Match Preview: Timbers at LA Galaxy

How Portland’s revamped defense handles the Galaxy’s three-headed monster attack is as intriguing a storyline as there has been this season.

By Mike Schwartz August 1, 2014

The best way to follow a win is with another win, and the Timbers’ best friend this season—the road—was happy to oblige.

After going down early (yet again) courtesy of an Andrés Romero 14’ rocket, the Timbers punched back. Maxi Urruti opened the scoring for Portland in the 34’, and just six minutes later, Impact defender, Hassoun Camara, brought Valeri down in the area, conceding a clear penalty, buried by Will Johnson. While the Captain and the Maestro get heaps of credit for giving Portland the lead, one cannot over-look the outstanding work by Diego Chara, who stripped Impact striker, Jack McInerney, on the edge of Portland’s 18-yard box, springing the play the other way. Maxime Tissot’s 44’ equalizer, like Romero’s opener, came out of nowhere in a match where Portland otherwise dominated possession.

In a match that felt refreshingly like 2013, the Timbers never got down on themselves. They absorbed punches, and hit back harder, never more on display than in the second half when, Diego Valeri’s one-touch strike into the bottom-left corner gave Portland the lead back. And for a nice change, they held on for the win.

Not to delve too far into technical talk, but one of the major keys to Caleb Porter’s system is playing a “high line”, where the back four set up their line closer to midfield than to the 18-yard box. This allows teams to, as the billboards preached, attack and get the ball back. The difference between the “PR” (pre-Ridgewell) Timbers and the current, infinitely more confident group is largely credited to the Englishman’s leadership and communication. You just cannot beat a Premier League pedigree.

Following three hard-earned points, it’s onward to LA to face the Galaxy. The match, which is on National broadcast TV (NBC/KGW) kicks off at 11:30 a.m. Thanks again, East Coast. The Galaxy, who just thrashed Seattle in their own building, sit precariously in third, but only on games-in-hand. Colorado and Dallas, who also possess 30 points, have played the same number of matches at Portland (21), three more than L.A.

What does this all mean? A win at the StubHub Center would, if combined with favorable results from Dallas and Colorado, leave Portland sitting above the playoff line. Heading into next week’s soccer celebration in the Rose City with the unreachable finally reached would do the Timbers a world of good down the stretch run.

The Galaxy are coming off their aforementioned 3-0 win in Ravetown with loads of confidence and a clicking attack, sparked by Landon Donovan’s goal and two assists. Not to be outdone, Gyasi Zardes has scored six times in his last seven games. Additionally, USMNT defender, Omar Gonzalez, returned from injury and played the full 90’ last week.

In total, Bruce Arena’s men have taken points in nine of their last 10 games, winning six.

With the return of Ben Zemanski in Montréal, the Timbers are now almost fully fit. Maxi Urruti has scored in each of his first two games since returning from a hamstring strain, carrying a fair share of the goal scoring weight as Fanendo Adi looks to regain his goal-scoring form. The big Nigerian DP hasn’t bagged a goal since Portland’s 3-1 victory in Utah - way back on June 7 – but if these past two games have shown anything about the makeup of this team, it is the wealth of offensive depth at Caleb Porter’s disposal. In fact, of the nine goals Portland have scored since RSL away, only two have come from a striker, both Urruti. 

The previous two matchups with L.A. have both produced draws, first a 1-1 in Portland, then the recent 2-2 in Carson, and both teams are averaging 1.6 goals per game this year. It feels like there will be goals, and the key for Portland may very well be their depth. The Galaxy rely heavily on Robbie Keane, who has scored ten of their 29 goals. The in-form Zardes is on a rampage at the moment, but one of the (only) two games in the last seven where he hasn’t scored was against the “PR” Timbers.

How Portland’s revamped defense handles the Galaxy’s three-headed monster attack is as intriguing a storyline as there has been this season. With critical trips to Dallas, Colorado, Vancouver, and Salt Lake looming after the All-Star Game, the Galaxy could very well represent a litmus test for the Timbers’ playoff push.

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