Despite everything that’s happened in 2020, it’s been a pretty good year for Portland soccer. Portland Thorns FC just won the Verizon Community Shield after going unbeaten during the Fall Classic. The Portland Timbers won the MLS is Back Tournament just a couple months before that. And now, the Timbers sit at second in the Western Conference standings after going unbeaten in their last five matches. Even with the setbacks (Blanco’s ACL tear, a disappointing Challenge Cup, etc.), it’s been okay for Rose City.
Portland now faces off against the team where their latest run of good form began: The San Jose Earthquakes are coming to Providence Park tonight. The last time these two teams met, things went pretty well for Portland. They rolled over the Quakes 6-1, jumpstarting their current four-game winning streak. But even after coming off a 6-3 victory against the Galaxy they’re not taking this matchup lightly.
“We discussed today that there’s still areas where we can become a better team and become even more competitive than it has been,” Timbers Head Coach Giovanni Savarese said. “I think that it’s very important for us to have that mindset, and now we have another challenge.”
This isn’t the same San Jose squad that was giving up touchdowns earlier this year. Since the Portland loss, they’ve gone 3-1-0 (W-L-D), with those three wins coming all right in a row. The wins were against struggling teams like the Vancouver Whitecaps, LAFC, and LA Galaxy and the loss was a 5-0 one to Colorado, but they’re still a team playing with some confidence. San Jose has consistently been a weird club to play, and the Timbers expect a battle on Sunday.
“Coming from a few matches, they’re getting their confidence back,” Savarese said, “And this is a team that you have to always put a lot of energy, work very hard, and we understand exactly what they’re all about.”
If the Timbers can stay consistent like they have been recently, then they should be okay. The attack especially has been solid. They’ve had multiple six-goal matches this season for the first time since joining MLS and have a bevy of attacking players to choose from. Against a San Jose squad with a man-marking style that leaves people occasionally exposed, that’s something that Portland can take advantage of.
Even though the numbers are good, Savarese emphasized after the Galaxy victory that it wasn’t perfect. Ranking third in the MLS in goals scored is great, but Savarese is thinking about how they can be even better, especially with possession and making the extra touch that leads to a goal.
“I think in every area there’s something to improve,” Savarese said. “I think that’s the exciting part about the team because I think we still have room to grow, even though the performances have been very strong.”
San Jose isn’t going to make it easy. The last time these two clubs faced off, the Quakes really tried to play physical, and — while that didn’t pan out in the previous meeting — it was good enough to hold Portland to a 1-1 draw in their first matchup. With a full October slate, it’ll be a delicate balancing act for the Timbers.
“Games are going to come fast,” Savarese said. “They’re going to come on a few days rest only. San Jose is going to be competitive and it’s going to be very difficult.”