The Timbers seem to be unshakable at home this season, but they're hardly looking past a struggling San Jose Earthquakes team in tonight's U.S. Open Cup play-in game at the House of Pane (Web streamed here or live on 95.5 FM).
It's a match-up of two clubs trending in very different directions: The Timbers (3-3-1) are fresh-off a huge victory over MLS power Real Salt Lake on Saturday, while the Earthquakes (1-4-2) have stumbled of late, losing three straight to fall to dead-last out west.
Because this non-MLS meeting is the first of two matches this week (Portland hosts Philadelphia at 7:30 pm on Friday), the Timbers will likely rest some starters, but a somewhat desperate San Jose squad is sure to bring a few more of its stars out with hopes of getting its season back on track.
More after the jump, including EXTRA TIME links to get you settled in for first kick.
In a match-up of regular starters, Portland would certainly have the edge tonight, based on momentum alone. But San Jose's reserves may be more dangerous than the Timbers', simply because the Earthquakes' regular XI have struggled, and back-ups are itching to show what they can do as playing time appears up for grabs.
Portland's reserves, meanwhile, know no matter what happens tonight, their place in the pecking order likely won't change much. Portland's starters are still jelling, and coach John Spencer likely wouldn't mess with that budding chemistry, no matter what the fellas normally riding pine happen to show.
Still, it'll likely be a good chance for some guys who haven't seen a lot of time (Spencer Thompson, Rodrigo Lopez) or who are recovering from injuries (Horstache) to show they're ready should anyone go down with an injury (knock on lumber).
On Saturday night, a large sign on the Timbers locker-room door read, in big, block letters: "CLEAN SHEET." The message got through, and the Portland defense played its best game yet against a Real Salt Lake squad that hadn't fallen in 18 straight regular-season matches. Immediately following the 1-0 win, the effects of the hold-on-for-dear-life victory were on full display: The team looked absolutely gassed as they did a mini-lap around the pitch, thanking fans for their support.
As the Timbers prepare for San Jose tonight in a non-MLS match with reserves pushed to the starting XI, I wonder what message is hanging on the door this time.
EXTRA TIME! High-magnitude links.
• Tickets are still available for tonight's match.
• It may boil down to a match-up of reserve teams, but Geoff Gibson of Stumptown Footy says there's still some interesting elements at play tonight.
• Geoffrey C. Arnold of The O outlines the importance of the Timbers' two games this week.
• The Timbers' official site pits the Portland's home momentum against San Jose's desperation, while John Strong notes the Timbers need to embrace "the Cup" as much as the Earthquakes are likely to.
• Jeff Mussall of Yahoo! Sports predicts another clean sheet for Portland tonight.
• Fox's "Soccer Night in America" kicks off Friday, and guess which team/fans/stadium they're showcasing in the debut episode?
• Ive Galarcep of Fox Sports puts Portland in his MLS "Turnaround Club."
• O-Live blogger Kip Kesgard re-lives Saturday's emotional win over Real Salt Lake.
• Goal.com's Tyler Page lauds Portland's defense after its performance against RSL.
• Have no idea what the U.S. Open Cup entails? Stumptown Footy has you covered.
• Brad Fuqua of the Corvallis Gazette-Times features Timber Joey. Here's something I hadn't considered: "Just getting around the stadium can take a toll on your body," (Timber Joey) said. "I may be on the other end of the stadium when they score and you're also lugging around a 25- to 30-pound chainsaw."