Gspurning must come up big against the Quakes.
Just put it behind you and move on.

That's the task facing Sounders FC after Wednesday night's


Coming Off Tough Loss in U.S. Open Cup Final, Sounders Travel to San Jose to Face West's Best

Gspurning must come up big against the Quakes.
Just put it behind you and move on.

That's the task facing Sounders FC after Wednesday night's devastating loss at Sporting Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup final, a controversial defeat that denied Seattle a record-breaking fourth consecutive championship in the country's oldest ongoing national soccer competition.

It's a quick turnaround for the Sounders, who head south to take on the San Jose Earthquakes, Major League Soccer's best team through the season's first five-plus months, tomorrow night (7:30 p.m., KONG-TV). San Jose leads the Western Conference with a 13-5-5 record good for 44 points, seven more than third-place Seattle (10-5-7), which has played one fewer match. The Sounders have been solid in MLS play on the road this year, with three wins and six draws in 11 away contests, but the Earthquakes are unbeaten in nine league matches at Buck Shaw Stadium, winning six and outscoring their opponents 22-9.

This is the third time the teams have faced off this season: The Earthquakes handed the Sounders their first loss back on March 31, a bitter 1-0 defeat here decided by a penalty kick assessed by referee Mark Kadlecik, who bought into Steven Lenhart's flop after he initiated contact with Seattle defender Marc Burch in the box. Chris Wondolowski converted from the spot, and the Sounders could never get the equalizer.

Seattle returned the favor on June 26, ousting the Earthquakes in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals in San Francisco. Rookie Cordell Cato's first goal in a Sounders uniform was the only score in a match that got ugly late, degenerating into shoves and punches after the final whistle when Seattle's Eddie Johnson celebrated in front of San Jose's bench.

The Earthquakes' defense, led by MLS All-Stars Steven Beitashour, Justin Morrow, and Ramiro Corrales has been above average, but their offense has been spectacular. San Jose has scored 45 goals, nearly two per game, and fourth All-Star Wondolowski, with a league-high 17, is on pace to break the MLS record of 27, set in 1996 by Roy Lassiter of the Tampa Bay Mutiny. But if the Sounders concentrate too much on Wondolowski, they'll be burned by Alan Gordon, who scored his first five goals off the bench but has four in the past six matches as a starter, and/or Lenhart, who has chipped in seven.

San Jose's scorers are supported by an assist-happy midfield featuring Marvin Chavez, who has nine, and Shea Salinas, with six more. Beitashour and Corrales have pushed up and joined the attack to the tune of six and five assists, respectively, tops among MLS defenders. Wondolowski also has five.

Pulling the strings is head coach Frank Yallop, in his second stint in San Jose after leading the Earthquakes to MLS Cups in 2001 and 2003. Having turned around a team that finished seventh in the West last season, he's the frontrunner for MLS Coach of the Year.

Once again this season, the Sounders were victimized by poor officiating in the Cup final. After battling Sporting KC to a 1-1 draw through 90-plus minutes and two overtime periods, the match was decided on penalty kicks, with the home team prevailing 3-2 after Johnson launched a potential tying kick over the bar.

But the real story was the comical incompetence of referee Ricardo Salazar, whose calls were characterized post-match by Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid as "ridiculous."

In a physical match that featured 35 fouls, 19 by Seattle, Salazar handed all five yellow cards to Sounders players, with a sixth card, in the 119th minute, resulting in Patrick Ianni's ejection. Sporting KC's goal came on Kei Kamara's 84th-minute penalty kick after Zach Scott was called for a handball in the box, a play on which Salazar lacked a direct view. Scott headed in Mauro Rosales' cross to tie it two minutes later:

Salazar saved his worst call for the shootout, which inexplicably was conducted at the noisiest, rowdiest end of the field at Livestrong Sporting Park; after Michael Gspurning saved Paulo Nagamura's penalty kick, Salazar ordered a re-kick, claiming that Gspurning had left his line early. Nagamura converted his second chance, setting the stage for Johnson's miss. Ozzie Alonso and Christian Tiffert also missed for Seattle, while Brad Evans and Burch connected on their penalty kicks.

Despite the disheartening loss, the Sounders have been on the rise lately; the defeat was their first in a match that counted since June 24 at Portland. Seattle has a strong 1-2 combination up from in Johnson (10 goals) and Fredy Montero (six goals, four assists), with midfielder Rosales (nine assists) getting them the ball in a position to score. Tiffert, the newest addition to the midfield, was an offensive catalyst in his native Germany, and defensive midfielder Alonso--along with Johnson an MLS All-Star--stops rallies before they have a chance to start.

But tomorrow night's match should come down to the ability of Seattle's back four to defuse San Jose's potent offense. The Sounders are one of only three teams to shut out the Earthquakes this year, and although it wasn't in an MLS match, San Jose had its three top scorers on the pitch for a good portion of the second half. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Jeff Parke, who played well against San Jose here in March (before an injured Hurtado was forced to leave at the half) must do so again, and whoever is on the wings (Burch, Scott, Leo Gonzalez, Adam Johansson) has to limit penetration and keep crosses into the middle to a minimum, giving Gspurning a chance to react to the shots that will come his way.

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