San Jose Earthquakes vs. Portland Timbers – Preview

DaddyMerritt

OKAY. So we’re back. For a bit. Until I get distracted again at least. Maybe I’ll just live life as a whimsical libertine; scribbling when I get that tingle in my fingertips. Anyhoo… we’re starting with this… a preview to our clash with San Jose Earthquakes this Saturday evening.

LINE-UP
Below is a San Jose starting XI comprising of the players with the most starts over the last 5 games. There are five players who started all games: ‘keeper Jon Busch, center-back Jason Hernandez, right-back Stephen Beitashour and the central midfield pairing of Sam Cronin and Rafael Baca – Busch and Cronin being ever present in 21 games this year. Granted, “The Worlds Best Player In the USA Whose Name Starts With a W” Christ Wondolowski and pending recruit Clarence Goodson are both with the US Gold Cup squad. Martin Chavez is in their opponents squad, Honduras, whilst Nana Attakora returned to the squad after Canada’s elimination. He is, however, still a doubt with a recurrent concussion problem.

ImageWe know that Alan Gordon is fulfilling bench-warming duties for the USMNT (he’d be suspended for the visit of Portland either way). In light of that, I’d expect to see Steven Lenhart upfront, possibly paired with newcomer Adam Jahn (joint top scorer at Buck Shaw with Wondolowski – 4 goals), or maybe a complete formation rethink where (relatively in-form) Shea Salinas and Walter Martinez have more reign to support a lone Lenhart. We’ll see. Aside from that, I’d put money on Victor Bernardez to return from suspension in the heart of defence with Jason Hernandez.

As for us, aside from those on the long-term injury list, Futty’s out with a “foot problem” and Diego Chara is touch-and-go. Chara’s flown with the squad, but hasn’t been involved with training much this week. I’d expect Zemanski to sit alongside (my new best friend) Captain Will Johnson. We’ve had a relatively settled side this year, Caleb seems to know his favoured XI. The only spot that’s been subject to rotation has been that of the center forward – a battle for an extended run ensues between Frederic Piquionne and Ryan Johnson. I’d go with Piquionne to start – but only if he’s 100% fit, after absences this week. Caleb may prefer a fresher RyJo to take on the relatively slippery San Jose back four.

Oh. And Rodney Wallace should be back. The fact I’m putting this on a separate line this year shows his improvement.

FORM
Last time I looked into our form, we were readying ourselves for a 2-2 draw at BMO Stadium in Toronto. It was our second draw in a row, and game number 7 in an 8 game winless streak. That 8 game streak ended when we beat Cascadian neighbours Vancouver 2-1 at Jeld-Wen. The team we’d last taken 3 points from? San Jose Earthquakes – a 2-1 home victory. Yeah, I shoe-horned it… but I reckon it worked.

This year, we’re looking at a very different situation. That win against the ‘Quakes were our solitary points in July ’12, and San Jose picked up 8 points from 14, including an impressive 5-0 decimation of Real Salt Lake. On to 2013 and the “Dawn of Porter”…  we’ve lost only 2 games in 20 and sit 2nd in the Western Conference (3rd overall)… oh and we’ve done this with (wait for it… waaaait….) the joint BEST defensive record in the WHOLE LEAGUE, conceding only 18. Sorry, that shit excites me. San Jose sit as our mirror image, 2nd from bottom in the conference, third worst defensive record and struggling with the lack of Wondo due to his Gold Cup exploits.

The last 5 games have been relatively quiet for Portland, scoring 5 conceding 2, taking 8 points from 11. San Jose, on the other hand, have scored 8 and conceded 7, taking 6 points from 15. Five goal thrillers have been exhilarating (that Shea Salinas/Alan Gordon-inspired comeback 3-2 vs. LA) and exhausting (Chris Rolfe’s deflating 84th minute winner to make it 3 for Chicago, 2 for SJ), whilst losses on the road to lowly DC United and the “kinda-meh” New England Revolution were flat at best.

I’ve added up some numbers, averaged them out for each team over the last 5 games, and presented them to you as some key stats. Make your own assumptions…

key stats

STATISTICAL COMPARISON
Okay, y’all know me by now, I’m not going to allow you to make your own assumptions.

Straight to the Goals Scored/Conceded column. In the past 5 games, San Jose have conceded 7 and scored 8. Portland, by comparison, have a much healthier outlook – 5 scored, 2 conceded. We’ve had 3 clean sheets in the past 5 games, where San Jose have only recorded 1 against Seattle (well, come on, obviously).

In terms of shooting, we actually have a very good on target rate, sitting at 41.6%, compared to 30% of San Jose. In the only game we lost, against Columbus, we had 9 attempts, 1 on target – 11.1%. In our toughest, and most satisfying win (our AJB-inspired injury time home win versus LA) we had great economy – hitting 5 of our 7 shots on target. San Jose, however, have always hit a low percentage rate when they lose – 15.8% vs DC United, 18.2% vs Chicago and 22.2% vs. New England. But when they beat LA ( in that, again, dramatic late win) they registered a 50% on target rate. In all of this, comparatively, over the last 5 games we have had 18 less attempts on goal than San Jose, but only 1 less on target.

Now, although San Jose’s seemingly gung-ho attack could prove worrisome given our fondness for lower scoring games (comparatively), our defence seems to be statistically in better fettle. Portland, in total, won 13 more tackles than San Jose, but lost 1 more. Tellingly, Portland made 8 more interceptions and an impressive 19 more clearances. Fittingly, for my analysis at least, the only game we failed in beating our opponents in the “Clearance” column was against Columbus – a game where we only achieved 11 clearances to their 37 – we averaged 32 across the last 5 games. Given San Jose’s penchant for crossing (9 more successful crosses than the Timbers) and veritable lack of a Wondolowski or Alan Gordon up front… all bodes well in our attempts to nullify their attack, I suppose.

PREDICTION
I heard a fact that San Jose are yet to beat us in the MLS. I have no real urge to prove that wrong at the moment, it’s getting late and I really like that fact. To be honest, as a long-time Newcastle United fan and still relatively new Timbers follower, games where the balance tips decidedly in our favour will always be approached with caution.

In saying that, bar Silvestre, we’re pretty much full strength for the first time in a few weeks. We’ve always looked dangerous when RodWal plays and I’d guess this group would be itching to put right the flat 0-0 performance against Philadelphia Union. For us, the Gold Cup is over, but for the ‘Quakes it’s not. Wondolowski and Gordon always like a goal against us, from our point of view they won’t be a miss. Although Lenhart has the ability (or personality – I’m not sure yet) to get heavily involved, San Jose will be looking for a performance from in-form Shea Salinas.

My head says we’ll nick this by a 1 goal margin… but there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned yet… we’re on the road. Fuck it. 2-0 Timbers.

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