Expectations and Predictions: Portland Timbers at San Jose Earthquakes

by Charlie Folkestad

The Portland Timbers (1-3-0, 3 pts, 12th in West) are in San Jose to take on the Earthquakes (3-2-0, 9 pts, 2nd in West) after both teams fell to the first-place Seattle Sounders in the last week. Portland hosted the Sounders on Sunday and fell 2-1, while San Jose hosted on Wednesday and lost 1-0. 

Shaking Things Up

San Jose’s impressive start has been led by the young American duo of Cade Cowell and Jackson Yueill.

Let’s start with Cowell. He is Matias Almeyda’s new center forward (after the departure of Danny Hoesen to Austin and the aging of Chris Wondolowski), but nothing is so straightforward with Almeyda. His man-marking system isn’t as intense as it once was, but it still requires constant awareness and movement from every Earthquake. Enter Cowell, who at 17 years old has the energy to contribute on offense and defense. He’s scored twice and assisted thrice in five matches, but his defensive numbers may be even more impressive. 

Cowell grades out near the top of most statistical comparisons for MLS forwards, including the 96th percentile for tackles + interceptions and the 96th percentile for tackles in the defensive third. Check out his full Football Reference Scouting Report to see all of his glittering green bars. 

Yueill, a defensive midfielder who was part of the U-23 U.S. Men’s National Team that ultimately failed to qualify for the Olympics, has been the glue in the center of San Jose’s 4-3-3 so far this season. He scored twice against DC United and grades out well as a high-volume passer. 

The Quakes enter this match scoring two goals per game (T-2nd in MLS). Their three wins (Houston, DC United, and Real Salt Lake) have included some memorable goals, including Yueill’s stunner against DC and the immortal Wondo coming onto score a brace for a comeback win in Utah. 

Short-staffed in Stumptown

Overall, this is not the time Portland want to be playing San Jose (or really anyone, for that matter). The Timbers are perhaps the most banged-up team in MLS, with an injury list so long I had to double-check it. 

There are five starters on this list, not including second- and third-string goalkeepers. After Jeff Attinella and Larrys Mabiala left Sunday’s game against Seattle with injuries, the news only got worse. Giovanni Savarese confirmed this week that Diego Chará, the man historically most critical to Portland’s success, also strained a hamstring. (His backup, Cristhian Paredes, is still out for an extended period.) 

The Timbers added a goalkeeper to the roster on Thursday, signing Logan Ketterer to a loan deal from USL-Championship side El Paso Locomotive FC. With 19-year-old Hunter Sulte as the only healthy goalie on the roster, this makes a ton of sense. Ketterer was actually one of the best ‘keepers in the USL-C last season, ranking first in regular season clean sheets (8 in 16 matches) and fifth in save percentage (78.3%).

Not to mention Sulte has had one of the rudest introductions to a pro career one could ask for: a four-goal thrashing in Dallas with a C-team lineup and a second-half-substitute appearance while losing to your bitter rival (which so happens to be the best team in the league). The goals he’s given up haven’t even necessarily been his fault, but that’s just the way it goes. 

With all that in mind, here’s my prediction for Portland’s starting XI on Saturday:

The Timbers do have Jeremy Ebobisse back, and I have a hard time thinking that Gio will prefer Dairon Asprilla over JeboOnTheWing™ if the latter is up to full speed. I would not be surprised to see Jebo starting at center forward and Asprilla or Marvin Loría in that winger spot.

Prediction

I’m not feeling very well about this match, and it’s not just because I ate Cheez-Its for breakfast and lunch today. I would applaud a draw, though I understand a loss is very likely. The only silver lining is that this will be San Jose’s third match in a week, but I still expect them to be prepared.

Either way, we’ll see, but I’m predicting a 2-1 loss Saturday night. 

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