The San Jose Earthquakes were nearly flawless at Avaya Stadium last season, losing only two games. After three home games this campaign, they’ve already matched that.
A beautiful late free-kick from reigning MLS MVP Diego Valeri gave the Portland Timbers(3-2-3) a crucial 1-0 road victory over the San Jose Earthquakes (1-2-5) Saturday night. The Quakes are now winless in their last seven games and sit second from the bottom in the Western Conference.
On their early struggles this season, center back Florian Jungwirth said:
“I feel bad, it feels like every week we don’t play good, the other teams are smarter, look more experienced, we make simple mistakes every time, you can’t compete in the MLS if you play like this every week.”
Early in the first half, Portland was happy to concede possession to San Jose, preferring to stay compact and narrow on defense aiming to hit the Quakes on the counter.
The Timbers’ best chance came early, thanks to the disciplined game plan. After an errant pass from goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell, the Timbers found themselves with the ball deep in the Quakes half. All alone in the center of the box, forward Fanendo Adi received a pass and let rip a right-footed shot outside the post, saving the Quakes from an early 1-0 deficit.
Many goals San Jose have allowed this season emerged from sloppy mistakes that head coach Mikael Stahre has wanted to clamp down on. The Quakes were lucky to escape without allowing a goal on the play.
The attack from both teams stalled out until about the half-hour mark when midfielder Valeri Qazaishvili earned a free kick right outside of the Timbers box. Magnus Eriksson stood over the dead ball and took the set piece, earning what ended up to be a harmless corner kick after a deflection.
Minutes later, forward Danny Hoesen surged into Timbers territory. The Quakes No. 9 had his shot deflected, but the ball ran perfectly into the path of Qazaishvili. Inside the box Qazaishvili settled the ball but could not get enough on his attempt to slot it home as Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella made a great diving hand save, preventing a sure goal.
The Timbers pushed hard to go into the half with an important road lead, forcing a save from Tarbell right before a minute of stoppage time was added.
Powered by the home crowd, the Quakes held most of the possession, most of it harmless. The Quakes had a hard time getting quality balls into the final third, a constant theme all season.
San Jose had been mildly efficient over the past 3 weeks but could not muster up quality attempts on goal. Out 14 shots, seven were blocked before reaching the keeper, and only four were on target.
On the second half performance, head coach Stahre said:
“In the second half we possessed the ball much better. We played Vako [Qazaishvili] as a ten (advanced creative midfielder) and we combined a little bit better, but today we lacked that last quality in the box actually. We created some opportunities but not big chances actually.”
Late in the game Portland would find a way to break through. Captain Valeri struck a picture-perfect free kick after forward Samuel Armenteros earned a dangerous set piece. The Argentinian forward could not have struck the ball better, curving the sphere into the top right corner for his fourth goal of the season.
On the free kick, left back Shea Salinas said:
“We know Valeri is good at those and we just hope he miss hits it, but he didn’t.”
On the remaining long season, Salinas said:
“It’s important to know that when you are in these down moments its important not to quit not to give up. We have to keep working hard, and remember that there is 27 games left in the season. You’re always in it, a few wins and then all of a sudden you’re in fourth place, so that’s what you gotta focus on.”
The San Jose lineup featured changes from the previous weeks after what seemed like a set starting eleven the first four weeks of the season.
Getting all the new players added over the past two years to gel as a team is a tough task for the Quakes. The play from versatile Florian Jungwirth has made it easier, who started at center back for the injured Yeferson Quintana, and second-year player Jackson Yueill, started again in the midfield in Jungwirth’s place.
Stahre would not let the the integration of new faces become an excuse:
“It’s a process but we have to win games at the same time so that’s no excuse, so for me we have to improve and build and identity while also winning games.”
Ahead for the Quakes is another two-game road trip, with two games in one week. First, they’ll visit TCF Stadium on Saturday, May 12 for a rematch to take on Minnesota FC (3-2-3), who will be looking to extract revenge on San Jose after their opening day loss by a score of 3-2. After that, they’ll fly to Vancouver to battle the Whitecaps for a midweek Wednesday, May 16 game before coming back home to Avaya Stadium three days later to for an inter-conference clash with DC United on May 19.