Portland Timbers

It took a critical injury, some truly terrible weather, and a goal of sheer genius, but the Portland Timbers' unbeaten run of ten games finally came to an end on Sunday afternoon as the San Jose Earthquakes nabbed a 2-1 win over the MLS Cup champions at Avaya Stadium.

For the Timbers, a first defeat since the glorious fall of 2015 comes as something of a mild setback — a familiar return to the up-and-down current of a long season.

This wasn't a case of the Timbers playing badly. Far from that, actually. Portland had the better chances in a game that was flat for long portions, but their profligacy in front of goal kept the door ajar for a typically competent Dominic Kinnear San Jose team that won the game on an extremely untypical moment of magic from striker Quincy Amerikwa.

Caleb Porter has said — pleaded, really — for months that the Timbers won't run the table this year. He won't have to tell us any longer. Instead, with the pomp and circumstance of the home opener out of the way, Portland will begin to settle into the rhythm the 2016 campaign.

This game had drear written all over it from the get-go. Just 30 minutes before the match, the grounds-crew at Avaya Stadium was squeegeeing the field to remove standing water after El Niño-inspired weather soaked the Bay Area over the weekend.

The field was in such trouble that a patch of grass in front of the South End goal had to be replaced, and a sand-based service was inserted into the field to help soak up moisture.

The Timbers started hot — Lucas Melano hit the post early, Diego Valeri saw a golden opportunity saved by David Bingham — but it was the 'Quakes who scored first just before the half-hour mark on a trademark Chris Wondolowski goal borne of instinctual brilliance and desire.

At a goal down, the Timbers were still in a good spot. But just before halftime, Quincy Amerikwa won header in his half of the field, drove forward against four players, and unleashed a lob from thirty-five yards that curled past a frantic Adam Kwarasey and into the net to make it 2-0 San Jose.

It was a moment of brilliance — and, with images of Krisztian Nemeth dicing up the Timbers' defense still fresh, one that felt all-too-familiar for Portland.

The Timbers never recovered. Jack McInerney pulled a goal back late — assist to Nat Borchers — but it wasn't enough.

Porter was circumspect after the game. San Jose aren't slouches. They're well-coached, built to play with a lead, and increasingly adroit — and still, they had to play something close to their best game to knock off the Timbers.

Portland Timbers

The bad thing about defending a championship is that you get everyone's best shot. Everyone will be up for the Timbers this year. But the good thing is that losing isn't met with second-guessing, or anger, or panic. The Timbers came up a little bit short on Sunday. They've got some things to work. But they'll be fine.

More concerning than the loss, in fact, was the news that broke just before the team took the field. Captain Liam Ridgewell hurt his hamstring in training on Friday, and will miss at least a month.

That's no small loss. Diego Chara — and, increasingly, Darlington Nagbe — do their best, but because the Timbers cede so much of the ball in the central areas of midfield, they need excellent defending in and around their box.

They didn't quite get it against the Earthquakes. Jermaine Taylor was caught out on Chris Wondolowski's near-post run on San Jose's first goal, and between Taylor and Borchers, there's an alarming lack of speed in Portland's central defense.

Losing Ridgewell also serves to further highlight the team's Jorge Villafaña-sized hole at left back. With Taylor pushed into central defense, Zarek Valentin started in that spot on Sunday and, while perfunctory, he can't add anything going forward. Getting Chris Klute back on the field is more important now than ever.

The Timbers are going to concede goals in the next few weeks, just as any team missing half of its first-choice defense would. The offense is going to need to score, and the good news is that this match was one of Lucas Melano's best since signing. It was also one of Darlington Nagbe's worst since he was moved into central midfield, and he'll be back to his usual self next weekend.

Adversity, meanwhile, will continue to come Portland's way. As well it should — the 2016 Timbers are not at all the complete team yet that the 2015 Timbers were. Darren Mattocks should be on his way as a welcome attacking reinforcement. Porter needs to continue to invent tactically. This team needs its own, distinct character.

These losses don't serve much of a purpose, but if the Timbers are as good as we think they are, they'll grow from this. They'll adapt. San Jose will take away Amerikwa's goal and three feel-good points against the champs.

For the Timbers, however, Sunday will be remembered as the day that 2015 stopped, and the hard work of 2016 began in earnest.