How Marsch's foul made the SuperClásico

Freedman: A little nastiness is needed in a real intra-city derby

This probably won’t sit well with David Beckham’s people -- and others -- but here we go:

Jesse
Marsch taking a swift kick to Goldenballs’ privates three years ago may
have been one of the greatest things ever to happen to the
SuperClásico. (Watch the foul HERE.)

Relax,
ladies -- Beckham’s manhood is still intact. And in the long run, no
one got hurt and no one’s career suffered. And let’s be clear here: I’m
not condoning violence in Major League Soccer.

But as the LA
Galaxy get set to host Chivas USA on Thursday night in the Battle of
Los Angeles (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes), there’s no moment in
the history of this rivalry that has added more heat and controversy. A
flashpoint that actually showed an international audience that, yes, we
Americans can grow our intra-city derbies into nasty affairs, too.

Let’s
jog those memories back to late August 2007. Beckham was making his
long-delayed home debut in MLS more than a month after his
injury-plagued arrival. And 27,000 had packed Home Depot Center to see
the league’s first Designated Player, who was groggy with jet lag after
going the entire 90 for England in a friendly against Germany at
Wembley just 24 hours earlier.

In first-half injury time, a
noticeably exhausted Beckham pounced on a loose ball just past
midfield. That’s when Marsch, an MLS original, scurried in and applied
a swift right boot straight to Beckham’s groin.

Welcome to America, Mr. Beckham.

The
ensuing confrontation was almost as memorable. Beckham got up and
charged Marsch, and Galaxy striker Edson Buddle had to hold back his
new teammate to keep him from causing any more mayhem. In the end, a
giant pushing match erupted out of the scrum.

Off the ball, LA
midfielder Kevin Harmse took a swing at Chivas USA’s Alex Zotinca, who
responded with a Zinedine Zidane-worthy head-butt to Harmse’s face.

Ugly
as it was, it was also fantastic theater. The referee handed out cards
like he was a Vegas blackjack dealer, and the Red-and-White went on to
paste their HDC co-tenants by a 3-0 margin.

Up until that point,
the SuperClásico had been all Galaxy, who boasted an 8-1-2 record in
those matchups. But from that game forward, the pendulum swung Chivas’
way, at least for a little while. It wasn’t always pretty, that’s for
sure. But the Goats got it done with a little elbow grease, a little
intimidation and a ton of raw heart.

“That was just part of the
emotion,” the now-retired Marsch told MLSsoccer.com over the phone on
Wednesday. “As much as your job is to put that aside and play the game,
you get caught up in the moment.”

And that, amigos, is what has
turned the so-called Honda SuperClásico from an artificially created
spectacle into the type of can’t-miss drama it is now, what MLS hoped
it one day would become. It showed that a grudge match that was
essentially forced on these two teams became an actual grudge match.
There were bitter feelings. There was something at stake.

You
think SuperClásico and you think of the biggest of the big: AC Milan
vs. Inter Milan. Rangers vs. Celtic. Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur. And
especially, its very namesake, the real Superclásico: Boca
Juniors vs. River Plate. Nasty, awful rivalries, to be sure, which put
the very best and the very worst of the Beautiful Game on display.

But
regardless, you can’t argue with the raw displays of passion -- both on
the field and in the stands. It’s what makes this game so great, the
topics of conversation that dominate the water coolers, pubs, cafés and
shebeens all over the world.

Time may heal all, but in this
case, it took time to rip the wounds raw. Because this rivalry required
a little history and a little organic growth before it could finally
turn nasty. Now, it’s glitz versus work rate. Haves vs. have-nots. A
clash of cultures and a clash of ideologies. In short, what fuels real
rivalries.

To be fair, these teams don’t flat-out dislike each
other. Plenty of them are friends off the field, and some have even
played for both clubs. That’s part of the weirdness of sharing
facilities in a relatively young league. But players on both sides will
tell you, there’s heat to this matchup now and they get extra-amped to
face those guys whose locker room is only 30 feet down the hall.

“It’s
not like you hate individual players on their team,” explained Galaxy
midfielder Chris Klein, a veteran of 11 SuperClásicos. “But you hate
Chivas.”

And for that, we have Marsch to thank. It was one
ill-timed foul and it was three seasons ago. But it just so happened to
land in the sensitive area of the biggest sex symbol in the game: the
very embodiment of the fundamental differences between the two clubs.
The perfect protest.

In retrospect, it was a genius move that
gave us the first great nasty moment in this rivalry. For the
SuperClásico’s sake -- for everyone’s -- let’s hope it’s not the last.

Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. His “Throw-Ins” column appears every Thursday.