KeyBank Scouting Report: Portland Timbers at San Jose Earthquakes
As the Portland Timbers prepare to meet the San Jose Earthquakes for the second straight week (Apr. 21, 8pm PT, ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940), find out all of game-related information on the opposition.
What did the Timbers learn from the last game?
Claiming a 1-0 win last week was a good night’s work by the Timbers. The dismissal of San Jose forward Alan Gordon changed things for them, but Caleb Porter’s men were already dominating possession and territory by that stage.
By the end of the game, the Timbers boasted a season-high 64.3 percent possession as well as 80 percent passing accuracy. So what they will have learned is that they can dictate the tempo and rhythm of a game against San Jose, but creating and finishing off more chances on goal would make them even more comfortable.
Why did the Timbers dominate so much?
The high-pressure game employed by the Timbers was something that San Jose struggled to cope with. And big gaps appeared in their midfield with the running of Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara and Will Johnson causing them huge problems. The Timbers also did a good job at keeping the ball and using it in a way to stretch their opponents.
In defense, San Jose was missing a couple of key players in Jason Hernandez and Steven Beitashour and their absence was crucial. The backline never looked too comfortable, especially with Rodney Wallace and Kalif Alhassan attacking from out wide, while Ryan Johnson is one of the best in MLS at getting in behind his marker and he made the most of San Jose playing a high defensive line.
How did San Jose assess their performance?
“We feel we can play against anybody when we’re on our game. We were just off our passing on a slick pitch. Obviously, they are very good at it. I thought they moved the ball well without creating tons of chances, which was good for us defensively,” said head coach Frank Yallop.
“I feel that we picked a pretty bad night not to play our best soccer. We really didn’t connect a whole lot of passes, and therefore weren’t able to get a lot of crosses or generate things around the box. Whenever you don’t do that, you’re sitting deeper and deeper, and Portland had a great free-kick to beat us,” said forward Chris Wondolowski.
Head coach: Frank Yallop
Twice selected as MLS Coach of the Year, this English-born Canadian has a long history with the league and one that is very successful. He guided the Earthquakes to two MLS Cup victories (2001 and 2003) before trying his hand at international management with Canada. Enticed back to MLS by LA Galaxy, he spent one year there before rejoining the Earthquakes in 2007.
Star Player: Steven Lenhart
After making his first start of the season last Sunday, this powerful forward is expected to link up with top scorer Chris Wondolowski – especially with Alan Gordon suspended. The former Columbus Crew man is excellent at holding off defenders, creating space for team-mates, and winning aerial battles, which makes him a complete nightmare for defenders to try to handle.
One To Watch: Rafael Baca
Set to make his 50th career start, this hard-working central midfielder has proved to be a consistent force for the Earthquakes in the last couple of seasons. Eager to get forward and join attacks, expect to see him make plenty of runs off the ball and try to connect play with the strikers. He also possesses a bit of flair, perhaps stemming from his Mexican roots, and can be a real threat.
What can the Timbers expect?
With San Jose having home advantage this time, they will be expected to approach the game with the intention to go for a win rather than just to contain the Timbers. That should result in more overlapping runs from their outside backs (Dan Gargan and Justin Morrow), breaks from midfield, and balls sent into the penalty area for Lenhart and Wondoloswki to latch onto.
Yallop will encourage his wide midfielders to get more involved in the game and to be the creative sparks for their offense. With Wondoloskwi likely to be shifted up front from the right wing, Cordell Cato could come into the starting line-up as his pace is a weapon that San Jose have been keen to use more often. On the other side, Ramiro Corrales is a veteran with a great engine.
Where are they most vulnerable?
From what happened last week, most observers will automatically point to San Jose’s defense as a possible weak-link – even though it was so strong last year. Victor Bernardez and Ty Harden played a high line at times, trying to compress the area where the Timbers could play in, but it worked against them with Ryan Johnson’s running and is something that he can exploit again.
If they opt to start in a 4-4-2 formation, which is expected, then San Jose could get outnumbered in central midfield. That is exactly what happened at JELD-WEN Field with Sam Cronin and Baca spending most of the game chasing shadows of Timbers players. But it is up to the Timbers to make sure that they produce an end product from that dominance in the middle of the pitch.
Who are their main threats?
Any team who doesn’t set out to keep a close watch on Wondoloskwi – who tied the MLS regular season record of 27 goals last season – is asking for trouble. He is so deadly around the opposition’s penalty area and strikes up a good understanding with Lenhart. So stopping the service into those two forwards is key, while sticking close to them is just as important.
San Jose do have some good options on their bench in former Timber Mike Fucito and rookie Adam Jahn, while Cato could make a big difference to their play if he is given the nod to start. Combining speed with their physical style is something that Yallop will be asking from his players. And from set-pieces, watch out for Bernandez, who is strong in the air and takes a lot of free-kicks.
Did You Know?
Timbers head coach Caleb Porter was originally drafted by San Jose in the 1998 MLS SuperDarft as the 27th overall pick and went in the third round. Porter went on to play four times for the team, who were then called the San Jose Clash.
Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandTimbers.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.