Fredy Montero continued his red hot streak Saturday night in a crucial MLS Western Conference showdown with an adroitly executed header to give visiting Seattle Sounders FC a 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes before 10,351 at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara.
The Montero goal, the only score of a fiercely contested defensive struggle, came in the 26th minute as the speedy Colombian striker took a cross from Sanna Nyassi in front of the goal and headed it past San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch.
The blazing streak of Montero continued with the game clincher against the Earthquakes. He has been involved in a score through a goal or assist over eight consecutive MLS games with four goals and five assists. On the season Montero has seven goals and eight assists.
Montero’s scoring impetus carried into the international realm as well. Last Wednesday at home against El Salvador’s Metapan in Champions League play Montero came off the bench in the second half to drill home a textbook perfect 40-yard missile to produce the only score of the game in another 1-0 Sounders success.
Since Sana Nyassi has become a regular, he has also been productive in the assist capacity after using his speed on the flank to push the Sounders into the scoring area. Nyassi has now recorded an assist in three consecutive matches. This productivity dates back to his first career assist on July 10. All three have led to game winning goals.
Eyes were squarely focused on the two newly arrived designated players on the Seattle roster, recent World Cup players Blaise Nkufo and Alvaro Fernandez, who performed for Switzerland and Uruguay respectively.
Nkufo started at forward and played into the 86th minute before being replaced by Nate Jaqua, showing that the Dutch League record-setter has neared the point of returning to availability for the full 90 minutes of action.
While Nkufo was unable to break into the scoring column, he came close with two superbly placed shots. The first was a header in the 2nd minute. In the 63rd minute he took a pass in the middle of the field and engaged in some shifty footwork before delivering a left-footed drive that almost reached the net. Both efforts were stopped on timely saves by Busch.
In addition to the near-miss goal efforts, Nkufo displayed solid field generalship. His dribbling and passing demonstrated the sound technique of a veteran ball handler.
One excellent trait Nkufo evidenced was passing up long low percentage shots to instead pass and keep the ball in play for the Sounders. He is a player who operates well in the center of the field and promotes goal activity for others when he is not taking shots himself.
Recent arrival Fernandez, acquired July 29, saw his first action in Sounders uniform after replacing Steve Zakuani in the 69th minute. There was much for Sounders Coach Sigi Schmid to be positive about concerning Fernandez’ effort.
The tall, slender Uruguayan combined quickness and adroit technique in his ball handling, aiding the effort to hang onto the ball and run out the clock for a victory. His smooth footwork demonstrated skill toward producing future Seattle goals.
There was one Seattle casualty, however. Jeff Parke sustained a head injury in a collision in front of the Sounders’ goal near the end of the first half. He was replaced for the entire second half by veteran Jamaican defender Tyrone Marshall, who stopped one San Jose goal effort with a dazzling header, receiving a grateful pat on the back from goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
On the subject of Keller, the former U.S. national team veteran and current MLS All-Star recorded his sixth clean sheet of the season. He recorded two saves.
The visitors held a 9-8 advantage in total shots, a figure revealing the closeness of the hard fought match. The breakdown reveals how the contest went as the Sounders held a 7-2 edge on goal shots while the Quakes had a narrow 6-5 advantage on corners.
The set piece game is a staple of San Jose Coach Frank Yallop’s attack. It is led by former U.S. national team player and current All-Star left winger Bobby Convey. All night Convey had the Sounders on edge with neatly placed corner shots that produced scoring opportunities near the Seattle goal.
With the win the Sounders stand in MLS play at 7-8-4 with 25 points. They have won their last three league matches. Seattle on the strength of the San Jose victory jumped from sixth in the West to fourth.
It was just a short time ago that many skeptics were writing off Seattle playoff chances for 2010 when the team stood at 4-8-4. Aided by the return of previously injured players, Seattle appears to be in its best shape of the season and is playing its best soccer during the playoff stretch run.
The loss dropped San Jose to 6-5-5. The Quakes have 23 points. This was the first San Jose loss since the World Cup break, resulting in a fall to sixth place in the Western Conference. In an earlier trip to Seattle this season San Jose had edged the Sounders by the identical 1-0 score by which they lost Saturday night.
Right after the match the Sounders departed for San Salvador and a Tuesday match against Metapan. The teams are vying for a spot in the Champions League group stage.