The Portland Timbers are set to take on the San Jose Earthquakes today in the team's second consecutive road match. The Timbers' recent struggles on the road are well documented, most recently losing 4-1 to FC Dallas, but this match against eighth place San Jose gives the Timbers a chance to get things back on track before returning home to play in front of their home fans once more.
For the Timbers, few things have been as consistant recently the inconsistency in their midfield. With injuries -- short term and long -- and suspensions coming into play, the Timbers have not been able to use the same pair of holding midfielders for two games in a row more than once a month this summer. Running out the team's first choice pairing at the position has been just as rare with Will Johnson and Diego Chara rarely getting on the field at the same time.
Most recently it was Johnson missing out as he served a one game suspension for, depending on who you ask, either insulting or staring down the referee in the Timbers' 1-1 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps two weeks ago. With Johnson now back and Chara good to go as well, the Timbers will have the midfield duo that has been at the center of the team since 2013.
The pair may not have had the chance to refresh their chemistry and understanding, vital with two players that need to balance each other to keep the field in order to be effective, but it is hard to argue that they are not the Timbers' best available options in the center of the pitch. Chara has been the team's constant this season despite a few weeks missed due to injury, filling in the gaps that tend to appear when Darlington Nagbe cuts inside from the wing or Gaston Fernandez lines up like a second striker rather than an attacking midfielder. Johnson, meanwhile, brings an often unappreciated range of passing to the Timbers, allowing the team to switch the field or launch quick attacks down the wings suddenly, taking advantage of the generally free flowing nature of their attack.
Further up the pitch, new arrival Lucas Melano will certainly continue growing the number of minutes that he plays in his second game with the team. Melano played 26 minutes in the losing effort against FC Dallas, drawing the stoppage time penalty that allowed the Timbers to avoid being shut out entirely.
Melano' fitness is improving, Caleb Porter told the press after practice on Thursday, and he will likely be 46 minutes fit by Sunday. But a player that is 45 minutes fit is unlikely to get the start and we should expect to see the new designated player coming off the bench again. While a half-time substitution seems like a stretch, it would not be surprising to see Melano come into this one around the 60th minute, going at the San Jose defense for the final half-hour of the match. The 'Quakes defensive corps is not exactly known for its speed, and in the late going, Melano could absolutely torture them, particularly if the Timbers are able to get on the ball and wear down the defense in the early going.
San Jose Earthquakes
While the Timbers did recently beat the Earthquakes to the tune of 1-0 less than a month ago, the San Jose side that we see tomorrow will likely look much different from the one that the Timbers faced in July. Two big names for the 'Quakes will be returning to the lineup as Chris Wondolowski and Matias Perez Garcia are set to face off against the Timbers this weekend.
Wondolowski is a familiar name to fans all around MLS. Currently the Earthquakes only goalscorer of note, Wondolowski has nine goals on the season, triple that of the next highest scoring San Jose player. The Timbers are plenty familiar with the USMNT forward's goal scoring abilities, having given up several to him over the years, including the penalty kick goal that allowed him to tie the MLS single season goal scoring record in 2012.
Of course, Wondolowski, despite his ability to get into space like few others in MLS, is only as good as the service that he gets. To that end, the 'Quakes will be happy to have Perez Garcia in action; the diminutive Argentine leads San Jose in assists with six on the season thanks to his ability to take players on one on one or split defenses with pinpoint passing out of the center of the pitch.
The pair, as well as new arrival (and bane of Norberto Paparatto) Quincey Amerikwa, are the heart of the San Jose attack; one that has struggled significantly this year, scoring only 22 goals in 20 games, a slightly better clip than the Timbers' 24 goals in 22 games. However, with both Wondolowski and Perez Garcia missing time this year, the possibility of the 'Quakes stepping up their attacking game is ever present.
With the attack looking like it could be ready for an uptick, the San Jose defense is looking downright rickety. With Clarence Goodson potentially injured for tomorrow's match and a string of four losses behind the team that includes giving up five goals to the Galaxy and three to the Whitecaps, the 'Quakes' defense is not in a good spot.
Goodson was actually forced out of the match against the Whitecaps in the 13th minute and replacement Paulo Renato, a 28-year-old Portuguese centerback, was not confidence inspiring. Victor Bernardez remains one of the most physically dominating centerbacks in MLS, and Marvell Wynne and Jordan Stewart bring experience out on the flanks, but the trio are (as mentioned above) lacking in speed.
Watch it on: ESPN2
Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. PT at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, CA
Portland Timbers: 9-8-5, 6th place in the Western Conference
San Jose Earthquakes: 7-9-4, 8th place in the Western Conference