SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The Sounders FC checked several things off their to-do list at Buck Shaw Stadium Saturday night.
They got Blaise Nkufo more involved and made some fantastic runs off of him while also setting him up for a pair of goal-scoring chances.
They got their latest addition, Alvaro Fernandez into his first match with the Sounders FC.
They kept Fredy Montero on his hot streak, as his 26th minute goal gave him a goal or an assist in eight straight MLS matches.
They held the San Jose Earthquakes to zero in the back, giving Kasey Keller his sixth clean sheet of the season.
Add all of those elements to the improved play on both sides of the ball from the entire Sounders FC roster and the result was a 1-0 win over the Earthquakes, pushing Seattle’s unbeaten string to four straight MLS matches and six straight overall.
“Today I was very pleased with how we played. I thought our soccer was very good,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “I thought we moved the ball around very well. I thought the team was very good.”
Montero got things started in the 26th minute with his seventh goal of the season, evening him with Steve Zakuani for the team lead. He laid the ball off to Sanna Nyassi going up the right side of the San Jose box and Nyassi crossed it back to Montero running down the middle of the box for a header that he knocked inside the far post for the 1-0 Seattle lead.
Montero has now had a hand in 12 of Seattle’s last 15 goals and has shown that his pairing with Nkufo could be quite fruitful for the Sounders FC. The duo put pressure on the San Jose defense throughout the contest, even stepping into the defensive realm on several occasions to preserve the clean sheet.
“I thought the goal was as good a goal as we’ve scored this year just in terms of the combination play that led to it,” Schmid said. “Besides his goal, Fredy’s given us tremendous workrate off the ball. He’s growing as a player and bringing out some different aspects of his game.”
However, Montero isn’t about to take credit for the team’s turnaround.
“It’s everybody, it’s not just me. It’s everybody working together on the field like it was tonight,” Montero said. “Everyone is stepping up their game collectively.”
Led by Montero and Nkufo, Seattle put the pressure on Busch and the Earthquakes from the second minute. Montero crossed the ball for Nkufo, but Busch knocked away Nkufo’s header for the first of his six saves. In the ninth minute, it was Montero heading a Nyassi cross that Busch parried into the crossbar for the save.
The Sounders maintained that pressure in the second half, as it was Nkufo again missing narrowly on nabbing his first goal as a Sounder. Nkufo took a pass from Steve Zakuani at the top of the box and turned it through traffic to his left foot for a shot that Busch pushed just outside the far post for the save.
The win was a big step in showing that Nkufo is fitting in with his new club.
“I still need minutes and training but tonight it was important that the team won. Personally, I am still working to get to my level,” he said.
Fernandez got into the mix in the final 21 minutes and impressed on the left side, pushing forward and tracking back throughout the waning moments of the match and even surprised the coaching staff with a strong left-footed cross early in his time on the field.
The coming together of all of those pieces has put the Sounders into fourth place in the Western Conference standings at 25 points (7-8-4), two points clear of San Jose (6-5-5).
“These points are vital - this win is vital. Especially fighting for a playoff spot,” Montero said. “As a team we are playing really well right now and we want to keep working with that.”
The Sounders have been looking all season for a run of good form. Alas, it has arrived.
“We have a good squad with good players and when we give the effort and the determination we’re going to be a tough, tough team to beat,” Keller said. “The good run is here and long may it continue for the rest of the season.”
The Sounders host the Houston Dynamo next Sunday in their next MLS match, but first head to El Salvador for the second leg of the preliminary round meeting with Metapan in the CONCACAF Champions League. Kickoff is 7 pm on Tuesday night. The Sounders lead 1-0 in the aggregate goal series. The winner advances to the group stage of Champions League.
Sounders FC - Fredy Montero (Sanna Nyassi) 26.
Earthquakes - None.
Sounders FC - Kasey Keller, James Riley, Patrick Ianni, Jeff Parke (Tyrone Marshall 46), Leo Gonzalez, Sanna Nyassi, Nathan Sturgis, Osvaldo Alonso, Steve Zakuani (Alvaro Fernandez 69), Fredy Montero, Blaise Nkufo (Nate Jaqua 86).
Earthquakes - Jon Busch, Jason Hernandez (Chris Wondolowski 74), Bobby Burling, Ike Opara, Ramiro Corrales, Joey Gjertsen, Sam Cronin, Brandon McDonald (Arturo Alvarez 46), Bobby Convey, Cornell Glen, Scott Sealy (Ryan Johnson 46).