After going winless in their last five matches against MLS competition, the defending champion San Jose Earthquakes are looking to change things on Wednesday, July 14 when they travel to Portland to take on the A-League Timbers in the U.S. Open Cup at PGE Park at 7:00 p.m. PT.
The Quakes have not won since a 3-1 victory over the MetroStars on June 12, and while they are not panicking, any kind of win would be nice for the struggling club.
"We are in need of a win right now," Earthquakes midfielder Ronnie Ekelund said. "Maybe we can get that win on Wednesday that will start the winning streak for us."
Part of the Quakes woes stem from being hard-hit by injuries and missing players due to national team call-ups. Against the Timbers, San Jose has the tough task of facing a fired up opponent while some of their own key players are still nursing injuries.
Ekelund, Jeff Agoos, Ryan Cochrane, Jamil Walker, Troy Dayak and Ian Russell are all slowed by ailments, as the Quakes have now lost a staggering 60 man games to injury so far in 2004.
"Things aren't going our way right now," Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear said. "But we can't get down, we know what we have to do and we are not playing the way we need to play."
The Quakes are looking to make a move in the Open Cup, the oldest club competition in the United States. All affiliated amateur and professional soccer teams in the country are eligible for the tournament, and there have been upsets in the tournament before, as San Jose can attest to after falling to the A-League's Seattle Sounders 1-0 in the Round of 16 last season.
The Timbers are a dangerous team, currently with a 9-5-0 record in the A-League's Western Conference. Portland is home to several familiar faces, including the Earthquakes 2003 back-up goalkeeper Josh Saunders. The Timbers Alan Gordon is the league's leading scorer with 29 points in 14 games, while Byron Alvarez (19 points) is also a dangerous player. Alex Bengard and Andrew Gregor, who both played for Seattle last season and helped the Sounders down San Jose, are two of the leaders in 2004 for the Timbers.
The trip to Portland marks a homecoming for the Quakes' Ryan Cochrane, who grew up in the city and went to high school in Milwaukie, Ore. Earthquakes midfielder Chris Brown also grew up in Portland and went on to star at the University of Portland before moving on to MLS.
"It is going to be exciting to be back there," Cochrane said. "I am sure that they are going to come after us, and I know that it will be a special day for me to be able to play in front of my family and friends."
As San Jose looks to return to the Open Cup Quarterfinals and beyond, they welcome back Landon Donovan, Brian Ching and Brian Mullan, who were all with the U.S. National Team last week and missed the Quakes 2-0 loss to the MetroStars on Saturday. All three had am impact in the United States' 1-1 tie with Poland on July 11, and they are expected to make a difference against Portland.
"It won't be easy," Earthquakes defender Craig Waibel, who played two seasons in the A-League in 1999 and 2000 said. "Portland is a good team with good players who really want to win. Anything can happen in soccer, but we need to get a win ourselves and I think we are going to be able to do that."