In what turned out to be an exciting and somewhat surprising Friday and Saturday in MLS, the San Jose Earthquakes handed the Seattle Sounders their first loss of the 2012 MLS season. In Seattle, no less. This win puts San Jose squarely atop the Western Conference standings, tied with Real Salt Lake. Yes, it is early in the season, but it is still a sight for sore eyes!
If there were to be a theme song for this match, it would be “Let’s Get Physical.” In fact, I can almost imagine a video montage of the game’s tugs and tackles and shoves set to Olivia Newton-John’s hit. The bodies definitely did a lot of talking, to the tune of 6 yellow cards; and Earthquakes captain Ramiro Corrales, one of the toughest players I’ve ever seen, was subbed out with an ankle injury after a tackle from Christian Sivebaek.
One of the interesting story lines of this game was the face-off between two of the current top scorers, David Estrada and Chris Wondolowski, both of whom have (so far) enjoyed similar rises to fame, albeit a couple years apart. Despite all the hype surrounding Estrada after his hat trick against Toronto, he only had one real chance on the night at the beginning of the second half, but Quakes keeper Jon Busch preserved what would eventually be his third clean sheet of the season.
While Seattle’s Fredy Montero had a golden opportunity to score in the 11th minute with a header he put over the goal, and Sounders keeper Michael Gspurning was forced to make a double save on attempts from Steven Lenhart and Christ Wondolowski in the 17th minute, the pivotal point in the game came in the 24th minute when Lenhart went down in the box after a nudge from Seattle defender Marc Burch. This turned out to be a somewhat controversial call, as there did not appear to be too much contact; however, Burch admitted that he allowed himself to be drawn into giving Lenhart a little shove. (After all, that is what Lenhart does best – he makes himself obnoxious enough to draw fouls!) Needless to say, Wondo stepped up to take the PK and scored, as he usually does, putting the Quakes up 1-0 and giving Wondo 4 goals in 4 games. The Sounders had another significant chance before the half, with an Osvaldo Alonso header that was handled by Busch.
The 2nd half continued in much the same rough-and-tumble manner, with the ref handing yellow cards out like candy. While Seattle had a few more good looks at goal from Estrada and Montero, the Earthquakes back line shut down most opportunities in a decisive manner, even after Corrales’ exit from left back. Last season, in this same situation, San Jose would have no doubt allowed an equalizer. Not this year. In fact, only one goal has been scored against Busch and his backline, and that was a PK.
San Jose almost managed to double their lead in the 57th minute when Sam Cronin took a shot from a difficult angle that missed the goal by a few inches, with a goal-crashing Shea Salinas just too far away to get a touch on it. By the end of the 90 minutes, Seattle had brought keeper Gspurning out of his box and into the San Jose box for a last-ditch effort off a free kick, which result not in a goal but in Gspurning high-tailing it back to his own box as Quakes sub Simon Dawkins went for the counter attack. Fortunately for Seattle, they were able to shut down his run and prevent a late goal.
All in all, it was a result that will leave San Jose fans increasingly confident and optimistic (another post-season run a la 2010, anyone?) and will likely leave Seattle fans scratching their heads and cursing Steven Lenhart for being… Steven Lenhart.
Elsewhere around the league there were many more head-scratchers and eyebrow raisers. DC United recorded their first win of the season in a decisive 4-1 win over visiting FC Dallas. Toronto FC continued their losing streak with a 0-1 loss to the Columbus Crew. Thierry Henry’s hat trick contributed to the NY Red Bulls’ 5-2 victory over visitors Montreal Impact, and put him past both Wondo and Estrada with 5 goals so far on the season.
The Philadelphia Union and Vancouver Whitecaps recorded the only scoreless game so far this weekend as they played to a 0-0 draw in Philadelphia. There was late drama at home for the Portland Timbers as Real Salt Lake snatched victory from their grasp with 2 goals in the last minutes to close the game out at 2-3. Finally, in perhaps the most shocking result of the bunch, the New England Revolution stunned the LA Galaxy with a 3-1 win in LA.
Image courtesy of sjearthquakes.com