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Heritage Cup on the line vs. Sounders FC

In the week leading up to the San Jose Earthquakes game against Seattle Sounders FC, with crucial points and positioning in the Western Conference in the balance, forward Chris Wondolowski put the fact that the 2nd Annual Heritage Cup will be decided on Saturday in the best perspective he could.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of hardware it is, it’s always nice to get some sort of cup,” Wondolowski said. “It’s just an added incentive.”

While the Earthquakes will be looking to secure three critical points on Saturday when they host Seattle at Buck Shaw Stadium, a second-consecutive Heritage Cup would be a nice bonus. By virtue of the Earthquakes’ thrilling 1-0 victory over Seattle at Qwest Field on May 22, San Jose needs at least a draw to win the Heritage Cup based on aggregate score.

Last season, the Earthquakes won by an aggregate score of 5-2 with a 4-0 victory at Buck Shaw Stadium on August 2, 2009 making up for a 2-1 loss in Seattle on June 13, 2009.

Wondolowski, who has two goals in two games against Seattle including the lone goal in the win this season, believes that the rivalry between the two teams which stretches back to the North American Soccer League has heated up in the MLS.

“I think it’s becoming a pretty good rivalry,” Wondolowski said. “It’s definitely a historical rivalry and they’ve always been good in the past, so have we, so it’s kind of nice that we get to do it again.”

The Earthquakes and Sounders were rivals when the franchises played in the NASL, a professional soccer league that operated from 1968 until 1984.

The Heritage Cup was conceived last season as a way to honor the tradition of the NASL by pitting teams with NASL roots against each other. Currently, the Earthquakes and Sounders FC are the lone teams competing, but the competition will include the expansion Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps FC when they join the MLS in 2011.

The trophy was designed by San Jose fan Rob Stevenson and was commissioned by the Soccer Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Alan Hinton was the coach of the NASL Sounders from 1980-1982 and he recalls the Earthquakes as a great rival of Seattle.

“(The Quakes were) big rivals, mainly because they had a lot of talent,” Hinton told the News Tribune May of this year. “When we used to play in San Jose we’d play in a little stadium – Spartan Stadium – and it was always full and very anti-Sounders. We had great games against them. We go back many, many years; and we’ve had a great history with them.”

Earthquakes defender Jason Hernandez believes that it’s important to win the Heritage Cup for the second consecutive year to honor the impact the Earthquakes have had in the area for many years.

“I think the tradition of the Earthquakes in this area is pretty big,” Hernandez said. “There are a lot of fans that have been around for many years and it’s important that we honor that and keep up the tradition. The more games we can win against opponents for cups…the more important it is to us and our fans.”

For current Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop, the most important thing to focus on during Saturday’s game is simply getting three points.

“We went up to Seattle and maybe were fortunate to get the win, but a win’s a win,” Yallop said. “We’re going to make sure that we come back in our place and play well and try to get those three points. They are very vital, especially at this time of the season.”

Still, a win against this particular opponent with a trophy on the line would mean a lot to the fans that support them.

“Our fans are some of the best in all this country,” Wondolowski said. “It’d be great to help them out and having the bragging rights for another year.”

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