Timbers rattle Quakes
Given the challenges faced by the Portland Timbers this week — making two trips to San Jose over four days and with training limited by poor air quality — Saturday's match didn't set up as one for the club record book.
But playing against the Earthquakes' unique man-marking system for the second time in about 72 hours, and with Diego Valeri pulling strings at his usual high level, the Timbers ran past and through the Earthquakes for a 6-1 victory at Earthquakes Stadium.
The six goals are the most Portland has scored in its 10 seasons in Major League Soccer.
The Timbers pulled away with four second-half goals, including the first Timbers' goal for third-year center back Julio Cascante and the second in as many games for Yimmi Chara.
Valeri had two goals and an assist, on the corner kick headed home by Cascante, and had the Earthquakes spinning on a number of occasions with decisive, one-touch passes. Jeremy Ebobisse and Jaroslaw Niezgoda also scored for Portland.
Portland improved to 5-4-3 (18 points). The Timbers are fifth in a tight Western Conference, three points back of first-place Seattle, which visits Portland on Wednesday, Sept. 23.
San Jose is 2-5-5 (11 points) and remains at the bottom of the standings.
Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said that being able to train outside on Friday for the first time in more than a week was significant in his team looking more comfortable despite the lineup rotation.
"We were able to practice the movements, which we couldn't do in the indoor facility," Savarese said. "We were able to get more fluidity in what we were looking for. I thought our possession, the buildup from the back, we had patience when we went to find the right moment to be able to dribble. Then to create the moments in behind with good movements that the other day we didn't do as well."
Portland was energetic from the start and opportunistic against a San Jose side that has been leaking goals in bunches. The result was a feel-good win in the midst of a challenging stretch.
The match also was notable for the MLS debut for Slovenian goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic, who made his three saves in a matter of seconds late in the first half.
Playing the second match at San Jose in 72 hours and the third match in a stretch of five in 15 days, Savarese made eight changes from the lineup that played to a 1-1 draw Wednesday.
The most significant of those was having a rested Valeri to orchestrate the attack.
Valeri said the difference between the two performances was the Timbers using the width of the field to create pockets of space in the attack.
"We improved from last game, creating more chances, being more unpredictable with the attack," Valeri said.
"I think we've seen a Diego that still has the capability to play at the highest level. His movements are very sharp, his quality is still intact and he's taking care of himself in the best possible way," Savarese said.
Portland led 2-1 at halftime, with Valeri converting a penalty kick in the 25th minute and Jeremy Ebobisse scoring with his head two minutes later.
San Jose's only positive stretch of the match came in the minutes before halftime.
Ivanic came up huge in the 42nd minute with three consecutive close-range stops, starting with ranging to his left to block a Carlos Fierro chance.
Fierro scored moments later when he had space near the top of the penalty area to turn a cross sharply into the goal, giving Ivacic no chance.
The second half was all Portland.
Valeri worked a quick combination with Yimmi Chara in the 57th minute and ran onto a 20-yard shot that took a deflection on its way to the goal, giving Portland a 3-1 advantage.
San Jose coach Matías Almeyda inserted extra attackers, but the result was plenty of space for Portland, which added three goals that came in the final 20 minutes.
Yimmi Chara, who came on at halftime for Tomas Conechny, made it 4-1 in the 70th minute, pouncing on a rebound after Ebobisse made a strong move to force Vega into a diving save.
Cascante's first MLS goal was a sharp header from a Valeri corner kick in the 85th minute.
"I'm so happy. My first goal with this team," Cascante said. "I think it's very important. It gives me definitely a lot of confidence."
Niezgoda, a late substitute, scored his third regular-season goal in the 87th minute at the end of a quick counter opportunity.
The 6-2 Ivacic was calm in goal, even when standing his ground against a flurry of San Jose chances the one time he was tested. The 26-year-old has plenty of experience in his native Slovenia, but had not gotten an opportunity with the MLS Timbers until Saturday.
"We saw today how secure Ivacic was, how confident he was when he played," Savarese said. "He had a great performance. Very secure."
Both Cascante and Savarese commented on the importance of depth, and how Saturday's win might serve the Timbers going forward.
"We need to be more secure about, it doesn't matter who plays, the team needs to look the same," Cascante said.
"This is great when you see everyone working great on the roster," Savarese said. "That they're pushing each other to try to play, and that we can make rotations and still the level stays high."
One example was Gresham native Marco Farfan, a natural left back who played the right back position in a MLS match for the first time and produced a second solid performance in a row.
Wednesday's 7 p.m. visit from Seattle will be the third clash with the Sounders since the MLS regular-season restarted. Seattle won 3-0 at Portland Aug. 23. Portland won 2-1 at Seattle on Sept. 6. The Sounders are 4-1-1 since the MLS season restart.
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