the stadium, their words drowned under the sub-bass thwacking of a watchful LAPD chopper overhead.
They might be calm because so many of them already have their heads turned down toward their smartphones: At that moment, the Lakers are up 94 to 89 against Oklahoma City, with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. In minutes the Lakers will be defeated and out of the playoffs, another L.A. powerhouse momentarily forced to share its customary spotlight.