Jhon Kennedy Hurtado arrived in Seattle early in the preseason of 2009, as Seattle Sounders FC was preparing for its inaugural season.
Saturday, when the Chicago Fire visits CenturyLink Field, Hurtado could become the fourth Sounder to reach 100 regular-season appearances with the club, joining Osvaldo Alonso, Fredy Montero and Brad Evans.
“Every game is important for me,” Hurtado said in English – something he couldn’t do when he arrived. “It doesn’t matter what the team in front of us: keep going, focus on the game, play hard.”
Hurtado, 29, has appeared in 18 games this season and started 16 as part of a central defender rotation with Patrick Ianni, Djimi Traoré and Zach Scott.
“The competition is fairly close, so that’s a position we felt we can stay fresh in and keep our quality good,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “As we move forward, obviously we’re going to try to settle on a pair that we think is the best pair. And these games just help to make that decision.”
Hurtado signed with the Sounders early in their inaugural training camp. Club executives were in Colombia scouting Montero. They were intrigued by Hurtado as well, but his agent had indicated the defender was going on trial with AC Milan and expected to sign there.
“We were like, ‘Oh, this guy’s good,’ ” Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson said Friday. “We were all excited. And then (Milan) didn’t end up signing him. And when he ended up being free, we jumped at it. We were really excited to bring him. Him and Fredy knew each other: We knew that would help the settling. And you look at Jhon now and his English is great, he’s come so far, I think he’s really happy. It’s been a good pairing.”
“This club is really important for me,” he said. “I have a good feeling here. My family, my kids born here. It’s really important to me. And my coaches, the staff, my teammates, have been part of my life, so I’m so happy for that.”
The Sounders also should be happy with their defense, which has produced three consecutive shutouts and has gone 286 minutes without allowing a goal.
That shutout streak came in the wake of a 3-1 loss at Houston on Aug. 17 that Schmid and others cited as a turning point.
“The Houston game was an eye-opener to us that we have to change,” goalkeeper Michael Gspurning said. “We took our lessons, and that’s the result, and now we’ve created a momentum of shutouts and it’s great. We want to keep it, of course. But first we want to keep up our good work – team-wise, defensive-wise – and then the shutout will be the result.”
The defensive turnaround was well-timed because it manifested as the offense slowed down. The Sounders have scored just one goal in each of their past four games.
The defense might need to be at the top of its game again Saturday as Seattle forwards Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey remain away with the United States national team, midfielders Brad Evans (calf) and Shalrie Joseph (MCL) are out due to injury, and the status of goals co-leader Obafemi Martins (ankle) will be a game-time decision.
Hurtado doesn’t believe it will be too great a setback with the defense clicking.
“The communication inside and outside the pitch is really good,” Hurtado said.
CHICAGO FIRE (10-10-5; 35 POINTS) AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (13-8-4; 43)
7 p.m., CenturyLink Field.
TV: NBCSN. Radio: 97.3 FM.
Head to head: Sounders FC leads 4-0-3 overall and 2-0-1 at home. Chicago is the only MLS team never to have beaten the Sounders.
Notes: Seattle is tied for second with the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference but leads MLS with an average of 1.72 points per match. The Sounders have won six of their past seven matches, including three consecutive by 1-0 scores. Chicago is 4-2-2 its past eight games. Seattle is unbeaten its past 11 MLS matches at home (8-0-3). Chicago is 2-6-3 on the road. The Sounders will be without forwards Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson due to U.S. national-team duty. Chicago will be without midfielders Joel Lindpere (Estonia) and Arévalo Rios (Uruguay). Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning has a 286-minute shutout streak. Chicago forward Mike Magee is tied for second in MLS with a career-high 14 goals. Seattle defender Djimi Traoré is one caution away from suspension. The referee is Hilario Grajeda.
Quotable: “(Chicago is) a team that’s rested, but a team that’s also primed to try and win the game because they’re a team that is in desperate need for points. It’s a team that’s probably going to play it pretty tight to the vest. (Magee and Chris Rolfe) are more tricky type forwards, so you have to be sharp and alert and be prepared for a lot of place changing.” – Sounders coach Sigi Schmid
Next: The Sounders conclude this three-game homestand with a 7 p.m. Friday match against top-seeded Real Salt Lake.
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