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Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
The Portland Timbers' season has come down to this: with a win or a draw on Sunday afternoon against the San Jose Earthquakes, they'll qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs on the final day of the regular season. Lose, and what was once such a promising campaign may well be over (1 p.m., TV on ESPN).

The Opposition

It's been a year to remember for the San Jose Earthquakes, who, after winning all of four games in 2018, became one of the stories of the season under new Argentine boss Matías Almeyda.

San Jose has at times this year played with remarkable commitment and personality, running teams into the ground, winning six out of seven games at one point during the summer, and more than doubling their points total from last season.

The run-in, though, has seen the 'Quakes come back to earth. They've lost five straight games in total and six straight on the road, had players sent off in two of their last three games, and there are reports out of Mexico linking Almeyda to Monterrey.

What has happened of late? There are questions about the extent to which teams have solved Almeyda's unique man-marking defensive system, as well as how much energy the 'Quakes have left after playing that system for the entire year.

A playoff appearance would be a fitting ending to a remarkable season. But the 'Quakes have to win this game — and at the rate they have been going, they're set to come up just short.

The Tactics

San Jose has developed into a very capable possession team, and their system ensures that they control stretches of most games they play in. But they haven't been nearly as sharp or as disciplined as they were during the late spring and summer, and have been made to pay for it in key moments of late.

They'll need big games from their wingers on Sunday, as well as Jackson Yueill in the middle of midfield. If he's swallowed up by Diego Chara like Paxton Pomekyl was when Dallas visited Providence Park, the 'Quakes will be vulnerable in transition.

The Timbers, meanwhile, have plenty to worry about. Brian Fernandez is suspended after being sent off in Kansas City last weekend, while Diego Valeri is dealing with a calf problem that may limit him — or even hold him out of the starting lineup — in this one.

Fernandez's absence means that Jeremy Ebobisse will be the focal point in attack, where he's played well over the last several weeks. But if the Timbers are to get their offense going on Sunday, they're going to need contributions from more than Ebobisse and Sebastian Blanco.

They're also going to need a better performance from their defense than they got in Kansas City. Larrys Mabiala, who was himself suspended last weekend, should step back in to anchor the defense.

Tempo, for both teams, will be of the utmost importance on what is expected to be an optimal afternoon for soccer at Providence Park. The Timbers will want to try to pull San Jose out of position as they break forward; the 'Quakes will want to spread the field and isolate the Timbers' slower defenders.

The Lineup

12 - Clark
4 - Villafaña
25 - Tuiloma
33 - Mabiala
2 - Moreira
21 - Chará (C)
22 - Paredes
11 - Polo
10 - Blanco
44 - Loría
17 - Ebobisse

— If Valeri is fit to start — in what might be his final regular season game as a Timber — Polo or Loría will drop to the bench.

— Giovani Savarese has decisions to make at center back. Either Bill Tuiloma or Claude Dielna could partner Mabiala, while Renzo Zambrano, who started and played well in KC, could start ahead of Paredes.

The Memory

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San Jose's 3-0 demolition of Portland at Avaya Stadium in April was one of the first signs that this 'Quakes team was beginning to turn it around. They'd be over the moon with a repeat performance on Sunday.

The Pick

Both of these teams are struggling, but it's the Timbers who have a larger margin for error — and it's the Timbers who will qualify for the postseason with a 1-1 draw.