After last season’s historically bad season, no one could have predicted the Earthquakes would turn things so much that would be on the brink of reaching the MLS Playoffs. If they can find a way to win in Portland on Decision Day, they will add a cherry on top of an already remarkable season. Standing in there way is a battered and bruised Portland Timbers squad that has struggled at home this season but is capable of beating any team in the league.
The good news for Matias Almeyda’s team is that one of Portland’s most potent attacking weapons. Brian Fernandez, will not be available for Giovanni Savarese after the Timbers dropped their appeal of the Argentinian’s red card he received last week against Sporting Kansas City. The bad news is that the person that is most likely to replace him, Jeremy Ebobisse, has 11 goals so far this season.
Another question mark for Portland is the health of Diego Valeri. The 33-year-old midfielder has been dealing with a nagging calf injury that kept him out of last weeks 2-2 draw against Sporting KC. His eight goals and 16 assists are difficult to replace when he is not on the pitch. If he can’t play tomorrow, the Quakes should get more opportunities to find ways against Portland goalkeeper Steve Clark.
The San Jose Earthquakes have more flexibility on their roster. The only player that will not be available to Matias Almeyda is Tommy Thompson, who was sent off in the Quakes 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders last week in San Jose. The midfielder turned right-back has played in 30 of the Quakes 33 matches this season and has two goals along with one assist.
If the Quakes are going to win this match, they are going to need the duo of Cristian Espinoza and Chris Wondolowski to find some of the midseason magic. Espinoza has assisted in five of Wondo’s 14 goals this season and has consistently been the spark that leads the offense. If Vako can finish some of his dazzling dribbles with dangerous shots on goal, it could free up some space for Wondo to find that spot in the box where he becomes invisible to defenders.
Portland doesn’t give up to many goals at home, their 19 goals against is better than seven other teams in the West. On the flip side, they also don’t score very often in Providence Park, scoring only 26 times since the re-opening of their renovated stadium. The loss of Fernandez may be worse news for Savarese than it seems right now.
Like most games this season, the Quakes have an excellent chance of getting a positive result and punching their ticket to the playoff tournament, but it’s going to take a team effort. Whatever the outcome, this is going to be one of the most exciting matches in recent Quakes history. Find a way to get yourself in front of a television on Sunday at 1PM.