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Originally published Sunday, August 5, 2012 at 9:53 PM

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Johnson and Rosales becoming Seattle's next great duo

The pair's connection, along with solid defense, has the Sounders looking like a MLS Cup caliber team.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Wednesday

U.S. Open Cup final, Sounders FC @ Sporting Kansas City, 6 p.m., GolTV

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While Ozzie Alonso pushed the ball up the field, his head up, looking for Mauro Rosales, Eddie Johnson loped in the center of the field, outside the box, waiting for the proper moment to accelerate.

A cheetah waiting to pounce.

Alonso scooted his pass to Rosales, and as Rosales lofted a soft ball toward LA goalkeeper Josh Saunders, Johnson accelerated down the center of the field, rose above Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, and knocked in a perfect header off Rosales' perfect cross for the first goal of this memorable night.

It was the kind of wondrous, exquisite moment that makes true believers out of soccer fans.

This link-up was exactly what the Sounders envisioned back in February when they traded for Eddie Johnson. Take Alonso's midfield aggression, Rosales' veteran savvy and deft passing touch and combine it with Johnson's knockout finishes.

They wanted to create a 21st-century version of the Cosmos' Franz Beckenbauer-to-Giorgio Chinaglia, or a North American facsimile of the partnership between Argentina's Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi.

This first goal in the game's sixth minute was that vision in the flesh.

Alonso-to-Rosales-to-Johnson. Tic, tack, goal.

"Right now you can see it," said former MLS All-Star Taylor Twellman, who called the game for ESPN. "Rosales and Eddie Johnson aren't even thinking. The moment either one of them has the ball, they're finding that good spot, and you just can't teach that. When it's flowing like this, you just want to ride it.

"There's an understanding now there that when Rosales gets the ball, Eddie Johnson, as a center forward, knows, 'I've got to get here and the ball's going to be there.' You saw that on the first goal."

In front of 60,908 at CenturyLink Field, the Sounders dismantled the L.A. Galaxy 4-0 on a warm Sunday night when everything on the horizon seemed possible for them.

Alonso-to-Rosales-to-Johnson.

Think of the greatest connections in Seattle sports. Combinations that have been money in the bank, like Dave Krieg to Steve Largent, Matt Hasselbeck to Bobby Engram, Gary Payton to Shawn Kemp. Or deadly batteries like Randy Johnson to Dan Wilson, and Felix Hernandez to anyone with a catcher's mitt.

You now can add Rosales to Johnson. And throw in Alonso, who remains the engine that drives this machine.

During this swift Sounders turnaround, Rosales and Johnson have been playing their own games of pitch and catch, Rosales lobbing laser-guided crosses and corner kicks toward Johnson, and Johnson swiftly converting them into goals.

Rosales has assisted on each of the last four Johnson goals. And Johnson has scored six goals in the past seven league games. Rosales added another assist in the 88th minute on a pass that was converted by Andy Rose.

With Johnson lurking, always on the edge of danger, it now seems that every time the Sounders cross midfield they are a threat to score.

"And now you add (midfielder Christian) Tiffert to the mix," Twellman said. "The counterattack is a lot more dangerous. You've got Rosales and Tiffert, with Montero and Eddie Johnson running off of it. And then you've got the kid (Mario) Martinez coming in? They could get hot right at the right moment."

Johnson lit the fuse on the third goal in the 61st minute, blowing past David Junior Lopes in the box, forcing Saunders to come far off his line. The Galaxy 'keeper slid to the ball, knocking it out to Sounders midfielder Alex Caskey, who lofted a left-footed the ball past Saunders from about 25 yards out.

And now that Fredy Montero has rediscovered his touch and found a comfort level with Johnson he scored his sixth goal in the 52nd minute — the team can attack from a myriad of angles.

"This is what the Sounders were the first seven games of the year," Twellman said. "And don't forget that tonight, they were very strong defensively. And how far they get in MLS Cup playoffs will be determined by how good they are defensively.

"Tonight, to go against that team, to shut them out, that was a complete performance by Seattle. What I saw tonight is what you need to win an MLS Cup."

You saw a team evolving into something very threatening. And you saw the next great partnership in Seattle sports.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.

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