Mired in a brutal midseason stretch that will see them play six games in 18 days (they're currently four games through), the San Jose Earthquakes lost 2-1 to the Portland Timbers on Tuesday night at Jeldwen Field.
The loss dropped the Earthquakes' season record to 11-3-4, although they remain first in the Western Conference standings with 36 points.
Much had been made about the Earthquakes' prodigious attack (35 goals (including 17 on the road) and 37 assists this season), deemed to be far superior to that of the Timbers', who have crawled out of the gate to start the MLS season.
But with the first portions of Tuesday night's match as a reference, you wouldn't have known that the Earthquakes were at top of the Western Conference. The Timbers dominated them in both possession and scoring opportunities.
Aside from some pretty link-up play in midfield, and one searching long ball that passed just out of the reach of league-leading goalscorer Chris Wondolowski (14 goals), the Earthquakes found themselves largely on the back foot.
The Timbers, bolstered by their rapturous, incessant fan support, hit the post and fired wide of both posts during the early going. Their troubles in the attacking realm aside, the Timbers have been superb at home—they've only won four times this season, and guess where they all came?
San Jose mustered its best chance of the first half by way of a neat through ball played through for Rafael Baca, whose left-footed lunging effort was deflected past the onrushing Alan Gordon before setting up perfectly for an acrobatic half-volley from right-back Shea Salinas. After recently returning from a broken collarbone suffered against New York Red Bulls, Salinas' attempt was also deflected for a corner.
It seemed cruel, though, that Portland broke the scoreless deadlock on the ensuing counterattack.
Within seconds, Portland had mustered a goal, with Danny Mwanga latching on to a low cross from the right and slotting home past Earthquakes keeper David Bingham.
After the goal, San Jose turned on the attack, using the right-flank duo of Salinas and Steven Beitashour to great effect.
The final ball was not coming, however, much to the chagrin of Wondolowski, who was growing visibly frustrated with the lack of quality play towards the end of the half.
The Quakes continued their assault on the Timbers' goal early in the second half, but once again the Timbers showcased their newly-discovered ruthlessness in front of the goal, this time exemplified by Jack Jewsbury. He scored his first goal of the season during a havoc-ridden scrum in front of Bingham.
This seemed to be in prime territory for the Quakes. With more than a half hour to go and a history of coming back from seemingly endless deficits, manager Frank Yallop called upon Marvin Chavez and Steven Lenhart to boost the attack.
Within minutes, he'd gotten a return on his decision, with Chavez firing a low shot toward goal that Gordon was able to turn in with a neat flick to bring the score to 2-1.
Gordon has made a habit out of scoring in the final 15 minutes of games since joining the Earthquakes a year ago, but this time his goal came just before that time slot, in the 74th minute.
San Jose pressed on for an equalizer, but the rigors of this current stretch of games—coupled with the emotional drain of Saturday's thrilling 4-3 victory over LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium—looked to finally take their toll.
Lenhart was at his combative and creative best up front, but the likes of Wondolowski, Gordon and Chavez simply lacked the legs to get anything going in the way of an equalizing goal.
The loss, seen in the light of the Timbers' brilliant run at home, is not a horrible one. The Earthquakes retain their spot atop the Western Conference standings.
But with a taxing trip to Texas and a tricky tie against FC Dallas on the schedule this Saturday, it will be imperative for Yallop's side to pick themselves up and find the legs to get a positive result.
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