San Jose Earthquakes vs. Portland Timbers preview: Proving ground on Sunday

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

MLS Regular Season  |  Avaya Stadium  |  Sunday, March 13  |  7 p.m. ET

Billed as

Timbers want to prove that they aren’t a fluke. Earthquakes want to prove that they’re still relevant.

The lowdown

The Portland Timbers, of course, are coming off their first MLS Cup-winning season, and are ready to show the league that they can do it all again. Despite finishing 7 points short of the top spot in 3rd place in the West, the Timbers battled hard to take out Cascadia rivals Vancouver Whitecaps and Shield-winners FC Dallas before beating the Columbus Crew 2-1 in the final to take home MLS Cup in 2015.

The Timbers brought in Jack Barmby on loan from Leicester City in the English Premier League, as well as forward Jack McInerney from the Columbus Crew. They did lose a number of players, including midfielder Will Johnson and midfielder Rodney Wallace. Their season started well, with a deja vu-inducing 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew on opening day with goals from Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri.

San Jose Earthquakes are coming off another forgettable season in which they barely missed the playoffs and finished 7th in the West with 47 points. They made few moves in the offseason, offloading a handful of minor players and only picking up a few others, like MLS journeyman striker Chad Barrett and former Liverpool FC academy midfielder Marc Pelosi. Midfielder Albert Quintero was also brought in on loan from Lobos in Mexico.

The Earthquakes’ first game of the season was very much their style: a grinding 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids, courtesy of a Chris Wondolowski header. The Rapids gave the Quakes a good game, but San Jose goalkeeper David Bingham showed his class with a number of quality saves. A tight win against the worst team in the conference isn’t ideal, but a win is a win and they’ll be happy to have kicked off the season with 3 points.

Team news

Portland defender Andy Thoma (knee) will be out for at least six weeks. Loan signing Jack Barmby hasn’t arrived in Portland or trained with the team yet, so he’ll also be unavailable for this match.

San Jose new signing, Pelosi (knee), is out for 3-4 months after having an operation for chronic tendinitis. Earthquakes will be without midfielders Fatai Alashe (hernia) and Cordell Cato (hamstring), and defenders Jordan Stewart (Achilles tendon) and Andres Imperiale (calf) for at least this match.

Player to watch: Darlington Nagbe (Portland)

One of the most-hyped young American players over the last year, Nagbe was called up by Jurgen Klinsmann to the United States national team in November for World Cup Qualifiers. He made his debut for the U.S. against St. Vincent on Nov. 13. It’s hard to believe Nagbe is only 25, as he made his debut for the Timbers after being drafted by them in 2011 out of the University of Akron.

It took a little while for Nagbe to find his best position, but Timbers coach Caleb Porter tried him in more of a box-to-box position last year, and the player has flourished. He’s become a key cog in the Timbers’ midfield, and played a huge part in getting the team its first MLS Cup in 2015. Nagbe isn’t always the flashiest of players, but his technical ability and passing rate are always top-notch. Against Columbus Crew last week, Nagbe completed 35/40 passes, including 8/10 in the final third.

The managers

Porter is one of the best young managers in MLS, as shown by his guiding of the club to an MLS Cup victory last season. Porter coached the NCAA Division I Akron Zips for six years, getting to the D1 finals twice and winning it once. Porter was named MLS Coach of the Year in 2013, and has a 41-25-36 (.578) regular-season record since joining the Timbers.

San Jose coach Dominic Kinnear is in his second spell managing the club. After managing San Jose in the 2004-2005 season, Kinnear left for the Houston Dynamo, where he stayed from 2006-2014. Kinnear won the MLS Cup twice with Houston, in 2006 and 2007. Kinnear has the third-best all-time regular season coaching record in MLS, at 152-117-115 (.546).

Facts and figures

  • Portland’s Diego Valeri dominated the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs, accounting for 3.1 key passes per match and notching 3 goals and 9 assists as he led his team to the Cup.
  • San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski ranks third in MLS for all-time game-winning goals with 36 out of 229 appearances. Wondolowski is also tied for most regular-season goals in a single season with 27 in the 2012 season.
  • Out of 13 regular season meetings, San Jose has only beaten Portland a single time. The Timbers won 5 of those meetings, and the final seven ended in draws.

FourFourTwo prediction

The champions still look rather good, and I don’t see San Jose being able to do much against them. 2-0 Portland.