The San Jose Earthquakes kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers at Avaya Stadium on Saturday night. Anything less than a victory would have rendered their league campaign dead in the water and Chris Leitch’s men stepped up to the challenge with a dynamic performance.
Leitch made five changes to his starting lineup to recover from a demoralizing 4-1 defeat to the Chicago Fire on Wednesday night and the moves yielded a significantly improved defense, which kept Portland striker Diego Valeri off the scoresheet for the first time in ten matches.
The Quakes kicked off with much more urgency than against Chicago, as low a bar that may be, and their energy was reciprocated in the stands. Leitch’s men were better suited to pressure the Timbers with a midfield partnership of Anibal Godoy and Darwin Ceren, which offered more mettle than a Jackson Yeuill-Godoy setup. Godoy was particularly dynamic, firing wide from distance in the seventh minute. Victor Bernardez also returned to the starting lineup and posted a dominant defensive performance.
The Quakes’ fluency in the midfield allowed Vako to see more of the ball as well and the Georgian international twice came close with curling efforts early on. Jahmir Hyka also made an immediate impact in his first start in over a month and a half, providing the catalyst for Vako’s opening goal when he pounced on a loose ball and played laterally to the DP midfielder. Vako cut in from the wing and cooly curled into the bottom corner, his fourth goal in twelve appearances for the Quakes.
However poor they were against Chicago, the first half was a highly rejuvenating performance for the home side. Godoy even had the confidence to attempt a bicycle-kick from a corner, which, in past games, might have been screwed high and wide or simply whiffed. Tonight, however, he managed to put it on target to the raucous approval of the home crowd. At least it seemed as if San Jose’s possession was getting them somewhere.
The Quakes were itching for a second goal and Hyka nearly converted from Vako’s cross, only for Jeff Attinella to make a vital kick-save. Danny Hoesen’s presence up top lent more variety to the home side’s offense, offering strong hold-up play and long-distance threat as well as runs in behind the defense. His aerial dominance also freed space for others in the box and Godoy nearly converted a headed effort after sneaking in behind at the far post, only to nod inches over.
Hoesen’s efforts were rewarded early in the second half when he fired home the Quakes’ second goal from the edge of the penalty area, which allowed to the Quakes to enter game-management mode. Their back-line started showing wear as the clock ticked down, though. They had managed to shut down Diego Valeri for the best part of eighty minutes but Vako’s inconsistent defensive effort gave Portland a numerical advantage down the right wing, which Sebastian Blanco capitalized upon with a low finish five minutes from time.
Leitch exacerbated the issue by refusing to draw from his depth upon the bench, making no subs until the 83rd minute, and the match went down to the wire. This time, however, the Quakes had the spirit to persevere.
Photo credit: ISI PHOTOS