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Challenges considered, Timbers happy to take a point

But how can they earn three on Saturday?

MLS: Portland Timbers at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it’s not three points, but it is something. The Portland Timbers came out of the first of two matches with the San Jose Earthquakes with a 1-1 draw in a game that could’ve easily gone one way or the other. The Timbers held the lead for 75 minutes up until a goal from Vako, and the Earthquakes seemingly had a million opportunities in those final 20 minutes. It very easily could’ve been three points for Portland assuming they hold their lead, or three points for San Jose assuming one of their 19 shots goes in.

But in the end, if you’re the Timbers, you’ll take points however you can get them. None of the conditions leading into the game were ideal. They had an 8:00 p.m. game against LAFC on Sunday; had to fly back to Portland, where they couldn’t practice outside because of the poor air quality; and then went back to San Jose just two days later for this match and played on a field that looked like a fairway that Charles Barkley played on when it was over. That’s not an easy situation for any team — and they have to do it again on Saturday.

“It’s difficult,” Giovanni Savarese said after the match. “Now we have to go back right away, and in two days, we have to recover the team and be ready to play the same team travelling again to San Jose.”

San Jose isn’t in great form. They still haven’t won a regular season match in 2020, but they are a tough, physical team that can wear opposing clubs down. They did that on Wednesday, as they continuously forced turnovers and applied pressure to the Timbers’ defense. They dominated possession (64% possession to the Timbers 36%) and had more than triple Portland’s shot attempts (19 to 6). San Jose was aggressive from the get-go and never let up, and it wouldn’t be shocking if they did so again.

The good news is that Savarese was able to rotate through guys to keep legs fresh. Diego Valeri got to rest the whole time, while Jeremy Ebobisse came in as part of a second half triple sub. Giving those guys time to recover puts them in that much better a position to earn three points on Saturday. Plus, the team actually saw good performances from players who don’t get on the pitch as often, like Marco Farfan.

“It’s very important because we have to count on everybody in order to endure all these games we’re going to have to play,” Savarese said. “Overall very proud of the group and now we have to make sure that we recoup the guys and ready to be able to play again this weekend.”

Yes, a draw against the Quakes isn’t the best outcome. But there were positives from Wednesday. One positive? Yimmi Chara’s first career MLS goal. Yimmi has had an interesting first season with the club to say the least, and after battling a lingering thigh injury that forced him to miss the final two games of the MLS is Back tournament, it felt good for him to finally get that elusive first goal.

“I’m very happy,” Chara said. “This is something I was looking for for a long time and something that I’ve been working very hard to achieve. Obviously, I had an injury that didn’t allow me to play a few games but I continue to prepare the best way that I know and thank God I was able to score tonight.”

And what makes it even sweeter? The fact the assist came from his brother, Diego, who returned to the lineup after sitting out the last game due to yellow card accumulation. Diego knew that it was a moment Timbers fans have been waiting for.

“I think the team and the fans, they were waiting for this moment,” Chara said. “And for me, it was great. It’s a great feeling, I think he deserved to score and today we take one point.”

Diego’s right: His brother’s goal and the point that comes with it works for now considering the loss they just had. But how can they do better? One thing the Timbers will have to plan for in the next match is how to contain legendary forward Chris Wondolowski. While the Quakes had plenty of opportunities to score before he subbed in, Wondo’s ability to play in space truly opened things up for San Jose towards the end. Containing him is going to be key when these teams match up again on Saturday, which is something easier said than done.

“When he came to the field, we have to be ready because he always is looking to get spaces behind the defenders,” Diego Chara said. “And I think we have to be better in the next game trying to keep more of the ball and make better decisions with the ball because in the second half I think we lost too many times the ball.”

When you take everything into account — the unusual training circumstances, the poor field conditions, the compacted schedule, etc. — it’s truthfully not bad that the Timbers will briefly return home with only one point. As we enter Phase II of the regular season, however, it’s becoming more and more important that these one-point matches become three-point ones for Portland. You’ll take the draw over the loss every time, but Portland needs to start putting together some victories soon.