SAN JOSE, Calif. – As the San Jose Earthquakes have risen again to MLS prominence, their list of hard-bitten rivals has increased as well. And no team is moving faster up that chart than the Seattle Sounders.
Round 1 of the teams’ 2012 slate left the Sounders gnashing their teeth over the fashion in which San Jose’s Steven Lenhart drew a first-half penalty kick – which Chris Wondolowski converted for a 1-0 victory at CenturyLink Field on March 31.
Round 2 saw San Jose screaming in response to what they felt were cheap shots and direct taunts from Seattle’s Patrick Ianni and Eddie Johnson in the Sounders’ 1-0 US Open Cup quarterfinal win June 26.
Round 3 comes Saturday at Buck Shaw Stadium (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), and the Quakes know that if they want to put a stop to Seattle’s four-match unbeaten streak in MLS play, they have to remain calm in what likely will be – if past precedent holds – a highly physical contest.
“We had sort of a messy Open Cup game against them, which didn’t really sit well with me, what happened – but that’s gone,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “That was weeks ago. We’re just trying to get three points against a team in our division now.”
With San Jose having finished up their season series against Western Conference second-place holders Real Salt Lake, the Quakes’ two matches remaining against third-place Seattle represent arguably their biggest hurdle towards claiming a first Supporters’ Shield since 2005. San Jose travel to Seattle again on Sept. 23.
“Obviously, it’s turning into a rivalry very quickly, but at the end of the day, it’s another game,” Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s a big game worth three points in the conference. You don’t have to look any farther than that for motivation.”
Motivation is unlikely to be an issue. San Jose’s locker room was boiling after the USOC match; as defender Jed Zayner had his eye attended to following an alleged postmatch punch from Johnson. Quakes star Chris Wondolowski said that he was “glad I’m not going to be refereeing” either of the clubs’ remaining two matches.
It falls to Yallop, who engaged Seattle assistant coach Brian Schmetzer in an angry shouting match outside the Kezar Stadium locker rooms, to keep San Jose on an even keel as they try to extend their 8-0-4 streak in regular-season matches at Buck Shaw.
“I don’t look at it as, ‘Oh, it’s Seattle, we’ve got to go out and do something different,’” Yallop said. “We want to keep our heads, definitely, in this game, not get too emotional with it. We’ve just got to do our thing at our place and hopefully get a home win.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.