The Seattle Sounders have played the San Jose Earthquakes 13 times, so the Sounders have developed a general idea of what to expect from the Quakes.
Except maybe not for their meeting in the Bay Area on Saturday.
San Jose will be without its best player: reigning MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski, who recorded a hat trick for the United States national team Tuesday in Portland.
And the Quakes are still developing an identity under interim coach Mark Watson, who took over five games ago (2-3) for Frank Yallop, who had been in charge since before Seattle came into the league.
“(Watson) really hasn’t had the time to put his stamp on the team,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think they’re maybe a little more conservative in terms of going forward than they were under Frank. They were a little more freewheeling going forward with their outside backs, getting maybe more involved. But that could be changing as well as he moves forward. Each coach tries to establish a certain pattern, and once you’ve got your
structure, then you sort of give them more of a free rein within that structure.”
Watson’s efforts to impose his own vision certainly are made more difficult by the absence of four players to international duty. Among those are Wondolowski, who scored an MLS-record 27 goals a season ago, and midfielder Marvin Chavez, who is away with Honduras.
“Wondo is an important part of their team,” Schmid said. “Chavez helps them on the flank areas. They get (Victor) Bernardez back against us, I think, so that helps them defensively.”
Seattle’s roster also will be affected by personnel comings and goings.
Schmid revealed Friday that two of the club’s designated players will be held out because of calf injuries: goals leader Obafemi Martins and midfielder Shalrie Joseph.
However, defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is expected to return after missing three straight league games with a quad injury.
“(It has been) frustrating being out like almost six weeks,” Alonso said. “But I’m ready to go Saturday, to step on the field to give the best for my team.”
Alonso’s best is good enough to make him a three-time team MVP, two-time All-Star and a reigning MLS Best XI selection.
“Having him available at midfield makes a big difference. … There’s confidence that certainly exists there,” Schmid said. “Certainly a team like the Miami Heat is going to feel more confident when LeBron James is on the floor. … It’s the same thing: Our team is going to feel more confident when he is on the field.”
And speaking of that field, this match could mark the Sounders’ final appearance at Buck Shaw Stadium, a small multipurpose stadium on the Santa Clara University campus that the Earthquakes hope to leave in favor of their own soccer-specific stadium next season.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (7-6-3; 24 POINTS) AT SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (5-9-6; 21)
7:30 p.m., Buck Shaw Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
TV: Ch. 5. Radio: 97.3-FM.
Head to head: The series is 6-6-1 in Major League Soccer and Open Cup competition. This season, Seattle won, 4-0, at home and lost, 1-0, at San Jose.
Notes: Each team will be without its top goal scorer. Sounders forward Obafemi Martins (six goals) is out because of a calf injury suffered last weekend at Vancouver, and San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski (five) is away with the U.S. national team. Seattle’s Shalrie Joseph (calf) also is likely out, but fellow midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is expected to return. The Quakes also will be without Nana Attakora (Canada), Marvin Chavez (Honduras) and Clarence Goodson (USA) because of international duty. ... This game marks the midpoint of the MLS regular season for Seattle. A Sounders win would establish a club record for most points in the first half of a season. ... San Jose has given up 32 goals, tied for the league high. The Quakes’ minus-12 goal differential ranks 17th in the 19-team league. ... San Jose is 4-1-4 at home, while the Sounders are 3-5-1 away. ... Midfielder Brad Evans is expected to make his 100th appearance as a Sounder, becoming the third Seattle player to reach that milestone. ... San Jose is 2-3 under interim head coach Mark Watson, who played for the second-division Seattle Sounders in 1997. ... The referee is Sorin Stoica.
Quotable: “It’s important for us to recognize the fact that there are going to be aerial duels that we’ve got to win in the back. And a lot of aerial duels lead to a lot of second balls, and so we’ve got to be prepared for second balls.” — Sounders coach Sigi Schmid on playing the Earthquakes
Next: The Sounders begin a three-game homestand next Saturday against the Colorado Rapids.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org/soccer