SAN JOSE, Calif. — Following a frustrating first month of the season, the San Jose Earthquakes shook off the malaise of an 0-4 start and demolished the visiting Portland Timbers 3-0 in front of an announced 16,223 at Avaya Stadium.
The Quakes (1-4-0, 3 points) looked nothing like a winless team Saturday evening, scoring more goals in the first half than they had in all four games to open the season. Shea Salinas, the team’s captain on the night, began the onslaught in the opening quarter hour, with Danny Hoesen and Cristian Espinoza adding spectacular solo efforts soon after.
“We started very well with a lot of energy in the first half and we scored three good goals,” Hoesen said. “It was exciting for us.”
“I feel very happy to get our first win of the season,” added Espinoza, who also had an assist on the night. “We have to keep on playing like this, to value the way we played tonight. … It was a big win for us, and hopefully we can keep getting more victories.”
On the opposite side of the field, the road-weary Timbers (0-4-1, 1 point), who play away from Portland for 12 games to start the season as stadium renovations are completed, leave the Bay Area still in search of their first victory of 2019.
“This match was not good enough,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “We can’t just step it up when we are facing the teams that are doing well. We are going to face these types of teams that are difficult, even if they don’t look difficult on paper. I knew it was going to be a very tough match, but unfortunately we did not do the job.”
Head coach Matias Almeyda introduced four new players to the starting XI, with Hoesen and Salinas replacing the team’s only two designated players, Chris Wondolowski and Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili. Marcos Lopez also joined the lineup, starting at left back after sitting out the previous game.
Injuries forced the Quakes to make the other two changes. Both Judson and Guram Kashia were left off the matchday 18, replaced by Jackson Yueill and Florian Jungwirth. Kashia, who suffered a hard fall in last weekend’s 5-0 loss to LAFC, was diagnosed with a small bone fracture and will be out 2-4 weeks.
“We had some new guys in the team that, obviously, want to play and fight for their spot,” Hoesen said. “The mentality has always been the same. We always kept believing in ourselves. … When you lose four games in a row, that is not the ideal start, but we waited for this one, and 3-0 is a very good win.”
San Jose started off strong against Portland, with Hoesen’s speed up top keeping the Timbers from developing any rhythm with the ball. The visitors, like the Quakes, entered the game winless this season, and their lack of confidence showed. But San Jose showed a willingness to play above their winless record, and no player exemplified that more than Jungwirth.
“We were all sitting in the same boat, and it was tough for everybody,” Jungwirth said. “There was only one way to come out, and that was to battle for every tackle, to fight for every ball, and that’s what we did tonight. Nobody made a mistake, and everybody went for every ball. That was incredible, and that’s the way we have to play to have success.”
With the defense harassing the Timbers on every possession, the Earthquakes were on the front foot more often than not, winning the ball and transitioning effectively on offense. Time and again, the hosts found themselves deep in Portland’s half of the field.
“The difference is that we retained order, trusted in the players that could do it and the team was always organized when we attacked,” Almeyda said. “Everyone ran equally and everyone played equally. I believe in this type of football.”
The pressure finally paid off for the Earthquakes when Espinoza eluded a defender along the right side of the box and carried the ball goalward. The winger picked his head up just enough to see Salinas sprinting into space, and he delivered a pass that the 12-year MLS veteran blasted into the net from close range.
The goal really opened up the game for both sides, and the Timbers and Earthquakes traded attacks at a blistering pace. Hoesen had a golden opportunity to double the lead on the half-hour mark, but a heavy touch took the ball too close to Jeff Attinella, who made a sliding grab to snuff out the chance
Hoesen redeemed himself on the next possession, finishing off a deflected shot from Magnus Eriksson after providing the initial ball to the Swede on a nifty feed across the box. It was the first goal of the season for the Earthquakes’ leading scorer a season ago.
Espinoza put himself on the score sheet a minute later with a spectacular counterattacking run. Following a turnover by the Timbers near midfield, the Argentine wasted no time getting the ball up the field and finishing his shot. The 1 minute, 10 seconds between goals was the fastest in franchise history.
The Earthquakes, after so much disappointment in their first four games, were flying high at intermission with a three-goal lead. The last time San Jose held such a margin at halftime was Aug. 19, 2015, when the Quakes roared out to the same advantage at Sporting KC before finishing off a 5-0 victory.
The Timbers did not let the deficit damage their psyche too much, and were the aggressors to start the second half. A blatant handball in the box by Harold Cummings on a blistering shot by Sebastian Blanco gave Portland a penalty kick in the 55th minute, but Diego Valeri’s shot attempt right up the middle was kicked away by goalkeeper Daniel Vega.
“It was an important save because it kept us in the game,” Vega said. “In that situation, we cannot afford to make mistakes because you don’t know what can happen. It gave us confidence for the rest of the game.”
The visitors continued to flow forward, and San Jose sat further back and absorbed the pressure, looking nothing like the vulnerable squad that shipped 14 goals in its first four games of 2019. The strategy worked. The Quakes weathered the storm and found their own opportunities on offense.
Nick Lima entered the game in the 70th minute for Tommy Thompson, who had a strong game in his third straight start at right back, and nearly brought the house down two minutes later. His laser beam into the upper 90 nearly punched a hole in the back of the net, but following consultation with the video assistant referee, official Drew Fischer waved off the goal.
The Timbers were done at that point, even with the VAR lifeline, and all that was left was for the clock to run out. For Vega and the Quakes, it was their first clean sheet of the season.
“We are very happy now because this was a victory we were looking for,” Vega said. “The clean sheet was very important for us because we did a good job on every line and we worked together as a team.”
The Earthquakes will savor the victory, but only as long as the weekend. Next up is a tough test at the Houston Dynamo. San Jose has a lot of ground to make up in the Western Conference, but the team will be filled with confidence heading into the game against its former self.
“It feels good, but you have to remember that you can’t lose a season in the first five games and you can’t win a season in the first five games,” Thompson said. “We’ve got a lot more to play for, and I’m excited and I’m going to enjoy this, and then we will get ready for next week.”