CenterLine Report: Rivalry between Quakes and Sounders grows with every season

When the San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders meet this Saturday at Levi’s Stadium, kickoff at 7:30 p.m., it will mark the 15th time in the Major League Soccer era that the two storied clubs have met. Go back to 1974, when both teams debuted in the North American Soccer League, and you can add a host more games from that era too. Heck, three times in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups the two teams have faced off. This is all sounding pretty serious!

Just as the Quakes take measure against the LA Galaxy for bragging rights in California, the Sounders battle for Cascadia supremacy with neighboring Portland Timbers. But a look at the meetings between Bay Area and Emerald City clubs reveals a new rivalry that is growing with every contest. Throw in a chance to get a leg up in the race for the 2014 Heritage Cup, and no doubt these two teams will be after each other.

In the 14 MLS matches the two sides have played since Seattle joined the league in 2009 — they had been a lower division team since being reformed in 1994 and joining the USL — the Earthquakes have an edge in the records, 7-6-1, and each team has scored an identical 16 goals. Chris Wondolowski, no surprise, leads the way for San Jose with six of the Quakes goals.

The most memorable strike from the Quakes came courtesy of Khari Stephenson in early 2011, when he unleashed a 35-yard rocket that legendary goalkeeper Kasey Keller watched blast into the top corner of his net. Seattle’s top score came earlier this year when Obafemi Martins completed an improbable lob from a tight angle that drifted over a helpless Jon Busch and into the far side netting. But the fireworks on the field have not always been limited to the goals.

In U.S. Open Cup play, the three games played between the teams have been far from forgettable. The first meeting, back in 2002, when the Quakes were defending MLS Cup champions and the Sounders were tearing up the USL, was played in Seattle. A brace by Ronnie Ekelund paced the Quakes, but a late goal by Brian Ching — a pre-Earthquakes Brian Ching — sent the game to overtime. San Jose prevailed when Ariel Graziani netted in the second extra time period to win the Round of Sixteen game 4-3, but the match proved a good connection between NASL and MLS eras in the building rivalry.

The two U.S. Open Cup games played in recent years, at Kezar Stadium in 2012 and Starfire Complex this year have also been tense affairs. A goal from Cordell Cato — what is it with these future Quakes scoring against San Jose? — made the difference two years ago for Seattle, a match that is better remembered for the post-game kerfuffle between Eddie Johnson and Jed Zayner that left the Quakes defender with a black eye. Last May, the Sounders triumphed again, this time via a penalty kick shootout, after a track-meet of a game on the turf at Starfire.

Back in MLS, the Sounders most satisfying triumph came in October of 2011, when the organization opened up the entire CenturyLink Stadium, to celebrate the retirement of Keller. 64,140 packed the stands that evening and watched as the 42-year old ‘keeper made stirring save after stunning stop to keep his team in a game it came back to win 2-1. The Twelfth Man — a staple at home games for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks — was in full force, and the Earthquakes couldn’t overcome the advantage.

Go back to 2009, coincidently August 2 of that year — a date that will mark five years past this weekend’s big match at Levi’s Stadium — and you’ll remember San Jose laying a 4-0 pasting on the Sounders at a raucous Buck Shaw Stadium. Osvaldo Alonso gifted the Quakes an own goal in just the second minute to get things started, and the rout was on from there. Wondolowski, a recent acquisition by San Jose in a trade from Houston, scored his first goal as an Earthquake in the victory. Safe to say, that trade has really panned out.

So what is in store for this Saturday’s match at Levi’s Stadium? For one thing, the inaugural sporting event at the home of the San Francisco 49ers is expected to attract a crowd of well over 45,000 — advantage Quakes. But Seattle will come in sporting the best record in MLS so far this season, having scored the most goals of any team in the league — advantage Sounders. San Jose counters with a top-four MLS defense that won’t be easily broken — advantage Quakes.

Those 45,000 that will pack Levi’s will also get to take in returning World Cup stars on both squads. Seattle, led on offense by Clint Dempsey, also features exciting young defender DeAndre Yedlin. San Jose counters with prolific scorer Chris Wondolowski and Honduran defensive leader Victor Bernardez. Counting national team experience, possibly another dozen players on the field will have once played for their countries on the international soccer scene. This match has Big Deal written all over it.

So get set for Chapter 15 in the MLS tome featuring the Seattle Sounders and San Jose Earthquakes. Can the Quakes tame a rampant Sounders side and continue their march out of the Western Conference cellar? Will Wondolowski best his U.S. men’s national team mate Yedlin with a goal for San Jose? Can Bernardez be the defensive wall that shuts down a dangerous Dempsey? Get to Levi’s Stadium, watch on the NBC Sports Network, do whatever it takes to witness what should be a match for the ages.

Robert Jonas is a writer for CenterLineSoccer.com and SJEarthquakes.com. Send him feedback on Twitter: @RobertJonas

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