Giovanni Savarese, Timbers @ SJ, 9.16.20
(ISI Photos)

With numerous challenges in play, Timbers take point in SJ

In the National Basketball Association, there’s a term for it: a schedule loss. It usually comes on the second night of back-to-back games, when your team is on the road – when the obstacles outside the lines surmount the ones within them. It’s when you see the strange results that dot teams’ 82-game seasons. It’s when the schedule conspires against you.

Whether the Portland Timbers’ Wednesday night draw at the San Jose Earthquakes should be considered a “schedule draw,” it would be unfair to ignore the obvious. The team only had two days at home after Sunday’s game in Los Angeles; poor air quality meant the field at the team’s training facility were unusable; and a second trip to San Jose, on Saturday, meant players’ minutes had to be monitored.

Equally unfair to ignore: San Jose had a number of chances to breakthrough before the 76th minute, when Valeri Qazaishvili’s short-range goal earned his team a 1-1 draw at Earthquakes Stadium.

“There were a lot of positives out of this game,” head coach Giovanni Savarese offered from San Jose, saying he was “pleased with the performance.” “We saw a lot of players coming into [the game]. Tomás [Conechny] at the end with good energy. Yimmi [Chara] showed a lot of quality during the time that he played. We were able to play [Jarosław] Niezgoda with [Felipe] Mora on the field. Some fresh legs to [Andy] Polo. [Cristhian] Paredes coming in.

“It’s been difficult,” Savarese continued. “When you play on the weekend and midweek and again now, we have to come back here on the weekend. We need to make these rotations. We need to make sure that we put fresh legs. and I thought that the team did a great job today.”

Given how the Timbers approached the match, the key statistical indicators were always likely to favor San Jose. Whether by plan or decision by the players, Portland often acted quickly after gaining possession, playing balls directly into spaces wide of the Earthquakes center backs before San Jose could get organized or press. Yimmi Chara scored the game’s opening goal this way, beating the Earthquakes defense after a quick pass forward from his brother, Diego, but the team nearly scored via the same plan moments earlier. That time, it was Yimmi playing forward for Niezgoda.

“On the field we have to make decisions, quick decisions,” Diego Chara said of the assist on his brother’s goal. “And with Yimmi [Chara], we tried to create a couple of moments of the game, passing the ball and tried to move quicker. The goal came from that. I saw the space, I played the ball to Yimmi and finally, he scored.”

Partially because of this approach, San Jose maintained 64.1 percent of the game’s possession. They outshot their guests 19-6 while doubling Portland’s number of shots on target, 6-3. Whereas the Timbers at times sacrificed possession to take risks, the Earthquakes didn’t have to make that tradeoff.

Instead, San Jose was able to generate a number of chances for their left winger, Qazaishvili. The first came in the moments after Chara’s goal, during a period when the Earthquakes looked primed for a quick response. But those chances persisted throughout the second half. In the 71st minute, inside-out play from midfield created an opportunity for Qazaishvili, while play from right-to-left across goal led to San Jose’s only goal.

There were more chances, though. Florian Jungwirth came close in the 29th minute off a set piece driven to Steve Clark’s near post. Tommy Thompson, striking a prone Bill Tuiloma in the back of the head with his shot, had an open chance in the second half from near the penalty spot. In the 82nd minute, forward Cade Cowell had an opportunity to head the Earthquakes open for his try to go wide of Clark’s near post.

“We have to be better in the next game trying to keep more of the ball,” Diego Chara explained, “and make better decisions with the ball, because in the second half, we lost the ball too many times.”

Like their weekend match against the LA Galaxy (0-0), this was another game where the Earthquakes looked stable; where they appeared to be moving away from the embarrassment of their 7-1 loss to Seattle Sounders FC six days ago.

But it was also night where, after the first half hour, the Timbers looked poised to get more. They’d withstood San Jose’s possession, began finding seams in the Earthquakes defense, and had started to attack them. Niezgoda was nearly put through on goal. Chara was. Much like after Sunday’s first half-hour at Los Angeles FC, Portland’s 1-0 lead looked like a plan coming together.

From there, though, San Jose looked like a home team, while Portland looked like one dealing with obstacles. While the night started with the promise of a slightly tweaked formation (to a 4-3-3), the presence of three offseason additions in attack, and new combinations in midfield (Andy Polo added to Diego Chara and Eryk Williamson), it ended with reminders of what the Timbers are going through.

“This week has been very tough,” Savarese conceded. “Not being able to have good and clean air to be able to have normal training … It’s always difficult, when you don’t have the chance to practice these things, just to have everybody be very sharp.

“But overall, the guys had a great game. They worked very hard. They did everything that I asked them to do …”

“Schedule draw” may be too much, particularly when, at moments, the team looked capable of more. But there were also moments when San Jose looked primed for a second goal – primed to leave the Timbers empty handed going back to Portland.

Sometimes, you have to take the point and move on.