Changes aplenty, but aggressiveness a constant for San Jose Earthquakes

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Since the departure of coach Frank Yallop last month, the San Jose Earthquakes have signed new players and made new points of emphasis during practice.

There is one area, however, where the Quakes proudly remain unchanged: their level of on-field aggressiveness.

That much seemed obvious during San Jose’s 1-0 victory Saturday against Seattle. With Quakes forwards Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart battling Seattle center backs Zach Scott and Djimi Traoré (the latter replaced in the second half by Jhon Kennedy Hurtado), the match became a whistle-filled, physical battle.

Referee Sorin Stoica called a total of 35 fouls, handed out six yellow cards and ejected Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso in the 95th minute after an altercation with Quakes defender Dan Gargan.

The whole experience moved Sounders coach Sigi Schmid to describe the contest as “ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly” and brand it “a terrible advertisement for the game and this league.”

“We would never back down,” Quakes interim coach Mark Watson said after the match. “I don’t think it’s in our nature. We’ve got a group that gives 100 percent all the time. We still think that you should be able to challenge for the ball 100 percent and be aggressive.”

Gordon and Lenhart, who ranked among the Quakes’ most active players, certainly did that. The forwards suffered a combined nine fouls and committed six infractions of their own — a style that even Watson admitted made Stoica’s life rather difficult.

“It was a physical game,” Watson said. “There was a lot of contact both ways. ... Their center backs were challenging really hard. Our forwards are very brave and will challenge everything as well. There’s going to be a lot of contact, and it’s tough to make the right call sometimes.”

Schmid clearly felt Stoica didn’t make the right call when Lenhart clattered into Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning in the 18th minute. Gspurning had just pounced on a header from Gordon when Lenhart arrived on the scene and made contact with the keeper’s left wrist.

Lenhart, who had been shown yellow just three minutes earlier for a challenge on Traore, had a lengthy conversation with Stoica after the Gspurning incident -- but remained in the game.

“A guy gets a yellow card, he can step on goalkeepers, he stays on the field,” Schmid said. “That’s amazing to me.”

It was an eventful return for Lenhart, who had missed two matches after gashing his head during the Quakes’ 3-2 win over LA Galaxy on June 29. The striker delivered a soft header from a long free kick to set up Wálter Martínez’s spectacular bicycle-kick attempt in the 14th minute, and was credited with an assist on Martínez’s eventual 48th-minute goal.

“I thought Lenny was great,” Watson said. “He’s a physical player. He plays 100 percent. He challenges for every ball. There’s a lot of contact, and when he’s on his game and when he’s healthy, he’s very effective, and I thought he was [Saturday].”