Aug. 5, 2011PORTLAND TIMBERS (7-4-10) vs.
EARTHQUAKES (5-9-8)7:30 p.m. on CSN Plus
SANTA CLARA The statistics paint an accurate picture ofthe Earthquakes less than enviable situation -- in nine prior games, the teamhas been shut out seven times, managed four goals, and failed to collect asingle win. Hardly the recipe for a playoff run come October, but as anyonewhos been around MLS will tell you, it can take a single win to turn thingsaround. The Earthquakes will certainly be banking on that notion asthey play host to the visiting Portland Timbers on Saturday evening. A win, andthe team leapfrogs not only the Timbers, but perhaps other teams competing fora wild card berth come the end of the regular season in October. A loss,though, especially with a combination of unfavorable results, could sink theteams playoff chances entirely. Come this Saturday, if we get a good home win, I think thatsets it up for the rest of the year, coach Frank Yallop said. If we tie orlose, I think itll be a struggle. We can still do it, but this is an importantgame for us. As it stands, the current signs point to an eventualstruggle as the Earthquakes try and scratch their way into one of the leaguesfour wild card berths. Between the Timbers decent form, the Earthquakes lackthereof and the continued absence of two key offensive contributors, theEarthquakes will need to come up with something new if they want to getanything from this vital match. To start, as the Earthquakes watched their upcomingopponents closely on Wednesday night, they saw a team tear apart the LosAngeles Galaxy -- the best team in the league as far as the standings areconcerned --by a comfortable 3-0 score, even without their All-Star midfielderand captain, Jack Jewsbury. I did see their game last night and that was a lot of funto watch, I thought they played really well, Earthquakes defender JasonHernandez said. We know they have a lot of options going forward, and theyrepretty direct and pretty dangerous and I think its going to be a tough taskfor us as a unit to make sure were keeping track of their major weapons forthe entire 90 minutes. Not only did the Timbers dismantle the Galaxys defense, butalso their own defense -- not by any means the tightest in the league --managed to shut out a Galaxy lineup rife with attacking talent, featuring thelikes of Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Juan Pablo Angel. Considering Steven Lenhart (granted an indefinite familyleave of absence) and Simon Dawkins (hamstring injury) -- San Joses two keyoffensive contributors aside from Chris Wondolowski -- will miss the Portlandshowdown, the Earthquakes might have to take a fresh look at their attack afterbeing shut out in their previous two games by D.C. United and Real Salt Lake.Yallop admitted that the loss of those two players, both added to the rosterprior to the start of the season, was a big factor in the teams positive runof results earlier in the year. I think Simon gives us that little bit of guile, little bitof unpredictable play, quickness, sharpness, Yallop said. Not that we rely onone person, but I think that between him and Lenhart, we had some forcefulnessand creativeness underneath. I think at the moment we probably dont haveeither. Despite the loss of two players that have done a lot to setup Wondolowksis eight goals and garnered nine goals between them this season,the team stressed the importance of adopting a fresh offensive approach inorder to find their scoring touch. To be honest, I think we just need to take a couple morechances, Wondolowski said. I feel trying to not always look for that killerball, but maybe serve some balls in the box, have some guys make more runs inthe box. I think that well continue to do that and I think that when we getour chances well finish them and thats going to be the key. Joining Wondolowski up top will likely be Scott Sealy, a manthe Earthquakes could really use a goal from. Since joining the Earthquakes in2010, the Trinidadian forward has managed just two assists and not a singlegoal. He will be helped by the return of Bobby Convey to a more familiar leftwing position and Joey Gjertsen lining up on the right wing, ensuring astarting eleven featuring players in their natural positions -- not always agiven considering Yallops frequent lineup changes. In a similar vein, the Earthquakes might just be able tomatch the Timbers defense this time around -- for the first time in nearly amonth, Yallop will be able to field what most reckon is his first-choicedefensive unit. Jason Hernandez and Steven Beitashour are set to return frominjury, while Bobby Burling will certainly be featured after a one-gamesuspension, and Ramiro Corrales will move to left back after deputizing as anemergency center back in last Saturdays 2-0 loss to D.C. United. I think a lot can be said for team chemistry and defendingas a unit, Hernandez said. I think having three familiar faces is going tomake a lot of difference and hopefully we can pick up where we left off inbeing able to grind out some results. Backing up that claim is the fact that only two of theEarthquakes eight losses this season have come when at least three ofHernandez, Burling, Beitashour and Corrales have been on the field. In one ofthose, a 2-0 setback at Chivas USA,both goals came in the second half, after Beitashour left the game injured. While the statistics can certainly paint a picture of thepast, whether good or bad, the game Saturday wont be about breaking a certaintrend, but rather about starting a new one. As Hernandez told reporters, Hopefully Saturday night willbe the first step towards a good run to try and finish the seasonstrong.For more Earthquakes, MLS and world soccer musings,you can follow Nick Rosano on Twitter @nicholasrosano