Tonight’s 8:00 PM PDT match between the Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes is the first of two meetings in two weeks. This week they’re at Buckshaw, next week at Providence. Portland needs a win in both matches. With Vancouver in fifth place by a point, draws just won’t cut it. The loss of captain Will Johnson to a broken leg and Diego Valeri to yellow card accumulation means it won’t be easy, but anything less than three points makes the playoffs a pipe dream.
Someone needs to step up in the midfield for Portland. Much as I’d like to say Darlington Nagbe, Gaston Fernandez is the man to do it. He hasn’t started in the last three matches and hasn’t scored consistently since May. Even if he doesn’t tonight, it would good to see him earn his first assist of the season. With Valeri out, Nagbe hesitating, and nobody to argue with, it’s La Gata’s time to shine.
Ben Zemanski should start in the midfield alongside Diego Chara from here on out. The change might help with defending thanks to his constant hounding of players for the ball. One more yellow and Chara is suspended a match, just something to keep in mind while he transitions to linking up with Nagbe and Fernandez more than normal. It might be good for him get a yellow today to guarantee that he’s eligible for Salt Lake in two weeks. I’d rather he not pick up another at all, but we all know that’s impossible.
Luckily for Portland, the Quakes’ Steven Lenhart is out. So even if the Timbers give up a goal there’s no need to worry about celebratory hip thrusts. In his place is Matias Perez Garcia who has been injured since he arrived in California. Garcia is far more technical than Lenhart and not nearly the same aerial threat. Something that could work out in Portland’s favor as long as they don’t take their eyes off the Argentine. Wondo is still Wondo and he can’t be left unmarked in any situation, no matter how much flak he gets for his World Cup performance.
Portland Timbers: Donovan Ricketts; Jorge Villafana, Liam Ridgewell, Pa Modou Kah, Alvas Powell; Ben Zemanski, Diego Chara; Rodney Wallace, Gaston Fernandez, Darlington Nagbe; Maxi Urruti
San Jose Earthquakes: Jon Busch; Shaun Francis, Jason Hernandez, Victor Bernardez, Pablo Pintos; Shea Salinas, Sam Cronin, Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, Cordell Cato; Matias Perez Garcia; Chris Wondolowski
(image courtesy of Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian)