By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado arrived in Seattle early in the preseason of 2009, just as the Sounders were preparing for their inaugural season.
Today, 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 has appeared in 18 games this season and started 16 as part of a central defender rotation with Patrick Ianni, Djimi Traore 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,” Sounders 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.”
The Sounders’ defense had been going through an effective stretch, producing three consecutive shutouts and going 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 several players 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 — teamwise, defensivewise — and then the shutout will be the result.”
That defensive turnaround also was well-timed, as the Sounders have managed only one goal in each of their past three games. So the three straight shutouts were needed for those to become victories.
The defense may need to be at the top of its game again today as Seattle forwards Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey remain away with the United States national team, midfielders Brad Evans and Shalrie Joseph are out with injuries, and the status of goals co-leader Obafemi Martins (ankle) will be a game-time decision.
“The communication inside and outside the pitch is really good,” Hurtado said. “More important for the defender.”
Hurtado signed with the Sounders early in their inaugural training camp. Club executives were in Colombia scouting Montero — who would go on to become the Sounders’ career goals leader. They were intrigued by Hurtado as well. However, his agent 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.”
Today’s contest is the second of three games in 10 days for Hurtado and the Sounders. Seattle’s next game is against Real Salt Lake on Sept. 13 in Seattle.