In the first of the Portland Timbers’ back-to-back games against the San Jose Earthquakes, find out everything you need to know about the opposition.
A brief history…
Originally founded as the San Jose Clash, this franchise competed in the first ever game in MLS before changing its name to the Earthquakes, winning two MLS Cups in 2001 and 2003, and taking a two-year break from the league before returning in 2008.
Currently playing their home games at Buck Shaw Stadium, the club will move into a purpose-built, 18,000-capacity stadium next year. Successful on the field, they are an extremely well-run club off it and their supporter base continues to grow.
How did they fare last season?
Incredibly well as they won the Supporters' Shield and made it through to the playoff quarterfinals, where they lost to eventual champions LA Galaxy. It was a very good season, but the Earthquakes will feel that they could have gone even further.
It was also a season to remember for their top striker Chris Wondolowski. He became the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer, while also matching the MLS single-season goals record of 27 that had been set by Roy Lassiter. It was a truly remarkable feat by the Californian.
Who have they brought in for this season?
The trade of defender Ike Opara to Sporting Kansas City was a surprising move by the Earthquakes, but they moved quickly to add experience to their backline with the arrivals of Ty Harden and Dan Gargan, who were previously with Toronto FC and Chicago Fire respectively.
In midfield, Walter Martinez has been a shrewd pick-up and former Timbers striker Mike Fucito has added more depth to their roster. Although, it is the younger players, like Adam Jahn and Cordell Cato, who have really caught the eye and given head coach Frank Yallop’s team an extra dimension.
How have they started their season?
It has been quite a mixed start for a team who many have tipped to challenge for the MLS Cup. An opening day defeat at home to Real Salt Lake was followed by wins over New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders as well as a tie with Columbus Crew.
However, their inconsistency struck again with a loss away to Houston Dynamo and allowing a lead slip last week at home to Vancouver Whitecaps, who earned a late 1-1 tie. Injuries have kept some key players out of their line-up so far, but Yallop will know that there are still areas for them to tighten up.
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: Chris Wondolowski
Now tagged as a Designated Player following his latest contract renewal, Wondo is a special player for the Earthquakes. Not only is he their all-time leading goal-scorer and most important guy when it comes to getting vital goals, he is also vice captain and a real leader. He works incredibly hard for his teammates and is one of the most lethal strikers in MLS.
One To Watch: Victor Bernardez
One of the best players in MLS last season, this burly center back has become an integral part of the Earthquakes team. Strong in the air, tough in the tackle and good at anticipating danger, the Honduran international is considered to be amongst the top defenders in the league. He also possesses a terrific free kick, where his raw power proves to be a real weapon.
What can the Timbers expect?
Plenty of attacking pressure, a real battle in midfield, and a stubborn defense trying to keep them out. The Earthquakes have quality in every position and plenty of solid options to bring off their bench. Yet, it is their in-your-face style that will test the Timbers as much as anything else.
Fond of attacking down the flanks, the Earthquakes encourage their outside backs – likely to be Gargan and Justin Morrow on Saturday – to make overlapping runs and there appears to be a team instruction to get the ball into the opposition’s penalty area. They also make the use of attacking set pieces.
Where are they most vulnerable?
When the outside backs push forward, they will huge gaps behind them that can be exploited by the Timbers, should they steal possession and set off on a counter attack. The speed of Darlington Nagbe and the running off the ball from Ryan Johnson should get them into positions to wreak havoc.
Testing the alertness of goalkeeper Jon Busch is something that the Timbers should do early on as any spilled balls could be converted. Although, the area where Caleb Porter’s men can dominate is in central midfield, where Will Johnson and Diego Chara can make such a difference and control the tempo.
Who are their main threats?
The man to stop is clearly Wondolowski. Even when he appears to be adding little to a game, he tends to pop up unexpected to score important goals. Yallop has been clever in supporting him with forwards like Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart and Fucito, who can open up space and knock on balls.
In midfield, Sam Cronin is key to shielding his backline and linking play with his passing, while Shea Salinas and Rafael Baca roam into dangerous areas. At outside back, Morrow and Gargan are a real threat going forward, but they are missing Steven Beitashour.
Previous Meetings in MLS
2011: August 6 – San Jose Earthquakes 1-1 Portland Timbers
2011: September 21 – Portland Timbers 1-1 San Jose Earthquakes
2012: July 3 – Portland Timbers 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes
2012: September 19 – San Jose Earthquakes 2-2 Portland Timbers
2012: October 27 – Portland Timbers 1-1 San Jose Earthquakes
Record vs San Jose: 1-0-4
Did You Know?
The Timbers have warmed up for each of their three seasons in MLS by playing against the San Jose Earthquakes in preseason. In their most recent meeting, it ended in a 3-3 tie at JELD-WEN Field back in February.
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.