Saturday was about as bad a day as Seattle Sounders FC could have had in the Major League Soccer standings.
The Sounders’ 2-1 loss to league-leading San Jose at CenturyLink Field all but eliminated them from the Supporters’ Shield race, while also dropping them two spots to fourth in the MLS Western Conference – after Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles moved past them with victories.
“We just need to make sure we win games,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “We can sit there and say the sky is falling, but I don’t think it’s falling yet.”
This season, there is added incentive to finish third or higher because the fourth- and fifth-place finishers meet in a single match with the loser going home and the winner going on to face the top-seeded team in the conference.
As of now, that top seed is held by San Jose (18-6-6). And while Seattle is 13-7-9 on the season, three of those losses came against the Quakes.
“Everything is relative, and all that matters in the playoffs is how you do in the playoffs,” Schmid said. “In all my years of coaching, there are times when a team gives you a hard time and then all of a sudden you’re able to turn it around in the playoffs. Obviously, they’re a very confident team right now. They’re full of energy, they’re playing well, and they believe in what they’re doing, and they’ve had results. … But the playoffs become a different animal, and we’ll see what happens there. All of our games with them have been close.”
San Jose swept the season series and claimed the 2012 Heritage Cup with three one-goal wins.
On Saturday, the Quakes needed less than two minutes to get ahead. Seattle equalized briefly on Steve Zakuani’s first goal since April 9, 2011. However, San Jose got its winner from Chris Wondolowski – his league-leading 22nd goal of the season.
“It was a game of two halves,” Schmid said. “… I thought they killed us in the first half, to be quite honest. We did well to pull the goal back. But then we gave the goal up.
“I think it’s a game that we really lost in the first 20 minutes because they were able to press us and disrupt our rhythm, and they were just more aggressive and quicker than we were.”
San Jose broke ahead in the second minute on a Simon Dawkins smash from 28 yards. That was the earliest goal the Sounders have surrendered this season, and second quickest in franchise history.
“We have to accept that. I think it was a great goal,” goalkeeper Michael Gspurning said. “Like against Chivas, we had a bad start and today we had a bad start. … But the goal was pretty good. I don’t think there’s anything I can do.”
Zakuani evened things in the 14th minute, running onto a cross from Sammy Ochoa and sweeping it in from the back post. It was Zakuani’s first goal since before he suffered right leg fractures that cost him more than a year of his career.
However, any joy Zakuani felt was short-lived. He blamed himself for his role in Wondolowski’s winning goal.
“I’m not happy that I played Wondolowski onside for that goal,” Zakuani said. “And even through Dawkins scored a great goal, that was my giveaway. I’m not happy to be contributing to two of their goals, so that doesn’t make me very happy. I wish (my goal) came in a win. Obviously, I’m happy do it, and you could see my emotion after that. I think Sammy gets most of the credit, and what I had to try to do was keep the ball on the frame. That’s what I did.”
The Sounders and Earthquakes meet in an MLS Reserve League match at 2 p.m. today at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila.
Seattle returns to MLS play at 6 p.m. Saturday at Vancouver.firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8808 blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt