New on Sports Illustrated: Timbers-Earthquakes Preview

August 26, 2020 at 04:49AM

Having performed well at MLS Is Back and happy to be facing an opponent other than Minnesota United, the San Jose Earthquakes make their return to action Wednesday night when they host the Portland Timbers.

The Loons are the only team to have solved the Earthquakes (2-2-1) and their man-marking system this season, dealing San Jose a 5-2 loss pre-pandemic and sending them home from Orlando after a 4-1 pounding in the quarterfinals Aug. 2. Otherwise, Matias Almeyda's side has performed well, highlighted by rallying from two down to defeat Vancouver 4-3 during group play and thrashing Real Salt Lake 5-2 in the round of 16.

"I think the best part was spending time with my teammates," midfielder Cristian Espinoza told the club's official website about the time spent in Florida. "I think that the team unity was seen on and off the pitch. Portland is the champion of the Orlando tournament … but we have to focus on our game, play our game the way Matias wants us to on the pitch.

"I think that if we worry more about doing our job, good results will follow."

Espinoza will have one less playmaker alongside him as fellow midfielder Magnus Eriksson left for Sweden's Djurgardens IF last Friday for an undisclosed transfer fee. Eriksson, who scored three goals in MLS Is Back started 66 of the team's 73 regular-season matches since the start of the 2018 season and totaled 13 goals and 14 assists.

"After two and a half years with us, we feel he has done the same as he now returns home to be closer to his family," 'Quakes GM Jesse Fioranelli said. "As we look back, we realize we learned a lot about ourselves during his time with the club. Together we grew in confidence, courage and tenacity as a team and Magnus had a big part in that. Thank you, tack själv, Magnus!"

Though Portland did win MLS Is Back as Espinoza pointed out, Giovanni Savarese's side was brought back to earth quickly Sunday night after losing 3-0 at home by Cascadia rival and reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle. The Timbers had an early goal chalked off following a VAR review and conceded all three goals in the final 18 minutes.

"Sometimes you need a hard wake-up call to get out of your honeymoon," Savarese said. "This is how amazing this game is because you can touch glory in Orlando and today, in 10 minutes, 15 minutes, you can feel very defeated after a game that I felt we did a lot to be able to get the three points prior to them scoring a goal."

It was the first time in 10 matches across all competitions the Timbers failed to find the back of the net this year, but their defense still leaves something to be desired. Portland has shipped 14 goals overall while recording just one clean sheet.

Defender Dario Zuparic should be available for this match after missing Sunday's defeat for what the team called "personal reasons." He has a goal and an assist in eight matches, but more importantly, Portland is 6-1-1 when he is on the backline.

Chris Wondolowski, the all-time leading scorer in MLS history with 161 goals, has netted 11 of them in 18 career matchups with Portland, including one last season in a 3-1 defeat. San Jose, though, has won four of the last five meetings at home versus the Timbers.

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