David Horst, Timbers @ SJ, 9.19.12
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Strong's Notes: Remember THAT Night At Buck Shaw

After last weekend’s joyous punctuation to a challenging 2012—beating Vancouver to win the Cascadia Cup for the first time—the Portland Timbers now play their regular season finale against the best team in MLS this year, the San Jose Earthquakes (3:30pm PT, NBC Sports Network101.1 FM KXL / La Pantera 940). Storyline No. 1 for the national television cameras is Chris Wondolowski chasing the league single-season scoring record, and there’s much electronic ink being spilled in that direction this week. However, there’s far more that’s relevant to this matchup than one person chasing goals…

Remember THAT Night At Buck Shaw
Though it probably feels longer to most, it was only about a month ago that the Timbers played at San Jose, and took a spectacular 2-0 lead in the second half thanks to Danny Mwanga, before a wild and racous finish that ended with two Wondolowski strikes, a 2-2 draw, and a postgame fracas involving players and even coaches. What followed was a Timbers locker room that was just about as steamed as they’ve been after any game this year.

In the immediate aftermath, there was a clear message of wanting revenge against the Earthquakes. The Timbers were upset about not winning for sure, but also had many of the same complaints about physical play, trash talk, and general irritation that other recent opponents—the LA Galaxy specifically—have had from games against San Jose. The old saying is that the best revenge is living well, and the sports equivalent of that is one word: “scoreboard." A Timbers victory Saturday would feel mighty satisfying to the players who remember that cool Wednesday night in late September.

Going In With Momentum
As Supporters’ Shield winners, the Earthquakes know they’ll be waiting out the winner of the Western Conference Knockout Round game between Vancouver and LA next week for their opponent in the Conference Semifinals. They also know they’ll be expected, as the top team in MLS last season, to go on and win the title in front of their home fans. They’ll also be very aware that despite last year’s success for the Galaxy, few of the recent No. 1 seeds have actually been hoisting the trophy at the end.

Earthquakes players have said they want to make sure they have as much momentum as possible entering the playoffs, specifically extending their unbeaten streak to nine in their final regular season game; that’s why the likes of Alan Gordon, who missed last weekend’s draw with LA with a sprained ankle, want to make sure they’re on the field and not being rested Saturday. It’s been said that the noise in JELD-WEN Field is a playoff-type atmosphere 17 times a year, so what better way to roll into the postseason than to roll out of Portland with a win?

What Will They Remember All Winter?
It’s a positive punctuation on 2012 that the Timbers lifted the Cascadia Cup, but will that keep their fires warm throughout the cold offseason if it’s followed by defeat to San Jose? There’s a lot of hard work in front of this team, both on field and off, and having momentum, and a boost of positive energy, will be key to making sure the Caleb Porter era starts as successfully as possible. A season-ending win over the top team in the league—especially if the Quakes do go on to win MLS Cup—a reward for the home fans who’ve stayed loyal through thick and thin, and, yes, denying another player’s historical record, all sound like things that will be cited with pride into 2013 and beyond.

We know these Timbers are capable of such; they’ve done it once before this year amidst the height of Goonie-mania in San Jose. Can they put together another full 90 minute performance, like they did in Vancouver last week, to do it again?