The final game. After this there's nothing left for the Portland Timbers, at least in terms of on-the-field glory. So it's with that in mind that I really hope the Timbers are able to eek out a win. Sure, it wouldn't amount to anything, but it's always best to go out on a high note rather than a low. Also it would bring the Timbers to 36 points for the season in total. While not great, at least it brings them that much closer to mediocrity rather than abysmal.
On that note, we have a somewhat different match thread for you guys today. You'll notice we have a bit of a preview interview with Robert Jonas of SB Nation's San Jose Earthquake blog: Quake, Rattle and Goal. Check it out below!
Watch it on: NBC Sports Network
Kick off: 3:30 pm at Jeld-Wen Field
San Jose Earthquakes: 1st in the West with 65 points.
Portland Timbers: 8th in the West with 33 points.
With the Supporters Shield in hand, and already making a very strong case for winning the MLS Cup this year, what does San Jose look to accomplish out of their final regular season game up here in Portland?
Players and coaches look at the last game of the season as a springboard into the postseason, so even though the result will not affect the team's place in the standings, the Earthquakes will want to get a result in Portland. Playing on artificial turf might limit the availability of some players, but the opportunity to get time on a surface that the team might see in potential playoff trips to Vancouver and Seattle will be invaluable.
However, the single, most important reason that anyone all who follow the Earthquakes, and everyone else around the country, will have their eyes set firmly on JELD-WEN Field is to watch whether or not Chris Wondolowski can score a goal to tie Roy Lassiter's single season scoring record of 27 goals -- or two or more to beat it. His teammates have said all week that they won't drastically change their approach in preparing to face the Timbers, but rest assured that Wondo will see the lion's share of passes anytime the offense gets near the Portland area.
Earlier the week, head coach Frank Yallop made the salient point that if the Earthquakes were a dirty team, surely the MLS Disciplinary Committee would have fined and suspended members of his team for such tactics. Players that were asked for a response to Gonzalez's comments either declined to answer or accused the Galaxy defender of having sour grapes at last weekend's result. What took the team to the top of the MLS table, and what earned the Quakes a 9-2-1 record against the other four playoff qualified Western Conference teams was certainly a physical brand of soccer at times, but opponents were just as willing to dish out much of the same toward San Jose.
Chris Wondolowski's breakout season continues as he is pretty much guaranteed the Golden Boot. Does he take the opportunity this weekend to break the MLS record? How should we expect to see him play this Saturday?
Wondolowski will definitely be gunning for the record, and he may not have to do much to change his game in order to reach the record. Coach Yallop described how his team tends to generate a good five or six scoring opportunities for Wondo every game, regardless of how it set the line-up together tactically. He made it clear that if Wondo and his teammates stayed the course, the scoring record could be achieved.
But talking to the players, especially fellow forward Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon, it is clear that they will be looking to make that extra touch, that extra effort to get Wondo the ball in the attacking third. Together, the three Earthquakes forwards have collectively scored 49 goals in 2012. When all three are on the field at the same time, the team generates a tremendous number of scoring chances. On Saturday, the vast majority of the chances will be directed at Wondo.
Season couldn't have gone better for San Jose fans. After what seemed like years of mediocrity, what do you attribute this season to most?
Coach Yallop and general manager John Doyle have been working since the team reformed in 2008 to put together a roster that has the same selection of specialists that worked so well together in the Earthquakes championship seasons of 2001 and 2003. They thought they were getting close a year ago, but what really set them on the path to success this season was securing the final pieces of the puzzle on defense. Central defender Victor Bernardez, the Honduran international, captains the Quakes back four, and Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow man the flanks, both in their third MLS seasons and both starters in the 2012 MLS All-Star match last July. The Earthquakes may have shattered the franchise record this year for goals scored in a season, but the reason they fell confident pushing so much on offense is that they know the defense is there to limit opponent counterattacks.
Predicted starting line up?
Like I said above, there's not much here for the Timbers to win. They earned the Cascadia Cup trophy last weekend, but tonight's game is simply a swan song to the season that most of us would rather forget. Going out on a high note by beating the league leaders and shutting down Chris Wondolowski would at least give us something to remember fondly over the next four and a half months