It’s natural to see the Portland Timbers’ Saturday result – a decisive, 6-1 victory at the San Jose Earthquakes – as a point of contrast for Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw in the same place, against the same opponent. Such is the contrast between the two games. Whereas the draw felt like an end Portland had to accept, the win felt something they’d earned. On Saturday night, a plan came together, and it produced a record goal total.
But there were lessons in Wednesday’s struggles that led to Saturday’s success, as well as a vision for the week that linked the two games together. Over two games, Portland built to tonight’s performance.
“Today we had patience to build up, move players a little bit higher, make sure that we find more space in the buildup, find the right movement to be able to get one of our players free in order to find space,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “Then the movements that we had on top were excellent.
“The different things that we asked the players to do, they did, and we found good moments to be able to generate opportunities. Today we were a little bit sharper [putting] the ball in the back of the net, and it was a very strong win.”
Consider some of the differences we saw early. Whereas Wednesday’s game would play out with San Jose holding 65 percent of the match’s possession, Portland kept the ball early on Saturday, and pressured high when they could. Passes out of the back targeting striker Jeremy Ebobisse, with teammates close ready to claim second balls, hinted the Timbers were ready to take advantage of the distribution of goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic, a surprise debutant in goal. And just past the 20th minute, as midfielders Diego Chara and Cristhian Paredes took turns exploiting the room between San Jose’s midfield and defense, it was clear Saturday’s game would take a different course.
That course began in full in the 25th minute – shortly after Paredes' foray forward, off the corner kick his run helped earn. After the ensuing restart, San Jose committed a handball in their penalty area, allowing Diego Valeri to convert from the spot. Two minutes later, Ebobisse doubled Portland’s lead, converting on a Jorge Villafaña cross just as he did at Los Angeles FC six days ago.
Earthquake Carlos Fierro spoiled the Timbers’ clean sheet just before halftime, culminating a stretch that, at one point, required an Ivacic triple-save to keep San Jose off the board. The Earthquakes’ breakthrough, though, would be the last time the home side put a shot on goal.
Instead, the second half was all Portland. In the 57th minute, Valeri completed his brace, finding net after the Timbers broke down the right side of San Jose’s defense. Thirteen minutes later, substitute Yimmi Chara scored for the second game in a row, finishing into an empty goal after Quakes goalkeeper Daniel Vega was unable to control a shot. In the 85th minute, Julio Cascante headed home a free kick for his first Portland goal, with Jaroslaw Niezgoda scoring the Timbers’ record-setter two minutes later.
“After the last game, we could scout this game better, to see what we could improve on [for] this game,” Valeri explained. “We tried to be better using the width, using the wingers, occupying the spaces inside, like a surprise. And obviously we were more aggressive in the attack. We created more chances. In the first half, we scored more goals, and then at the end, we were efficient in the moments we needed [to be].”
For San Jose, the performance was reminiscent of their 7-1 loss in Seattle on September 10, one that prompted a series of questions as to whether Major League Soccer had further figured out head coach Matías Almeyda’s approach. The Earthquakes followed that performance with two strong draws, including Wednesday night’s 1-1 against Portland, but tonight will be seen as a setback that parallels the team’s loss to the Sounders. Six-one at home can never be taken lightly.
For the Timbers, the result was a reward for an arduous 10 days, with the team only able to return to practice at their Beaverton training ground on Friday following a week of poor air quality in the Portland metropolitan area. It also marked the first game the team’s two biggest offseason signings in attack, Yimmi Chara and Niezgoda, scored in the same game. Chara also added an assist on Valeri’s second goal.
Then there’s Valeri, who had an assist in addition to his two goals. When players like Chara, Niezgoda and Felipe Mora were added this winter, the hope was that they could add to the production Valeri already brought. Now up to six goals and five assists in 11 games, the 34-year-old has maintained his 2019 production.
Likewise, Ebobisse is also carrying over the success he had last season. Then, the U.S. international scored 11 times in 34 appearances, but after the additions of Niezgoda and Mora, there were fears that “Jebo” might fall down the depth chart. Instead, Ebobisse is up to five goals in 12 games, while Niezgoda and Mora have combined for six goals of their own.
“Every time that you find three points, anywhere, home or away, it is the tranquility of the match that is the most important,” Savarese said, “and in the fact that you still continue to go to a path that the players get confidence, and you can continue to build. It’s always better to build up from this type of performance, and today was very important for us to get three points here.”
Three nights ago, after leaving San Jose with one point instead of three, perspective like that would have seemed out of place. Wednesday’s 90 minutes weren’t good enough. There were more pressing things than a broader, season-wide view.
Now, thanks to a record-setting performance, the team can afford to look at some silver linings. The response against San Jose is one. How parts of the team’s attack are coming together may be another.