With a full week to prepare -- a rarity this season -- the Portland Timbers enter Saturday night's visit to the San Jose Earthquakes searching for a momentum-shifting victory.
The Timbers (1-3-0, 3 points) have lost three out of their first four in the league for a second time in three seasons, most recently dropping a 2-1 home defeat to the Seattle Sounders.
Injury absences of attackers Jeremy Ebobisse, Sebastian Blanco and Jaroslaw Niezgoda have contributed to those struggles. Portland had also been managing the burden of the CONCACAF Champions League before losing its quarterfinal to Club America.
But Saturday is the first of three games on a regular once-a-week schedule before MLS takes a brief break in early June, perhaps providing a crucial chance to climb the Western Conference table.
"I don't think there's any additional pressure," said Ebobisse, who is now healthy after a hamstring injury. "We put pressure on ourselves first and foremost every time we step on the field. This is a team that's used to winning trophies, that's used to at least competing for every game and every competition that we're in."
Portland will still be without Blanco and Niezgoda (both ACL injuries), and defender Larrys Mabiala and midfielder Diego Chara also left last Sunday's game with hamstring strains.
The Timbers' last trophy came in the 2020 MLS Is Back Tournament. The Earthquakes (3-2-0, 9 points) haven't won major silverware since claiming the 2012 Supporters' Shield.
Last year's playoff qualification was viewed as a mission accomplished after two years on the outside. But there is optimism building that the Quakes can be legitimate title contenders. They won three consecutive games, followed by a hard-luck 1-0 loss to the defending West champion Sounders on Wednesday night.
It was the first time San Jose -- led with two goals and three assists from Caden Cowell and two goals from Chris Wondolowski -- failed to score this season.
"I'm very happy because we went up against the best team in the league and showed important things in respect to the sport," said third-year San Jose coach Matias Almeyda. "I can't just take away the result when the opponent had a single shot at our goal. I take away the number of chances we created against an excellent team with a really good defense."
--Field Level Media