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May 16, 2014 at 10:48 PM

Sounders FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes, preview and prediction

Sounders FC (7-3-1) vs. San Jose Earthquakes (2-3-4)
Saturday, May 17, 7 p.m., CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
TV/radio: Q-13 FOX, KIRO 97.3-FM (Ross Fletcher, Arlo White, Kasey Keller)
Spanish TV/radio: THIS-TV (KOMO2), ESPN Deportes 1490 AM
Referee: Jair Marrufo

KEY EARTHQUAKES PLAYERS

M Sam Cronin — For all the talk of how shorthanded the visitors are, and there will be a lot this post and beyond, here is one steady force who will still be available. You might remember him as the draft pick right after Steve Zakuani in 2009, and he has started 60 of the team’s last 61 games. He’s not particularly flashy or gifted with elite physical tools. He doesn’t score a lot of goals and he’s not necessarily a playmaker. Still, he’s a solid two-way midfielder who adds some skill, versatility and bite in the middle.

M Khari Stephenson — The Jamaican veteran has played for a few teams in his seven MLS seasons: Kansas City (2004-05), San Jose (2010-12, 2014) and Real Salt Lake (2013). He was a late signing by the Earthquakes this year, and he didn’t make his first start until last week. At 6 foot 2, 185 pounds, he’s more of a physical presence in the middle. He’s alsogot a ferocious shot from distance, which the Sounders saw first-hand in 2011. Take a look at this effort that sneaked in after Kasey Keller got his fingertips to it.

GK Jon Busch — The 14-year veteran has been busy in this 2-1-1 run by the team, making 16 saves in a nice spell that has bumped the team from the bottom of the Western Conference to sixth place. The native of Queens, N.Y., recently became the seventh player in MLS history to make 1,000 saves in the league. Only two players reached the milestone in fewer games. His career save percentage of 73.6 is third best all-time, 79 shutouts are fourth, 1,007 saves are seventh, and a 1.22 goals-against average is 10th.

KEY MATCHUPS

Cordell Cato vs. Leo Gonzalez — The Earthquakes have quite a few local connections: UW product Ty Harden, ex-Sounders Mike Fucito, Bryan Meredith and Cato, a young Trinidadian who signed with Seattle as a teenager. He scored his first goal of the season last week, and actually might be the only available visitor who has found the net in 2014. Gonzalez, who has battled some injuries, has been able to practice without issue all week and should be ready to make his fourth start.

Obafemi Martins vs. whoever San Jose can field at center back — Top of the Earthquakes’ depth chart at center back? Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson. Well, the former is suspended following a midweek announcement from the MLS Disciplinary Committee and the latter is in pre-World Cup training camp with the U.S. national team. The combo is above average leaguewide, and the team’s other options to face Seattle’s dynamo up front — Ty Harden? JJ Koval? — will need to rise the challenge.

Traveling party of 16 vs. an opponent of 50,000 — Things have gotten so bad with injuries, suspensions and international call-ups that the visitors apparently won’t be able to dress a full team of 18. According to Robert Jonas, San Jose only traveled with 16 players. That is one half of it. The other half is the Sounders opening up more sections of CenturyLink Field for the first time this season. The team, of course, is especially good in front of big crowds: 8-0-2 at home in front of 45,000-plus with a 23-7 goal differential.

PREDICTION

No matchup in MLS is ever as lopsided as it seems. Many thought the foundering Union wouldn’t be able to challenge the Sounders a few weeks ago.

Still, I think the talent disparity will be significant.

Add the motivation of Seattle wanting to atone for its worst-ever defeat and the lift from a larger-than-usual crowd and I see this one playing out somewhat comfortably…

Sounders FC 2, San Jose 0

SEA — Obafemi Martins (Marco Pappa) 5′
SEA — Obafemi Martins (Gonzalo Pineda) 42′

How do you see this one playing out?

| More in Preview and prediction, Sounders FC

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