The Portland Timbers are headed out on their first road trip of the 2016 season and are set to take on an old Western Conference foe, the San Jose Earthquakes tomorrow afternoon.
Playing their second straight nationally televised match to kick off the season, the Timbers now face a very different challenge than in their season opener against the offensively inclined Columbus Crew SC; In the Earthquakes the Timbers are now set to face off against a team built around defense, both willing and able to grind out a 1-0 win while daring their opposition to break them down.
In many ways, tomorrow's match should be the inverse of what we saw from the Timbers in the season opener: a dominating, possession-centric gameplan from the Timbers and a defensive, counter-attacking game plan from their opponents.
The 'Quakes are a defense first side, as Caleb Porter noted in his post-practice remarks on Friday, and will certainly be comfortable sitting back and allowing the Timbers to probe their defense, looking to draw the Timbers out of position and get the ball to the dangerous duo of Chris Wondolowski, who remains one of the most effective strikers in the league even at 33 years old, and his active and aggravating strike partner Quincy Amerikwa.
Dealing with San Jose's striker pair will once again be Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell in the center of the defense. The Timbers' center backs looked to be back on the same page in the season opener, something that they will need to continue to deal with the ever-opportunistic Wondolowksi.
Shutting down the 'Quakes attack starts higher up the field, however, with the Californian side preferring to push up their right flank and bring fullback Marvell Wynne up the pitch and into the attack to support right midfielder Alberto Quintero. An athletic, veteran presence, Wynne will be more conservative in his forays forward than the Crew's Harrison Afful and may necessitate another swap of the Timbers' wingers, bringing Lucas Melano back onto the left flank and Dairon Asprilla back to the right.
If the Timbers match up Melano against Wynne, he stands a good chance of getting in behind the San Jose fullback and going up against centerback Victor Bernardez, who spent much of last weekend's match against the Colorado Rapids shifting over to cover for Wynne. Bermudez is no slouch defensively, but should Melano try to take him on one on one, as he is wont to do, the Timbers will almost certainly earn plenty of fouls. Despite San Jose's hard-nosed reputation, there were one three fouls called against their back line last weekend; all three against Bernardez.
By getting at the Earthquakes on this flank, the Timbers will force Wynne to stay back and limit his contributions to the attack, better allowing Jermaine Taylor, who will once again deputize as left back, to contain Quintero in one on one situations.
In the attack, the Timbers fill face several interesting matchups, but perhaps none more intriguing than on their right flank. With the Timbers likely to hold a significant advantage in possession, expect Alvas Powell to get into the attack with some regularity, combining with Dairon Asprilla deep in the San Jose end. Thanks to a long entry on the injury report for the Earthquakes, the Timbers will come up against rookie left back Kip Colvey. Colvey filled in well against the Rapids last weekend, playing 45 minutes after Shawn Francis went down injured and contributing to the 'Quakes' season opening shutout, but he remains something of an unknown in terms of how well he will stand up to two athletic, dynamic players such as Powell and Asprilla.
Watch it on: FOX Sports 1
Kickoff: 4:00 p.m. PT at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, CA
Portland Timbers: 1-0-0
San Jose Earthquakes: 1-0-0