SAN FRANCISCO — Jed Zayner’s welcome to the San Jose Earthquakes could not have been more surreal.
Signed last week by the Quakes to provide another defensive option, Zayner made his first gameday 18 Tuesday night in San Jose’s US Open Cup quarterfinal against Seattle Sounders FC. And while the seven-year MLS veteran didn’t get on the field during the Quakes’ 1-0 loss to Seattle, he was at the center of the biggest storyline coming out of Kezar Stadium.
Zayner said that Johnson punched him in the right eye with a closed left fist after the former US international exulted in front of the Quakes bench following his club’s advancement to the USOC semifinals.
Video from the incident seems to show Zayner pushing Johnson before Johnson's swing. Zayner could be seen lying face-down on the ground for a few minutes after the incident. Johnson was eventually led away by teammates as both clubs milled around the field.
“Eddie Johnson was just taunting us in front of our bench, and celebrating and saying obscenities to our fans,” said Zayner, whose right eye was noticeably more closed than his left as he spoke to reporters. “I just walked up to him and said, ‘Eddie, you want to celebrate, go celebrate in front of your own bench.’ And he hit me in my face. That’s really it.”
The incident between Johnson and Zayner was an ugly but perhaps not unexpected end to a match that grew increasingly fractious as the evening wore on. After a first half officiated by Yader Reyes with a decidedly "anything goes" style, the teams combined to earn six cards after the intermission, including a straight red for Quakes forward Alan Gordon (who was already on a yellow) in the 93rd minute.
Blows nearly erupted in the 74th minute, when Sounders forward Samuel Ochoa rode Quakes right back Steven Beitashour into the ground and San Jose left back Justin Morrow responded by clattering into another Seattle player.
The game may have cemented the Sounders' status as San Jose’s most heated non-LA Galaxy rival. Media members coming down to the locker rooms at Kezar — which are immediately adjacent to one another at the end of a lengthy tunnel — arrived to the sight of several members of both organizations facing off from a distance of 10 to 15 feet. With Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid still on the field conducting an interview, San Jose coach Frank Yallop unloaded on Seattle assistant Brian Schmetzer.
“I’m pissed off because that is not right, in any sport,” Yallop yelled, speaking of Johnson’s actions. “You need to [expletive] tell him that.”
Johnson did not speak with reporters after the match.
In the aftermath, Zayner seemed more bewildered than anything. The 27-year-old, who’s made 49 career MLS appearances for Columbus and D.C. United, said he’d never been a part of a situation quite like it.
“You see Zinedine Zidane do stuff like that on the field, but after a game?” Zayner said, invoking the tempestuous French captain sent off for a head butt in the 2006 World Cup final. “I’ve never gotten into a fight on the field. And to have a guy who’s played for the national team and is supposedly a professional, to celebrate in front of our bench, for one, which is wrong. And, then, [No.] 2, to hit me — c’mon, man. It’s unbelievable.”
Johnson, who was fined earlier this season by MLS for making an inappropriate gesture after Seattle’s 2-1 win in Chicago and was at the center of a scuffle against the Portland Timbers on Sunday, is not subject to any league discipline because the game was not a league match. However, he could still be punished by the Sounders, or potentially suspended by the US Soccer Federation, which oversees the USOC tournament. Seattle is scheduled to host Chivas USA in a July 10 semifinal.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.