May 5, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Anibal Godoy (20) fouls Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri (8) during the first half at Avaya Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Just when the San Jose Earthquakes looked certain to earn a result against the Portland Timbers, Diego Valeri broke a scoreless tie with five minutes remaining to give the visitors a 1-0 win at Avaya Stadium.
It was Valeri’s fourth goal in five games, as the Timbers (3-3-2, 11 points) won their third consecutive game of the season after dropping their first five. For San Jose (1-5-2, five points), it was another one-goal loss and the Earthquakes saw their winless streak stretch to seven games — their worst stretch of results since 2016.
“I am super disappointed from the result perspective,” Earthquakes head coach Mikael Stahre said. “We need to go home and analyze this result and come back with a little bit more, 10 percent more. But it’s really hard now, with only one victory in eight games, so we need victories for sure.”
The team trained all week to face a Timbers side that would be compact defensively, and Portland did a masterful job of keeping San Jose’s attacking four from finding anything of quality in front of the net. It was the Earthquakes’ first shutout of the season, and they were a set-piece goal away from earning their own clean sheet.
“The first half was good, but in the second half I did not have the feeling that we had a chance to win,” Quakes defender Florian Jungwirth said. “Portland did not have shots, but we didn’t either. We lost a lot of balls in transition, and fortunately Portland didn’t play it well. Otherwise, we would have been in trouble. Tonight we played too naive. It was nothing to do with men’s soccer; it was youth soccer what we played, to be honest.”
The first half featured very few scoring chances for either side, as the Quakes and Timbers traded jabs in the midfield but couldn’t land that one big punch. The visitors outshot the hosts 9-6, and neither goalkeeper was called upon to make a spectacular save.
San Jose looked better in possession over the first 45 minutes, with Jackson Yueill and Anibal Godoy partnered in the center of the 4-4-2 formation, controlling the ball and limiting Portland’s entry into the area. And even when the Timbers broke through, Florian Jungwirth, making his first start of the season at centerback, was flawless in the half.
Following the break, the pace of the game picked up. The previously sleepwalking Timbers started to show more verve in the attacking third. The Quakes ceded more of the ball, but this allowed them to push forward more from counterattacks as they took advantage of a more wide-open field.
As the game entered the 70th minute, each team still without a goal, a sense of urgency began to grow within the Earthquakes. Christopher Wehan, the United Soccer League rookie of the year in 2017 with the Quakes’ affiliate in Reno, entered the game for Chris Wondolowski and the energy level increased notably. Quincy Amarikwa’s introduction two minutes later signaled the hosts’ desire to break the deadlock.
Wehan, making his MLS debut, twice put Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella under pressure, earning the approval of the Avaya Stadium faithful but not doing quite enough from his station on the right wing to find the game’s first goal.
But in the 88th minute, Valeri broke San Jose hearts when he wrapped his right foot around a free kick at the top of the area and beat Andrew Tarbell to the far post. It was a stellar shot from the reigning MLS MVP, one that ensured the Timbers would earn their third victory in a row.
“It’s frustrating,” Shea Salinas said. “The second half they hardly had any chances. They get a free kick at the top of the box, and we know that Valeri is good at those. You just hope he mishits it, and he didn’t.”
Describing the tough task of keeping the MVP from hitting the back of the net, Tarbell said, “I’m trying to save it, that’s it. We’ve got to stop conceding goals and create some chances for ourselves.”
The Quakes made it interesting in five minutes of stoppage time, but just could not trouble the Timbers enough to make a difference and the whistle soon blew on another loss, their third in a row.
San Jose hits the road for its next two games. First, a trip to see Minnesota United, the team the Quakes beat in the season opener for their only victory this year, and then to the Vancouver Whitecaps, an opponent that has given them fits through the years. They will need to earn points in both to salvage what has been a terrible start to the season.