It’s been a weird week for the Portland Timbers. They’re heading towards the end of a three-game week where they haven’t been able to practice outside more than 20 minutes due to poor air quality and have had to travel back and forth between San Jose and Portland for both Wednesday’s match and today’s. On top of that, after their Saturday match against the San Jose Earthquakes they’ll have to play another game on Wednesday against the Vancouver Whitecaps, their fourth in 10 days. The compacted schedule is brutal to say the least.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks,” midfielder Diego Valeri said. “But, you know, we have to get through this with a positive mindset and a positive attitude, and I think we are doing it.”
When you have a tough week like the Timbers have, it takes a full team effort to get the results needed. That’s why Portland rotated their squad heavily on Wednesday, giving key players like Valeri some rest for today’s match. Escaping with a draw isn’t as sweet as getting the win, but getting a point while keeping players rested was the main goal.
“No player can endure to play every single match,” Savarese said. “But also we have to understand that in order for us to be able to put together the amount of games that we needed to play, this is the only way...so we have to embrace it, we have to have a strong mentality and we have to utilize our roster the best way to endure these difficult periods.”
The team now goes into Saturday’s match with a full squad ready to go. But San Jose presents a unique challenge. While they’re still not in great form with no wins in the 2020 regular season, they’ve put together some good draws in their last two matches: a 0-0 draw against the LA Galaxy and, of course, the 1-1 draw against the Timbers on Wednesday. They played their trademark aggressive man-marking style and tried to make scoring opportunities as hard to come by as possible for Portland.
The Quakes didn’t look like the team that had just taken a 7-1 pounding at the hands of the Seattle Sounders. That’s something that Savarese acknowledged on Friday, noting San Jose had made some adjustments since that Seattle loss. They pressed aggressively and forced several Portland turnovers. They attacked the goal relentlessly (19 shots to Portland’s 6) and threw off Portland’s offensive flow whenever possible. But while San Jose didn’t make it easy, Savarese thought his squad made it tougher on them, creating quality chances for themselves.
“I thought we defended very well, sometimes a little too deep in the second half,” Savarese said. “In being so deep in the second half (it) didn’t allow us to be able to be a little more dangerous going forward. Nevertheless, we had the better opportunities.”
Don’t expect the Earthquakes to make it easy for Portland. San Jose also rotated heavily on Wednesday, bringing forward Chris Wondolowski off the bench in the second half. Wondo opened things up more for the Quakes once he was in the game, delivering the cross on the equalizing goal and almost scoring the game-winning header. Diego Chara even noted that Wondo is someone they always have to be aware of because of his ability to play in space. He may be getting older, but he can still punish the Timbers’ defense if they’re not careful.
As for their offense, having Valeri back in the lineup should help things out. Our own Grant Little talked about how the experiment with Eryk Williamson wasn’t very successful on Wednesday, but it could work better with Valeri at the number 10 spot and with Williamson back in his box-to-box midfielder position. Having Jeremy Ebobisse from the get-go also should add some punch to the offense and allow the Timbers to be more creative with their offense.
“San Jose presents a challenge in the way they play obviously, but in the end it’s just about how we prepare and execute the plan and perform in every moment of the game, in every action,” Valeri said. “Obviously it’s going to be a help...playing a game a couple of days ago so we can see how to best break them down, to play the game and take advantages in the areas we believe that we can take it.”
Saturday’s match won’t be an easy one for all of the reasons stated above. San Jose is a unique team that showed on Wednesday they’re not going to make it easy for anyone. But even when going against a team like this on a compacted schedule, Portland isn’t making excuses.
“They aren’t going to be pretty,” Savarese said about these tough matches. “You have to just get the job done, go in there and try to get three points.”