Fredy Montero provided the only goal his team would need for the win in the 26th minute, powering an unmarked header past Jon Busch. Photo: Joe Nuxoll, centerlinesoccer.com.
(Santa Clara) "It was a massive game for us, and we just laid down and died," San Jose coach Frank Yallop said after watching his Earthquakes drop a 1-0 game to Seattle Saturday night at Buck Shaw Stadium.
A Fredy Montero first half goal was all Seattle needed to beat a disjointed San Jose side, as Sounders FC leapt past the Earthquakes in the playoff race.
"I thought it was our worst performance this season, definitely, including (the season opening 3-0 loss to) Salt Lake," Yallop said. "From the opening whistle, we didn't seem to have any real idea."
Seattle's win, their third straight in MLS play, moves the Sounders into sixth place overall in the MLS standings with 25 points.
San Jose, with 23 points, clings to a tie for eighth place and the last playoff spot. Earthquakes fans can take solace in the fact that their team has played three fewer games than the Sounders, but the team they saw on Saturday bore no resemblance to a playoff bound side.
The game could have gotten out of hand early if not for some quality goalkeeping from the Quakes Jon Busch. Seattle pounded the left side of the San Jose defense in the first half, resulting in several scoring opportunities. The Sounders Blaise Nkufo should have scored in the second minute when Montero's cross from the right wing found him in front of goal, but Busch was able to punch his header wide.
In the 10th minute, another right side attack saw Sanna Nyassi crossing for Montero at the near post. Busch did well to get his left hand up quickly to deflect Montero's shot into the cross bar before San Jose could clear it away. Montero forced Busch to make another save in the 10th minute with a left footed blast from 15 yards, before finally breaking through in the 26th minute for the game's lone goal.
The deciding play began with Montero releasing Nyassi down the right wing, then making a 40 yard run to get on the end of the return pass to bury a header from point blank range.
San Jose's attack in the opening period was mostly limited to thumping long balls aimlessly downfield, but the Earthquakes almost found an equalizer when an innocent looking pass out of the back from Ike Opara was misplayed by Seattle's Jeff Parke, allowing Cornell Glen an open path to goal. Coming down the left side, Glen fired from 15 yards, only to be denied by Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
At the half hour mark, the Earthquakes came as close to scoring as they would all night when a long throw in by Brandon McDonald was flicked on by Opara to Scott Sealy inside the six yard box, but Sealy could only push his shot into the right post.
Yallop shuffled his midfield at half time, replacing McDonald with Arturo Alvarez, with Alvarez playing on the right side, Joey Gjertsen rotated into the middle and Sam Cronin moved back to the holding midfield role. Forward Ryan Johnson also came in for Scott Sealy to start the second half, but the Earthquakes attack still sputtered.
As San Jose struggled to mount an attack, Jon Busch again kept the game close, diving to his left to make a fingertip save of Nkufo's low shot in the 63rd minute.
Gjertsen had a chance for San Jose in the 67th minute, taking a pass down the left and cutting back to his right inside the penalty area, but his 15 yard effort flew high and wide.
The game saw the debut of Seattle's newest Designated Player, when Uruguay International Alvaro Fernandez entered the game in the 69th minute. San Jose countered by having Chris Wondolowski came on for Jason Hernandez with a quarter hour to play (moving Bobby Convey to left back) but that move had little effect.
San Jose had one last shot on the night, with Convey teeing up Sam Cronin for a 30 yarder in the 87th minute, but that shot missed the target wide right.
"We were very static and on own heels most of the game," Yallop said. "I'm not singling anybody out, but tonight we didn't play with confidence. We didn't deserve to win the game a all, and that was the alarming, the disappointing thing for me."
Besides 3 points in the playoff chase, the win earned Seattle the Heritage Cup. Both teams had 1-0 road victories in the season series between the two sides, but Seattle was awarded the trophy for having more points overall this season so far, despite San Jose having played three fewer games than their West Coast rival.
The Sounders now travel to El Salvador for a CONCACAF Champions League match against Metapan Tuesday night, to be broadcast on Fox Soccer Channel.
Coming up for San Jose, a trip to Denver to take on the Colorado Rapids next Saturday, and a lot of questions to be answered about whether this is a team worthy of a playoff spot.
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San Jose Earthquakes (6-5-5) vs. Seattle Sounders FC (7-8-4)
July 31, 2010 – Buck Shaw Stadium
Scoring Summary: SEA – Fredy Montero (Sanna Nyassi) 26.
Misconduct Summary: SJ – Sam Cronin (caution) 15; SJ – Ramiro Corrales (caution) 80; SEA – Osvaldo Alonso (caution) 91+.
San Jose Earthquakes – Jon Busch, Ramiro Corrales, Bobby Burling, Ike Opara, Jason Hernandez (Chris Wondolowski 74), Bobby Convey, Brandon McDonald (Arturo Alvarez 46), Sam Cronin, Joey Gjertsen, Scott Sealy (Ryan Johnson 46), Cornell Glen.
Statistics: Shots: 8; Shots on Goal: 2; Fouls: 8; Offsides: 8; Corners: 5.
Seattle Sounders FC – Kasey Keller, James Riley, Patrick Ianni, Jeff Parke (Tyrone Marshall 46), Leo Gonzalez, Sanna Nyassi, Nathan Sturgis, Osvaldo Alonso, Steve Zakuani (Alvaro Fernandez 69), Fredy Montero, Blaise Nkufo (Nate Jaqua 86).
Statistics: Shots: 9; Shots on Goal: 7; Fouls: 8; Offsides: 4; Corners: 6.