For the third time this season, the Portland Timbers do battle with the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday evening at Buck Shaw Stadium (7:30pm PT ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940). Here is the lowdown on the opposition.
What can the Timbers expect?
San Jose is in the process of trying to alter its style of play following Mark Watson stepping in to the head coaches’ position after Frank Yallop left the club, so they are very much a team in transition going into this game. Of course, the style honed under Yallop – that helped them secure the Supporters’ Shield last year – was very rough-and-tumble with their powerful forwards wreaking havoc and Chris Wondolowski scoring most of their goals.
However, that formula has not proved to be as successful this season – mainly because of the absence of key players due to injury and suspension. The loss of midfielder Simon Dawkins took a noticeable zip out of their play and they have yet to replace the Englishman, who was on loan from Tottenham Hotspur. As a result, Watson has been trying to get more from his midfield players to ensure that their tactics don’t revolve around punting the ball forward at every opportunity. And with Wondolowski on Gold Cup duty with the USMNT, they are missing his firepower.
Where are they most vulnerable?
Apart from the excellent Sam Cronin, they can be exposed in the middle of pitch, especially against a team like the Timbers who use an extra man in that area, as they are not set up in a way that sees their two strikers drop deep enough to provide the necessary cover when they are put on the backfoot.
Between the posts, Jon Busch is a good, veteran goalkeeper. He knows this league well, although he can be beaten from distance. In front of him, Jason Hernandez has speed but could be lured out of position by a clever forward, like Ryan Johnson, while Victor Bernandez is an imposing center back. New signing Clarence Goodson is away with the USMNT while new recruit Jordan Stewart is not quite at full match fitness.
Who are their main threats?
With Wondolowski and Alan Gordon away with the United States at Gold Cup, they will rely heavily on Steven Lenhart, who can be one of the toughest players to deal with in the league due to his physicality and power in the air. Also in the striker department, rookie Adam Jahn is an excellent option to call on. But San Jose will be asking more from their creative midfielders, like Shea Salinas, Walter Martinez and Cordell Cato.
When they get moving, San Jose can be a very good attacking team. With Steven Beitashour bombing on from right back, Rafael Baca linking play in midfield, and their forward line creating space, they can be a frustrating team to deal with. Yet, when they opt to play a direct style – getting as many crosses as possible into the opposition’s penalty area – they can become quite predictable and one-dimensional at times.
Head coach: Mark Watson (interim)
Appointed as interim coach following the departure of Yallop in June, Watson has been trying to alter the team’s style of play in an attempt to turn their form around. While this is his first head coaching position, the Vancouver native has experience of serving as an assistant coach with the Canada national team, with Charleston Battery, and San Jose, plus he enjoyed a long playing career in Europe and North America.
Star Player: Steven Beitashour
Hailing from San Jose, this athletic right back is playing for his hometown team and making the most of it too. He was one of the team’s most consistent performers last year as they captured the Supporters’ Shield and even earned a call-up to the United States national team. When he was out injured earlier in the season, San Jose really missed his drives forward down the right flank and his steely defending in one-on-one situations.
One To Watch: Shea Salinas
This slick-passing midfielder probably doesn’t get the credit that he deserves, but within the San Jose locker room, he is seen as a valuable player. The 26-year-old (above) largely operates on the wing, where his knack of ghosting past opposition defenders and picking out teammates with precise passes and accurate crosses helps put his team on the front foot. With experience in the league with Philadelphia Union and Vancouver Whitecaps, he can make a big impact.
What happened when the teams last met?
A scrappy goal from Jahn two minutes into added time at the end of the game salvaged a point for San Jose as they cancelled out Diego Valeri’s opener to earn a 1-1 tie at Buck Shaw Stadium. It was a game that the Timbers dominated for large parts with a better passing accuracy and retaining more of the possession, but the late suckerpunch caught them and denied Porter’s men an away victory.
What did the Timbers learn from that game?
The most immediate message from Porter to his players is that concentration levels must remain high right up until the final whistle sounds. San Jose is a team that knows how to battle and their fighting spirit showed in that game with Lenhart causing a big ruckus up front. But that is how San Jose played under Yallop and it was hardly surprising that they had 19 crosses from open play as their objective was to get the ball into the Timbers’ area as often as possible.
In terms of positives, the Timbers proved that they could go toe-to-toe with a team that forces them to alternate their style of play. The work-rate of Diego Chara and Will Johnson epitomized what the team was all about that night as they fought for every ball, but never gave up trying to play free-flowing soccer. It was a good test for the Timbers, because they will have learned how to cope against teams who adopt a more physical approach.
What did the coaches have to say at the time?
Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter
“We leave a little disappointed because we had three points in our hands. It was tough to give the goal away at the end, but they’re a tough team. I’m proud of my guys and I thought we managed certain parts very well.”
San Jose head coach Frank Yallop
“We had enough chances to win the game and I thought we deserved to win. It wasn’t the prettiest game, to be honest, but we dug deep and got a point – that was important for us.”
How has San Jose fared since then?
Since facing the Timbers in back-to-back games in April, San Jose has played 14 games in all competitions plus a friendly against Norwich City (which they won 1-0). From those league games, their record stands at 4-6-3 with notable wins over LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders, but the inconsistency in their play still remains despite improvements made under Watson’s watch.
Did You Know?
New San Jose signing Jordan Stewart, who has played for nine different teams in his career, launched his own clothing line with Manchester City Joleon Lescott, called simply LescottStewart.
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.