Despite it being just Seattle Sounders FC’s seventh season in the league, the club has a rich history with the San Jose Earthquakes that predates Major League Soccer. The meetings between the now Western Conference foes actually began in 1974, when both clubs joined the North America Soccer League (NASL) as expansion teams along with Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The Earthquakes would eventually become the first team in Major League Soccer to retain the same name as a predecessor NASL club, with Seattle following suit several years later.
“Going back to the NASL, it’s always been a competitive rivalry,” said former Earthquakes player and current broadcast analyst Chris Dangerfield. “There was a lot of pride that was on the table every time they matched up against each other. When those teams started to have success on the field and off the field, the fan bases picked up on those rivalries as well, which made it even more competitive for the players because they didn’t want to let down the fans. It really was a very passionate rivalry with those teams that were the initial NASL teams and have maintained those roots.”
The rivalry was reborn in 2009 when Seattle Sounders FC joined MLS as an expansion team. Building on their NASL past, the Heritage Cup was born. A brainchild of an Earthquakes fan, the competition uses only the clubs’ final two matchups of each season, with points earned as the deciding factor and aggregate score line as a tiebreaker. After Seattle won the first meeting for the inaugural Heritage Cup trophy 2-1, San Jose eventually captured the hardware on goals scored with a 4-0 victory on Aug. 2, 2009.
In the six seasons since, the San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders FC have each held the trophy three times, giving the Quakes a 4-3 edge overall. The Earthquakes have also had the most recent success in the rivalry, winning the Heritage Cup in both 2014 and 2015. The clubs’ MLS accomplishments have also been almost identical since Seattle joined the league, with each winning the Western Conference and a Supporters’ Shield once since 2009.
Going back to the NASL days, both teams have always showcased big goal scorers, which rings true for Saturday’s vital matchup at Avaya Stadium. The Earthquakes will likely start captain Chris Wondolowski, whose nine career goals against Seattle lead MLS. Sounders FC may counter with their own U.S. Men’s National Team player in Jordan Morris, who currently leads the club with nine goals.
Along with the Heritage Cup on the line, Saturday’s match also holds playoff implications for both clubs. San Jose currently holds a one-point advantage over Seattle in the Western Conference standings and a win could put either club in prime position for the final playoff spot.
“It’s another one of those big games, “ Dangerfield said. “With eight games being left for the Earthquakes and seven of those games being in the Western division, they don’t get any bigger than this one.”