With all the hype leading up to this past weekend's derby against the Seattle Sounders, it hardly seems fair that the Portland Timbers have to turn around and play the San Jose Earthquakes four days later. Or that they would have to play the Western Conference's top three teams in the span of eight days, finishing the tough week in Utah on Saturday.
Add to that the fact that these are both road games, and that the Timbers will be missing Diego Chara and Donovan Ricketts, and that the run Sal Zizzo, Darlington Nagbe and Bright Dike were on a couple of weeks ago has apparently ended ...
But there are also some reasons for hope that the Timbers could win their first road match of the year against the league's best team.
1. Resting starters
Seattle Sounders fans treated Portlanders to a 90-minute lecture on cognitive dissonance on Saturday, explaining away their draw against their biggest rival with "Sigi Schmid rested his playmakers against Portland so they would be ready for next week's game against San Jose."
'The Flounder and the Grapes,' Aesop might have called it.
Well, as luck would have it, the Portland Timbers, not the Sounders, are the San Jose Earthquakes' next opponents. Luck, because if the Quakes approach their game against the Timbers in a similar way to how Sounders fans think their team did, Portland might get the chance to face San Jose without some of their best players.
Among San Jose starters who could miss Wednesday's match:
- Rafael Baca, a Diego Chara-like box-to-box midfielder who hasn't had a day off since June and would be suspended for the Seattle match if he were to receive a caution against Portland.
- Chris Wondolowski, who could use a day off to get over a recent goal scoring slump (we'll get into that a bit later).
- Marvin Chavez, the speedy winger who missed the Quakes' second leg against Chivas with a pulled hamstring.
On the other hand, San Jose's depth is vastly superior to Seattle's...
2. Mr October's late summer slump
Over his first 18 appearances of 2012, spanning five months from March to July, Chris Wondolowski racked up 17 goals. It was a particular surprise since Wondolowski had been known as a slow starter, scoring most of his career goals during the months of September and October.
This year, however, Wondo has reversed the trend that defined the previous two years, outscoring his monthly career totals in four out of the first five months of the season. By July everyone was so riled up about his pace that we figured he could saunter casually to an MLS goal scoring record.
Since he scored a hat-trick in mid-July, though, Wondo has been nowhere to be found, scoring just two goals in the past two months -- both on penalty kicks. He now seems destined to finish the season with a whimper.
3. The MLS Timbers are undefeated against the Quakes
We'll have to milk this for all it's worth, for as long as it's worth anything. San Jose is one of two Western Conference teams that have never beaten the Timbers in league play, the other team being the Vancouver Whitecaps.
If you include the preseason round robin at Jeld Wen Field, That record spans four three regular season matches in which the Timbers have gone 1-0-3 1-0-2 (Thanks to The X-man for drawing attention to my wishful thinking).
So, maybe that's not worth anything. OK, how about this: yes, the Earthquakes have scored 10 goals in their past three games, but two of those games came against Chivas USA, a team they have outscored 12-1 in all four competitions this year (including the preseason tournament). By contrast the Quakes have scored a total of five goals in five games against the Timbers in their history.
Not convincing? Well, what about the fact that San Jose has yet to win four straight matches this year -- and they're currently riding a three-game winning streak. They're due for a loss like the Timbers are due for a road win.
All right, I'm running out of ideas. Why do you think the Timbers will win tomorrow?