The Buzzsaw: Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes

A depleted San Jose is ripe for the picking, and in a highly competitive Western Conference, three points at home is vital.

By Mike Schwartz July 1, 2015 Published in the July 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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A buoyant but tense match at Providence Park evolved into Timbers Army nirvana as the boys from the Rose City emerged with a resounding victory over their hated northern rivals.

How could you tell it was going to be a good night? Because Darlington Nagbe blew the roof off the North End with an absolute laser beam to put Portland ahead. The confident, composed performance from Portland’s #6 was the Nags we know and love.

After conceding an equalizer late in the first half – it must be said, off of another set piece—the match intensity increased, as the Timbers faced the prospect of an unsatisfying draw. With fifteen minutes to go, that all changed dramatically.

Following a trademark Diego Chara takeaway, the Timbers broke towards the North End, with the ball ultimately ending up at the feet of Nagbe, who slashed his way through the flopping flounders, playing a deadly ball towards Fanendo Adi. Speaking of confident and composed, the Nigerian hitman found space at the top of the box, swept his toe through Nagbe’s through ball, and curled in a beautiful goal.

He wasn’t done. Adi simply can’t not score a brace.

Rodney Wallace, who had just come on as a sub, pounced on a loose ball, passed around a defender, springing Adi. With Wallace and Gaston Fernandez astride on his flanks, Adi again found space at the top of the box and blasted one home past a diving Stefan Frei. 3-1 Portland, smoke, magic, and chainsaws.

Every good Sunday needs a cherry on top. After playing set-up man so well, RodWall dropped a maraschino bomb in stoppage time before a Tetris-enthralled TA.

Fish, gutted.

The emphatic 4-1 final score puts the surging Timbers in third in the West, one little point behind the floundering (pun definitely intended) Rave Green. Cascadia, it should be noted, is 1-2-3 in the West and 3 out of the top 4 overall.

Despite Liam Ridgewell’s absence in the derby, Portland’s defense remained stout as ever; in fact, Lamar Neagle’s goal stands as the only tally conceded with Norberto Paparatto in the lineup in over 480 minutes of gameplay. 

With Wednesday’s Open Cup defeat the Timbers are 5-2-0 in their last seven.

Early-season struggles are firmly in the rearview mirror, exemplified no more than by the Timbers’ 4-0-0 record with Will Johnson in the lineup. Darlington Nagbe and Gaston Fernandez look as locked-in as they ever have (especially the latter), and Rodney Wallace is healthy and has seamlessly vacillated between starter and substitute. Adi, the Timbers’s DP striker, now has 8 goals on the season, as many as bigger-name, higher-dollar counterparts Kakà and Giovinco. Only Kei Kamara and Chris Wondolowski have scored more.

Wondo is suddenly among the hottest strikers in the league, scoring 6 goals in his last nine. His Earthquakes come to town on Sunday having lost only once during that stretch, while winning and drawing four times apiece.

Problem is: he won’t be there.

The Quakes are nonetheless on a good run of form lately, winning at CenturyLink (for the second time this year!) and beating the Galaxy in consecutive weeks. Knowing what the Galaxy did to Portland, San Jose’s 3-1 victory is all the more impressive. In the snug Western Conference, 7th place San Jose are only three points behind third-place Portland, with two games in-hand. 

Like the Timbers, Dominic Kinnear’s men have been doing it with defense. In fact, the Quakes are the stingiest team in MLS, having only conceded 16 times; their five clean sheets are fifth-best in the league. It starts in the center of defense, with two internationally-experienced defenders. Six-foot four American international Clarence Goodson played five years in Norway and Denmark, making 129 appearances, and has been capped 46 times by the USMNT. His partner, the hard-tackling Victor Bernardez, has 78 caps with Honduras to his name, representing La H in both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

All told, the Quakes have needed a strong backbone to support a decimated front line. “Goonie” mainstay Steven Lenhart has yet to play this year—and might not at all—due to soft tissue issues in his right knee (see Roy, Brandon or Oden, Greg—or not. Let’s not). Designated Player striker "I’m not that" Innocent Emeghara was brought in to pick up the scoring slack, but the Nigerian international went down with a torn meniscus on May 1st and is out 4-6 months. Still, for fun, let’s watch him eviscerate Brad Evans & Co.

In all seriousness, the Earthquakes could be in trouble without Chris Wondolowski. They recently traded for Chicago striker (and minor twitter celebrity) Quincy Amarikwa, who brings speed in support of target man Adam Jahn. With Wondo and Cordell Cato out on Gold Cup duty, Sanna Nyassi’s yellow card suspension, and two injured strikers, the Quakes’ active roster has scored all of five goals.

They will come to defend and counter, which should play right into the Timbers’ hands.

With the midfield at full strength (minus Zemanski), Caleb Porter has options. Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi played minimally on Wednesday, while Will Johnson and Diego Chara didn’t even travel. Gaston Fernandez put in a hard-fought 90 minutes in SLC’s searing heat and thin air; Maxi Urruti played 81. Conventional wisdom has Adi starting up front, then, with Valeri, Nagbe, and Rodney Wallace in support.

Lastly, the Timbers will be without Alvas Powell for at least the next two matches. The exciting right back is absent due to his call-up with Jamaica for the Gold Cup; even if the Reggae Boyz don’t make it out of the group stage, Powell will be occupied until July 14th. We could certainly see Jack Jewsbury reprise his role as a fullback in that time, but it would be intriguing to see whether Caleb Porter goes with a wild card, like Jeanderson.

We must put all Wednesday games behind and focus on the task at hand. A depleted San Jose is ripe for the picking, and in a highly competitive Western Conference, three points at home is vital.

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