A dormant rivalry that resisted artificial rousing last season could be about to erupt, as the San Jose Earthquakes visit Sounders FC at noon today.
Last season, it seemed logical that the clubs would become rivals. Geographically, San Jose is the nearest MLS city down Interstate 5. And historically, these were the only two MLS franchises retaining the names of their forerunners from the North American Soccer League, when the Sounders-Quakes rivalry burned bright. A trophy – the Heritage Cup – was even created to mark the rivalry’s resurrection.
But rivalries boil on passion, not logic. So San Jose fans continued to view Los Angeles as their archrival, while Sounders fans directed their venom toward Houston and D.C. United for reasons that had nothing to do with history or geography.
As for the inaugural Heritage Cup, San Jose won that. But the result seemed to bring more ridicule than passion from Sounders coach Sigi Schmid.
“I don’t know how the Heritage Cup got decided, because we played three games, we won two of them and somehow they won the Heritage Cup,” Schmid said Friday. “I thought if you win two out of three you would win the cup, but they eliminated one of the games. So I figured we’d play these two games and then we decide which game we want to eliminate and then we decide who wins the cup. ... It’s not a big thing that’s entered our mind at this stage, to be honest.”
Because the clubs played twice in Seattle last season and once in San Jose, the first game in Seattle – a 2-0 Sounders win – didn’t count in Heritage Cup standings. Seattle also won the second home meeting, 1-0, but the cup went to San Jose by aggregate score when the Quakes mauled Seattle, 4-0, at Buck Shaw Stadium.
However, the cup must have seemed the mildest of consolation prizes as the Sounders went on to the MLS playoffs while the Quakes sat home.
This season, the Earthquakes are playing the kind of soccer that should get Seattle’s attention.
They arrive with a 4-2-1 record and a share of second place in the Western Conference, above the Sounders despite playing two fewer games.
“This San Jose team this year seems to have been rejuvenated,” said Alan Hinton, who coached the NASL Sounders from 1980-82. “Bobby Convey, for instance, who had a very poor season last year. ... He’s no longer World Cup quality, but I think he’s doing the job this year, which is a great credit to him for realizing if you don’t get the job done he’s going to be out on his neck. They’ve got a kid from Tacoma – Joey Gjertsen – who seems to be a player ... and he’s going to be thrilled about coming back here.”
Hinton saw the original rivalry in its prime, when the Sounders and Earthquakes met 24 times in NASL outdoor games, including what proved to be the final match the original Sounders ever played.
“(The Quakes were) big rivals, mainly because they had a lot of talent,” he said. “When we used to play in San Jose we’d play in a little stadium – Spartan Stadium – and it was always full and very anti-Sounders. We had great games against them. We go back many, many years; and we’ve had a great history with them.”
Because the teams play only twice this season, both games count in Heritage Cup competition.
But that’s not what has the Sounders’ attention.
“We need to win this game because we’ve gone a couple of games at home without winning – regardless of Heritage Cup or San Jose or whoever we’re playing,” goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “We have a home game: Our last home game was the worst in the history of this franchise (a 4-0 loss to Los Angeles), and we want to put that right more than anything else.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (4-2-1; 13 pts.) AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS (3-3-3, 12 pts.)
KICKOFF: Noon, Qwest Field.
TV: KONG 6/16. RADIO: 97.3-FM, 1210-AM (Spanish).
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Seattle leads, 2-1, as both teams won their home matches last season. This season’s return meeting is July 31 at San Jose.
TEAM LEADERS: For San Jose: G 4 Chris Wondolowski; A 5 Bobby Convey; S 20 Ryan Johnson; SOG 12 Johnson. For Seattle: G 3 Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani; A 3 Montero; S 25 Montero; SOG 9 Montero.
SIGI SCHMID SCOUTING REPORT: “Defensively, they’ve been very compact and tight. ... They get eight guys back – a lot of times nine guys – behind the ball, so they make it difficult for you to break them down. ... They’ve kept themselves in games (and) come up with timely goals.”
NOTES: This is the first of two games for the Heritage Cup, which goes to the series winner between the only two MLS teams playing under their historic nicknames from the North American Soccer League. ... San Jose has shut out its last three opponents and four of its last five. Joe Cannon was in goal for all four shutouts. He is fourth in MLS with a 1.0 goals-against average. Seattle’s Kasey Keller is 12th with a 1.29 GAA. ... Quakes midfielder Joey Gjertsen is from Tacoma, and attended Wilson High School, TCC and Evergreen State College. However, he has a quad injury and is one of three Quakes listed as questionable, along with Eduardo (oblique) and Arturo Alvarez (hamstring). For the Sounders, Nate Jaqua, Michael Fucito and Peter Vagenas are out; Osvaldo Alonso, Miguel Montano and Brad Evans are questionable. ... Schmid hasn’t announced if Montero will return to the starting lineup after scoring the game-winner as a reserve last week at New York. ... Seattle defender Tyrone Marshall has four yellow cards, and if he picks up another today he will be suspended for one game. ... Donations of non-perishable food will be accepted at the stadium as part of a Sounders/QFC/Food Lifeline drive.
NEXT: vs. Boca Juniors of Argentina (friendly), 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Qwest Field.
Don Ruiz, staff writer