Seattle-San Jose: Expect Fireworks

The must-see game of the weekend pairs the top two teams in the Western Conference, San Jose and Seattle, which have already staged three intense, memorable games this season.

San Jose and Seattle play their fourth match Saturday night and topping what they've produced in the first three encounters will take some doing. (TV: MLS Direct Kick, MLS Live, 10:30 pm ET).

The stakes seem high enough given their respective placings. The Quakes top all teams in MLS with 57 points, the Sounders are second in the West with 48. Quakes forward Chris Wondolowski leads the league in goals with 21, the Sounders' pairing of Eddie Johnson (13 goals) and Fredy Montero (12) is regarded as one of the best in the league. And in addition to being a matchup of No. 1 and No. 2, there's been plenty of tension and controversy so far.

The Quakes have won both league meetings, 1-0 in April at CenturyLink Field and 2-1 last month at Buck Shaw Stadium. A controversial penalty kick awarded after Steven Lenhart went down in the penalty area decided the first match, and in the second the Sounders scored a tying goal in a stoppage time only to concede the winner a minute later.

Sandwiched into between those San Jose victories is a contentious U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco June 26 that went to the Sounders, 1-0, and ended with the benches emptying and players and coaches swirling about in a spirited melee. The cause of all the confrontation, Seattle forward Johnson, won't be suiting up Saturday. He's suspended for yellow-card accumulation and though he didn't score in the Open Cup match he did prompt the scuffle by strutting a strong-man pose as he ran just yards in front of the San Jose bench.

Exactly what occurred next varies by eyewitness, but by most accounts assistant coach Ian Russell attempted to intervene, Johnson pushed him away, and as Quakes players came off the bench defender Jed Zayner got cuffed by Johnson near the eye. The match officials spent several minutes trying to cool down the hot tempers. More confusion reigned outside the team locker rooms, where incensed Quakes coach Frank Yallop berated the Sounders for a minute or so before being pulled inside.

After he reappeared to answer reporters' questions, he apologized for his remarks and gave Seattle its due for winning.

A few minutes later, Seattle coach Sigi Schmid emerged and delivered a scathing critique of Lenhart, whose rambunctious play and propensity to fall didn't sit well with the opposition. "Somebody has to do something about Lenhart," said Schmid, perhaps in reference to the tumble at CenturyLink Field in April that drew the PK. "He's completely out of control. I'm not saying this because I condone what Eddie did, because I don't. And I know Lenhart, I drafted the kid [as coach of Columbus], so I know what he's about. But somebody has to do something."

Six and half weeks later at Buck Shaw, Seattle joined a growing list of teams victimized by the Cardiac Quakes, not to mention Lenhart. A minute after Montero equalized in the 92nd minute, Lenhart got his head to a Shea Salinas corner kick and crashed it into the net for the winning goal. In his postgame remarks Schmid admitted that in this match, at least, Lenhart had concentrated on playing soccer and resorted less to rough stuff.

The Sounders aren't alone in their low opinion of Lenhart's bruising, sometimes crude play and reputation for working the officials. Yallop says, "I think at times he gets called for fouls because of his reputation," and Quakes GM John Doyle cited an incident when Lenhart was whistled for foul that replays revealed no contact at all.

Both teams played tough games Wednesday night. The Quakes preserved their unbeaten streak at Buck Shaw dating back to last year by rallying from a 2-0 deficit to tie Portland with a pair of goals by Wondolowski including an equalizer in, of course, stoppage time. The Quakes have scored eight goals this season after the 90th minute. Seattle ensured a place in the CONCACAF Champions' League quarterfinals by beating Honduran club Marathon, 3-2, after twice taking the lead and conceding equalizers on penalty kicks. Johnson scored Seattle's second goal with a superb chest trap and shot on the turn, and Brad Evans got the winner in the 78th minute.

To have any chance of overhauling San Jose to capture the conference title, the Sounders need a win, and will have another huge crowd roaring them on. It will be one of the season's top matches.

3 comments about "Seattle-San Jose: Expect Fireworks".
  1. Margaret Manning, September 21, 2012 at 12:25 p.m.

    Yes, Saturday's game will be thrilling, but please take that tired old US Open Cup story out of rotation. I was there. Johnson was NOT parading in front of the San Jose bench (like that's a federal offense, anyway)--he was walking toward the Sounders bench from his position at the whistle, but the SJ bench happened to be right there because the game was played on a scuzzy little field that most high schools would reject. Sure, Johnson's got an attitude. That's no excuse for a lame bench rider to come at him after the game. Yes, this game will be interesting--there's a lot of bad blood between the teams. I think of the Quakes as dirty and spiteful, and their fans (what few there are) as whiners. Go Sounders.

  2. Katherine James, September 21, 2012 at 1:30 p.m.

    You forgot to mention the worst thing of all about the Open Cup match...Patrick Ianni intentionally blindsiding Lenhart as retaliation for the MLS match and giving him a concussion. That's about as low as any player can stoop-intentionally injuring another player. Makes their whining about Mullan the ultimate in hypocrisy.

  3. David Sirias, September 21, 2012 at 3:58 p.m.

    I am fairly neutral even though I technically live in quakes territory. I watch both these teams virtually every game, along with SKC, RSL and NYRB

    The Q's success has a lot to do with their unique personnel and team chemistry. They are team comprised of castoffs. They are embedded with attitude and resiliency. Look at Lenhard and Wondo. Small school guys all the way who arrived only by hustle and the force of their will. Look at Mehdi Ballouchi for chrimeny sake. A career underferformer who, along with Dawkins, is making silky passes/keeping possession with a smile on his face. Same with Chavez as he runs people ragged until the big forwards turn it up a notch. The young outside backs were spotted by management. They also spotted Opara, who took a bit longer to mature, but seems to have finally displaced Hernandez--the one weak spot on defense And of Course Baca and Bernardez--two guys most teams could have had--and the foundation of the current team along with Wondo. They all have no quit in common. The only other team that is remotely close to having no quit in their makeup is SKC and RSL, but as to the latter, sometimes you sense it's by sheer will of the coach. The LAG are one hamstring tweak away from oblivion. And I just dont like Seattle attitude. They pout and get down on themselves at times. And frankly I think the team won't gel, with its newly acquired players until it's too late. .....Should be a fun Fall

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