TUKWILA, Wash. – The first three meetings in 2012 between the Seattle Sounders and San Jose Earthquakes have all had their fair share of drama.
While the Earthquakes have already locked up their playoff spot and the Sounders are close to doing the same, there’s still plenty on the line in Saturday’s final meeting (10:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online) between the West’s top two teams before the MLS Cup Playoffs.
“For us to make any run at the Supporters’ Shield, we need to win this game,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said at Friday's training. “More so than anything, it’s a good measuring stick for us and a measuring stick for them.”
The Earthquakes have won the two previous league meetings, but there wasn’t much separating them. The only goal in the first game came after Steven Lenhart drew an off-the-ball penalty which Chris Wondolowski converted for his third goal in as many games at CenturyLink Field. In the second meeting, Fredy Montero’s stoppage-time equalizer was negated by a Lenhart goal just about a minute later.
The Sounders did score a big win of their own, though, beating the Earthquakes 1-0 in the US Open Cup quarterfinals. A shoving match that involved both players and technical staff erupted at the end of that one.
All three matches have been missing various key players for both teams, a trend that will continue in this one. The Sounders will at least be without Eddie Johnson, who is out due to yellow-card accumulation. That will likely open the door for Sammy Ochoa, who has scored seven goals across all competitions, but has played sparingly in league matches.
“It doesn’t change things that much for us tactically,” Schmid insisted. “The key for us anyway is to keep the ball moving. If they play with [Víctor] Bernárdez and [Ike] Opara, those are strong guys, and we don’t want to be playing balls up in the air that much anyway. We want to play balls to the feet of our strikers.”
Who will be delivering those balls is also an open question. Schmid did not say definitively whether or not midfielders Christian Tiffert and Mauro Rosales would be available after each have missed recent games.
Regardless of who plays, the Sounders insist they are confident.
“I’m not worried about San Jose, not at all, because I know about our qualities,” Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning said on Friday. “We want to win tomorrow. That’s all that counts.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.