The San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders FC can’t be considered twins, because they were born a year apart.
The two newest Major League Soccer franchises are more like siblings: older brother San Jose, starting in 2008; and precocious Seattle, making its splashy debut this season.
And while the teams have quickly developed their own personalities, they also share much in common. San Jose is Seattle’s nearest geographic rival in the league. These are the only MLS teams that retained the names of their predecessors from the North American Soccer League. And the San Jose media-relations office also counts no fewer than 15 connections between players and coaches on the two rosters.
The most obvious of those is defender James Riley, who was selected by the Earthquakes in last season’s expansion draft before being made available in this season’s expansion draft, where he was scooped up by Seattle.
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First-hand looks at both expansion seasons give Riley a unique perspective as the teams prepare for their first regular-season meeting Saturday night at Qwest Field. (7:30 p.m., Channel 5)
“(Sounders FC is) definitely the top organization in the league, hands-down,” Riley said. “I don’t think anyone would argue with that. Coming here there’s a lot of differences from how the organization is run to how the players are treated. With that said, I definitely enjoyed my time in San Jose, I enjoyed the guys and the people that I met and the fans there. But this is definitely a step up.”
Riley played in 24 games for San Jose last season, as the Earthquakes went 8-13-9. That tied with Los Angeles for the worst record in the league.
“I think what we tried to do was put together a framework to start the season off,” coach Frank Yallop said.
“We all know it’s a long process. I thought we did well last year toward the end of the season. But it took us a while to build the right way.”
So far, the increased cohesion Yallop noticed late last year hasn’t carried over, and the Quakes take a 1-2-2 record into the game in Seattle.
Sounders FC, meanwhile, stands at 3-2-0, which is good for second place in the Western Division and matches the 1998 Miami Fusion for the best start by an MLS expansion team.
The Sounders brass admit they learned some things by studying San Jose’s first season.
“As an expansion team your resources are the expansion draft (and) the regular college draft, it’s allocation and (discovering) players that you can pick up, and then it’s what you bring in from the international market,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “And I think San Jose last year … checked off most of those things; but they really didn’t go into the international market until midseason when they brought in (Darren) Huckerby and (Francisco) Lima.
“So that was one of our goals: Let’s make sure we get into the international market early, which we obviously did with (Freddie) Ljungberg before I got here, and then obviously the addition of (Fredy) Montero and (Jhon Kennedy) Hurtado has certainly solidified that.”
Unlike 2007 expansion entry Toronto – which used the expansion draft to acquire players that were then traded away – San Jose drafted players to use them. Seven of the 10 Earthquakes players acquired in the expansion draft played last season. However, only two – defenders Ryan Cochrane and Jason Hernandez – remain on the roster this season.
Seattle followed that lead, with eight of the 10 players taken in the expansion draft remaining with the club.
However, Seattle had more lead time in advance of its inaugural season and used that time to sign a core of contributors such as midfielder Sebastien Le Toux and goalkeeper Kasey Keller, in addition to the international players.
That helped Seattle get off to a 3-0 start, which established its reputation as a special kind of expansion team.
However, the Sounders have lost two successive games since then. And Riley said that skid makes this game important for a basic reason that transcends any budding rivalry.
“We definitely want to get back in the win column,” he said. “They’re obviously a good team with some changes (from their expansion year). It’s going to be an exciting game for sure.”