Strong's Notes: That Was Awesome… (Now Do It Again!)
After one of their best performances and most meaningful wins of this or any era, the Timbers now must put the 3-0 victory against the LA Galaxy firmly into the rearview mirror to focus on an arguably more important game against one of the teams they’re battling with for a playoff spot.
After a great run through May and early June, the San Jose Earthquakes suddenly find themselves on a club-record nine game winless streak that’s sent them tumbling down the standings, and seen them shutout in seven of the nine games. With a series of patchwork starting XI’s due to injury and suspension, the Earthquakes are looking for something positive to spring them out of their doldrums; what better way to do that than against a Timbers team who are hoping they’ve just done the same thing.
That Was Awesome… (Now Do It Again!)
Even before Wednesday’s win over the Galaxy, there was no doubting just how good this Timbers team can be; wins over quality sides like Real Salt Lake, Philadelphia, and Dallas showed how high the ceiling is for the Rose City XI. The problem then, as now, is consistently putting together complete, 90 minute performances, and consistently reaching that ceiling of quality.
One of the biggest reasons the Timbers manhandled the Galaxy like they did was that they were able to outwork their opponents in all parts of the field for the entire game. They started stronger, they finished stronger, and even though they had spells of being pinned back defensively, there was no time where you were truly scared about things collapsing.
It might be unrealistic to expect the Timbers play to their maximum every time out as an expansion team, but if they can do it more often than not, and do it Saturday against a hungry San Jose team, they just might be playing on past 34 games this year.
Mind the Middle
The only real blemish on Wednesday night’s game was midfielder Diego Chara receiving his fifth yellow card of the season, earning him an automatic suspension for the game against the Earthquakes. I’ll put my hand up first to say that Chara’s play doesn’t always get noticed and appreciated to the level it should, but the coaching staff has been consistently praising his influence on the team over the past few weeks.
With captain Jack Jewsbury nursing the hamstring injury that kept him out against the Galaxy, and coach John Spencer mentioning the possibility of sliding Lovel Palmer into his spot if need be, James Marcelin takes a bigger part of the spotlight.
One of the holdovers from last year’s team, Marcelin is a player who certainly stands out on the field, both for his physical stature, as well as his ability to break up opposing attacks before they really even start. Regardless of who his partner Saturday, I’d like to see Marcelin raise his game up even more, and he may even need to add in some more willingness to go forward and make sure the Timbers are creating offensively from the middle of the field.
Watch Out for Wondo
There’s no points for correctly guessing who the biggest danger man is for the San Jose Earthquakes: Chris Wondolowski. Perhaps one of the most unlikely Golden Boot winners in MLS history—he was making close to the league minimum and coaching youth soccer after ‘Quakes practice last year—Wondo, as he’s affectionately known, is one of the most deadly strikers in the league.
Just as it’s been a dry spell for the team in these last nine games without a win—just the four goals scored, and in only two of the games—so it’s been for Wondolowski; since returning late in June from the Gold Cup, he’s scored just twice in his last seven games, both goals coming in a 2-2 draw against Vancouver. However, if the Timbers aren’t paying him enough attention, and allowing him to get any kind of space and time on the ball in and around the 18-yard-box, he will punish them, and once again it will be time for the Timbers to dig themselves out on the road.
San Jose is in the middle of a crucial three-game homestand in the match against the Timbers, having started it inauspiciously with a lifeless 2-0 loss to DC United. This stretch isn’t just vital because of the tight playoff chase, but because after next week’s game against Colorado, the Earthquakes finish the season playing seven of 10 on the road.
San Jose coach Frank Yallop has had plenty of work to do each week figuring out his starting lineup: first choice forwards Simon Dawkins (hamstring injury) and Steven Lenhart (personal leave), centerbacks Jason Hernandez (calf strain), Bobby Burling (phantom red card v Real Salt Lake) and Ike Opara (season-ending foot injury), outside backs Ramiro Corrales (yellow card accumulation) and Steven Beitashour (right leg injury), and defensive center mid Brad Ring (yellow cards again) have all missed games recently. Plus, after a trade with Toronto, new forward Alan Gordon (injury) and defender Nana Attakora (fitness) have struggled to go 90 minutes.
- Saturday’s game is the start of three straight on the road for the Timbers, the longest such stretch of the season. However, all are huge, huge games against teams that are right next door to them in the standings—six pointers in the English parlance. Getting points from all three, and therefore denying points to their opponents, could put the Timbers that much more in striking distance for a playoff spot when all is said and done.