|Samuel Armenteros was simply on a whole different level all night.
Timbers Coach Gio Savarese has been talking a lot about his team's flexibility and adaptability being big components of the overall success in 2018, and we've witnessed several different variations of the Timbers over the past weeks. This has also been aided by several different players stepping up to contribute to the lengthy level of success, as it's not been just one person or persons that have added something. It's a testament to the overall depth that Portland is enjoying that players are being pushed for playing time, and they've responded with impressive results, both here and at the Timbers 2 level. However, the margin between success and failure is rather minute, and if that point wasn't very evident, consider this match as testament to that fact. For all of their success over the first 75 minutes in terms of pressure, precision and goals, the Timbers did little wrong, but over a sequence of a quarter hour, the gains were nearly lost in a sea of uncertainty and tentative play showing little margin of error. For as good as the Timbers have been over this now thirteen match unbeaten streak, they can't turn off their focus for a moment's notice otherwise to allow their opponent any ability to gain confidence in themselves, especially since the Western Conference race is so tight that a deserving side or two might be left out of the postseason.
|Sebastian Blanco was back for the Timbers and the offense was more inspired.
Most media folks that don't follow San Jose regularly are still trying to figure out what direction the Earthquakes are following because it appears they are coming apart at the seams. After another dreadful season, San Jose invested in improving their attacking options with Magnus Eriksson, Vako Qazaishvili, Jahmir Hyka and Danny Hoesen to surround longtime scorer Chris Wondolowski to bolster their goal scoring, and it's been an improvement from previous years where they couldn't score at all. Unfortunately, their defense and goalkeeping hasn't enjoyed as much investment although there are several younger names in their academy to help there. Technical Director Chris Leitch and Coach Mikael Stahre have been patient as the young Quakes are trying to find their true sense of self and playing style, but it's come at the expense of wins with the Earthquakes having just 2 wins over Minnesota United so far in 2018. One trait that has never been lacking for the Earthquakes is tenacity, and while they might be struggling collectively, the team still continues to battle each and every week. Stahre played most of his big offensive threats with Wondo and Hoesen being the dual strike threat with Anibal Godoy, Vako, Florian Jungwirth and Eriksson manning the midfield. A big question for the Timbers would be if Chara and Olum could limit the influence of Vako and Godoy, the more creative influences of the midfield foursome.
|Diego Chara is all smiles, even when he's getting a caution for a soft foul.
San Jose played relatively passive soccer in the first 45 minutes with just two blocked shots in stoppage time off great defense from Valentin and Mabiala and a Wondo miss in the 29th minute off a give and go for their offense, but Stahre had his team inject more pace and movement after the break. Their task was made more difficult in the 53rd minute when Attinella made an easy save and dropped a pass to Blanco just outside the Timbers box. Sebastian found Valeri midpitch and Diego put an expertly placed pass to Armenteros forward with 2 Earthquake defenders flanking him. Some deft maneuvering and great touches by the Timbers forward later, Armemteros put the ball past Tarbell for his second brace in 2018 and 6th overall goal in MLS play. The next several minutes was a resounding quest to see if the Timbers could get their first hat trick in MLS play for Armenteros, and he came close in the 57th minute after Asprilla had a shot blocked by Tarbell while in the box. Samuel pounced on the rebound, but pushed his effort wide left. San Jose had a point blank shot by substitute Quincy Amarikwa in the 60th minute off a cross from Vako, and Amarikwa did the half bicycle shot off the cross for good measure, but Attinella made the safe and the offside flag was also up to stop the play. Armenteros had another good effort in the 67th minute, and Blanco one-timed a shot off a Powell cross in the 74th minute that didn't miss by much. At this point, it looked like the Timbers were in complete and total control and it was just a matter of what the final margin would be.
|There were lots of smiles afterwards despite the emotionally charged final moments
Portland now travels to Los Angeles for an odd doubleheader with LAFC at Banc of California Stadium - a league match on July 15th after the World Cup final followed on July 18th with a U.S. Open Cup semi-final match - before they enjoy an extended homestand of four matches against Montreal, Houston, Philadelphia and Vancouver before an August midweek trip to D.C. United on August 15 and Sporting Kansas City on August 18th. After a compressed home stand with Seattle and Toronto visiting Providence Park to finish August, the schedule equals out somewhat when September officially hits. Portland still sits tied in fourth in the standings, but at just under 2 points per match with several home matches forthcoming, Portland is sitting fairly well at this point of the year with reinforcements coming soon. But they can't get too overconfident or lose their focus because something could happen to change their fate, and if anything shows how possible that was, it was this match with the Earthquakes.