PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers are coming off their best performance of the season. They’ve had a bye ahead of a short trip to face an opponent in the San Jose Earthquakes Saturday (7:30pm PT, FOX 12 Plus (KPDX)) who, despite some close results, haven’t won since the first game of the season. The Timbers have rested, enjoyed time with their families, and felt the air of doubt thin out after their 3-0 win over New York City FC.
It’s a recipe for a trap game, if there ever was one.
Across all sports, that term usually refers to a scenario where a team expected to win seeing circumstances conspire against them. Though the Timbers are only 2-3-2 this season, back-to-back victories at home have given the team momentum, with Portland’s three-goal win over one of MLS’ best raising expectations for their next performance.
For Timbers’ head coach Giovanni Savarese, keeping that win from going to his players’ heads will be one of this week’s primary goals.
“It’s important to understand that the New York City game is part of the past,” he said Tuesday, in his weekly press conference. “It’s gone. Now, we have to be able to practice in a very professional way, being strong mentally, preparing ourselves the best possible way to understand that we’re going to play against a team that is difficult; a team that has some interesting players; a team that hasn’t been lucky in some games; a team that is desperate in looking for that win after so many matches.”
If those circumstances sound familiar, it’s because the Timbers were in the same spot three weeks ago. Having opened the season with three points in five games away from home, the Timbers returned to Providence Park in need of a breakthrough. An April 14, a 3-2 win over Minnesota United FC provided that, vaulting the Timbers to a more convincing performance eight days later against New York.
San Jose looked convincing to start their season, building a 3-0 lead in week one before defeating Minnesota, 3-2, at Avaya Stadium. Over the next six matches, however, the Earthquakes have gone 0-4-2, and while they have only lost each of those games by one goal, they have still fallen to 11th in the 12-team Western Conference.
Coming off two games on the road, the Earthquakes return home with the same mindset the Timbers had ahead of Minnesota: They are desperate for three points.
“These cases, for me, are very tough,” Savarese explained, “because right now [San Jose] are coming from a few games where they didn’t find good results, for them. Going to play these teams is difficult, because playing and being ready for New York City, the team was excited and knew it was going to be difficult.”
Against a team with the Earthquakes’, however? It would be easy to lose focus. Add in a bye week and some time away from the field, and staying focused becomes an even greater challenge.
“It’s important for us to make sure that we respect this team,” Savarese said, “because they have some very interesting players … They’re playing at home. They need to win. That makes it very difficult.”
It also underscores the parallels between the two teams. When Portland returned home from its road trip, it had just played close matches against Dallas, Chicago, and Orlando, and although the team didn’t have any wins to show for it, the Timbers were making progress. Beneath the winless record was a team with talents like Diego Valeri, Sebastián Blanco and Diego Chara -- talents who transcended the numbers.
San Jose is coming off close losses at Orlando City SC and Columbus Crew SC. They’ve yet to be shut out this season, and in players like Magnus Eriksson and Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili, have productive players who complement Chris Wondolowski, even if those talents are flying under MLS’ radar.
Many might see the Timbers’ last result, San Jose’s record, and predict a win at Avaya. Hence, the trap game.
“We need to make sure … that we go with the right mental state,” Savarese cautioned, “that we go there and make sure that we come back with three points, but know that it is going to be very difficult, and we have to fight all the way through.”