San Jose Earthquakes set to face Portland Timbers

Big Vic Bernardez and the San Jose Earthquakes defense are looking for their third straight shutout victory.

The San Jose Earthquakes welcome the Portland Timbers to Buck Shaw Stadium tonight with a chance to create a big cushion in the Western Conference standings and in the MLS Supporters’ Shield race. Currently five points ahead of their next challenger, Sporting Kansas City, who have to face the surging New York Red Bulls in an Eastern battle royale, the Earthquakes will look to surge ahead of their weekend opponent Seattle Sounders with a big win against the Timbers.

San Jose currently sports a three game winning streak in league play — the fourth time this season they have taken 9 points from a 3 game stretch — and a 15 game unbeaten streak at The Buck. Including games at AT&T Park and Stanford Stadium, the Earthquakes are an impressive 10-1-3 in home games in 2012. In a season where they have already set a franchise record for goals scored, in 14 homes games San Jose has outscored their opponents 36 to 15. The Earthquakes average a staggering 2.57 goals per game within their friendly Bay Area confines.

With struggling Portland in town, San Jose will look to mark their first four game winning streak of the season. However, given that the Earthquakes have never beaten the Timbers in MLS play — a loss and two ties — they’ll need to take the match seriously. Sure, a trip to Seattle looms on the weekend, but defeating Portland will put to rest any notion that the Earthquakes will coast though games against lesser opposition. Maybe during the summer that was true, but during their current three game winning streak, San Jose has outscored their foes 10 goals to 1.

In their last two matches — both against cupcake Chivas USA — goalkeeper Jon Busch and the Earthquakes defense have posted clean sheets. Not since a dominating run through the month of March has San Jose been so stingy behind the ball. In the first four games of the season, the Earthquakes allowed only one goal, a penalty kick by the Houston Dynamo, a feat they could match with a shutout against the Timbers.

On the offensive side of the ball, forwards Chris Wondolowski and Alan Gordon struck last time out. Wondolowski’s goal from the penalty spot was his 19th total goal of the season and positioned him 5 goals ahead of his nearest competitor for the MLS Golden Boot award. He will certainly relish the opportunity to go at the Portland defense, as in Wondo’s impressive career, the Timbers are one of only two teams he has yet to net a goal against. For the stat-geeks out there, the other team to shutdown Wondolowski was his former team, the Dynamo.

Speaking of goals from the Quakes MVP, Wondolowski, courtesy of his 19 goals already this season, sits just 5 goals behind Ronald Cerritos on the all-time scoring list for the Earthquakes franchise. A run of form over the last 6 matches of the regular season in any way similar to his scoring pace to end 2010 and 2011, and Wondo could claim hold of that scoring title all on his own. In the past two seasons, it was against weakened opponents the like of the Timbers that Wondolowski did the most damage.

With a solid defensive effort, and the right level of attacking verve that has become commonplace at The Buck this season, and the Earthquakes will walk away with all three points. Perhaps the only drama going into the match comes from watching how tight referee Armando Villarreal judges the game. Two Earthquakes, Victor Bernardez and Rafael Baca, would be suspended for Saturday’s match at Seattle for caution accumulation if Villarreal shows yellow to them. If both are able to keep their cool, then they will be able to make the trek to CenturyLink field on the weekend in search of a season sweep of the Sounders.

The match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Buck Shaw Stadium and can be watched on Comcast Sportsnet California.

GAME NOTES:

REFEREE: Armando Villarreal (MLS Career: 7 games; FC/gm: 22.3; Y/gm: 2.6; R: 5; pens: 3); AR1 (bench): Ian Anderson; AR2 (opposite): Chris Strickland; 4th: Yader Reyes

INJURY REPORT:
San Jose Earthquakes — OUT: MF Cesar Diaz Pizarro (R groin strain); MF Marvin Chavez (L hamstring strain); MF Joey Gjertsen (R knee surgery); MF Sercan Guvenisik (L hamstring strain); DF Tim Ward (L nonspecific soft tissue injury)
Portland Timbers — OUT: DF Chris Taylor (R hip surgery); PROBABLE: MF Freddie Braun (abdominal strain); DF Andrew Jean-Baptiste (L hamstring strain)

SUSPENDED: none

WARNINGS:
Suspended next yellow card: SJ — Victor Bernardez, Rafael Baca; POR — Jack Jewsbury.
Suspended after two yellow cards: SJ — Mehdi Ballouchy. Marvin Chavez, Ramiro Corrales, Steven Lenhart, Steven Beitashour, Alan Gordon, Chris Wondolowski; POR — Kris Boyd, Jack Jewsbury, Hanyer Mosquera, Lovel Palmer, Kosuke Kimura, Diego Chara.

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