Skip to content

MLS Preview: Portland Timbers at LA Galaxy

Jun 19, 2013, 5:58 PM EDT

Landon Donovan
  • Portland on a 13-match unbeaten run
  • Galaxy have allowed eight goals in their last two games
  • LA took nine of nine points from Portland last season

Remember that one time Caleb Porter lost a Major League Soccer game? Unless you’re a Timbers or Montréal Impact fan, you might not, because that single loss came in the season’s second round, before narratives around the league’s two most surprising teams became entrenched. But now, three-and-a-half months into the season, that March meeting at JELD-WEN looks like one of the more important games of the young season. The East-leading Impact remain the only team to derail Portland, while the Timbers have a 13-match unbeaten run.

If Portland’s to catch FC Dallas’s record of 19 without a loss (set in 2010), they’ll have to navigate a six-match stretch that includes four road games and two meetings with the defending champion Galaxy. But for a team that’d only won two road games in their MLS history coming into the season, games away from JELD-WEN suddenly pose surprisingly few fewer concerns. The Timbers have MLS’s only unbeaten record away from home (2-0-6).

The Galaxy games, however, could reintroduce an element Portland hasn’t dealtwith since the beginning of their run: Doubt. Coming into the year, the Timbers needed to prove their new coach’s concepts would lead to results, something that became evident by the middle of April. Since then the team has pushed on, become a confident, efficient team that’s as capable of opportunistic wins as impressive results. Yet although the Timbers have proved themselves against conference leaders (FC Dallas), league stalwarts (Dom Kinnear’s Houston), and some of the league’s most talented squads (Sporting Kansas City), the one true benchmark remains.

There is something different about the Galaxy. Two-time league champions, managed by the league’s best coach of all time, possessing transcendant talents like Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, Los Angeles is a unique challenge no matter the circumstances. The MLS embodiment of Atreyu’s mirror, LA engender doubts in anyone, not just the Timbers. Even without Omar Gonzalez, away on national team duty, the Galaxy are capable of presenting a greater challenge than any team in Major League Soccer. Even if they only sit fifth in the West, if LA decides tonight meeting in Carson’s a big game, recent history says they’re likely to win it.

Whether the Galaxy are capable of flipping the switch right now is a point of concern. Two weeks ago, the team was routed in New England, an embarrassing 5-0 loss that failed to serve as a wakeup call ahead of last week 3-1 defeat in Utah. Without Gonzalez, the team’s allowed eight goals in two games, terrible form to carry into a match against one of the league’s best attacks.

Unfortunately for the Timbers, their weaknesses play into LA’s greatest strength. Depleted by injuries at the back (having lost and Mikael Silvestre and David Horst while Futty Danso left Saturday’s win over Dallas), Portland will be particularly susceptible to a league best counter attack that’s buttressed back-to-back titles. Will Johnson and Diego Chara have done a great job protecting their center backs from other team’s counters, but other teams don’t have Donovan pulling the strings, Keane making the runs. Particularly away from the snug confines of JELD-WEN Field, Portland could see their vulnerabilities exposed.

There is, however the case to be made for Johnson and Chara. As well as the help they get from Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, the support they receive as an outlet from Michael Harrington, as well as the disaster insurance that is right back Jack Jewsbury. Look beyond the drawbacks of Pa Modou Kah and Andrew Jean Baptiste and you see a complete picture that explains why a defense that was seen as a preseason liability has yet to pose a significant problem. The pieces around the men in the middle are compensating for the issue.

And against an LA central midfield that’s failed to assert itself this year — one that will be without Marcelo Sarvas (suspended, yellow card accumulation) — Portland may be able to claim another result. Without his partner, Juninho will need to find the form he carried through the middle of last season. Given his talents, that only seems like a matter of time, but unless he can pick up his game against a Timbers system that sends numbers at opponents with each change of possession, the Galaxy will have a difficult time springing those nightmare-inducing counters.

Regardless of who wins, we’re like to learn something tonight at StubHub Center (10:30 p.m. EDT kickoff). If Portland wins and climbs to the top of the West, they’ll send another notice to the rest of the league, claiming as validating result against the league’s standard-bearers. And if LA derails a team that carries a 13-match unbeaten into Carson, it will be affirm their place as the league’s true litmus test, rendering any contenders’ progress irrelevant until they’re tested against the defending champions.

Other notes: Omar Gonzalez will miss tonight’s match while on international duty. José Villarreal is also gone, with the U.S. U-20s, while Portland will be without Rodney Wallace, returning from international duty with Coast Rica … Los Angeles took all nine points from Portland last year, scoring five times in the team’s last meeting … Portland have never earned a point in Carson … Brian Rowe got the start last week in Utah. Few Galaxy fans would be upset if he keeps the struggling Carlo Cudicini on the bench … Todd Dunivant returned to full training this week. He could start only his third game in nine … Portland’s unbeaten run is the 10th-longest in MLS history … The run leaves Porter tied with Tom Soehn for the longest streak for a first-year head coach. Soehn did the same with D.C. United in 2008.

Latest Posts
  1. Liverpool plays to compact 1-0 win over Olympiacos

    Jul 27, 2014, 11:08 PM EDT

    LiverpoolOlympiacos AP

    Liverpool looks focused on improving its shape heading into the upcoming Premier League season.

  2. MLS Roundup: Dallas pulls out heroic draw, Valeri gives Timbers late win

    Jul 27, 2014, 10:17 PM EDT

    Fernandez Getty Images

    Raul Fernandez held Vancouver to a draw while Portland won a 3-2 barnburner with Montreal.

  3. Petr Cech says he won’t back down at Chelsea anytime soon

    Jul 27, 2014, 7:24 PM EDT

    Cech Getty Images

    With Thibaut Courtois hot on his trail, Petr Cech isn’t about to let the youngster’s hype get in the way of his 11-year Chelsea career.

  4. VIDEO: Mario Balotelli takes amazing selfie with two pitch invaders

    Jul 27, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT

    Source, Twitter: @NA_B27 Source, Twitter: @NA_B27

    AC Milan got hosed, but Mario Balotelli had some fun as a second-half substitute.

  5. Martinez tells Everton fans “of course we’ll get” Lukaku

    Jul 27, 2014, 6:26 PM EDT

    MartinezLukaku Getty Images

    It may have been in jest, but Roberto Martinez has set rumors alight.

  6. Teams confirm Dejan Lovren completes transfer from Southampton to Liverpool

    Jul 27, 2014, 5:37 PM EDT

    Lovren Getty Images

    Lovern becomes the third Southampton player to move to Liverpool this summer.

  7. Four thoughts from Manchester City vs. AC Milan (including Balotelli’s on-field selfie!)

    Jul 27, 2014, 4:56 PM EDT

    20140727-181926.jpg

    AC Milan got thumped for the second straight US preseason friendly. What does it mean?

  8. Premier League return for Van der Vaart? His old manager Redknapp hopes so

    Jul 27, 2014, 4:50 PM EDT

    VanderVaart AP

    Having played under Redknapp for 2 years at Spurs, the QPR boss wants him back.

  9. Jan Vertonghen says Spurs have offered him a new 5-year contract

    Jul 27, 2014, 4:09 PM EDT

    Vertonghen Getty Images

    With a good World Cup, Spurs has affirmed the importance of Jan Vertonghen’s presence to their back line.

  10. Carlo Tavecchio in racism row after calling African players “banana eaters”

    Jul 27, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT

    Closed stands at the Stadio Olimpico reflect Roma fans' punishment for 'territorially discriminatory' chants aimed at Napoli fans. Closed stands at the Stadio Olimpico reflect Roma fans' punishment for 'territorially discriminatory' chants aimed at Napoli fans.

    What Italy needs is an FIGC president that works to prevent racism, not one that uses racist terms when referring to players from elsewhere.

  11. Cuauhtémoc Blanco is back in the top division of Mexican soccer

    Jul 27, 2014, 2:19 PM EDT

    blanco AP

    At 41 years of age, the forward has made a return with Puebla, although he was unable to help his new side break a goalless draw.

  12. Michael Bradley was none too pleased with officials in Toronto’s loss to Kansas City

    Jul 27, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT

    michael_bradley Getty Images

    The referee handed out eight yellows and sent a Kansas City player off, although they still came back to take all three points.

  13. Pep Guardiola has a job for life at Bayern Munich

    Jul 27, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT

    Germany Soccer Champions League AP

    The manager can stop worrying — he doesn’t need to keep bringing in multiple trophies to keep his job with the Bavarian giants.

  14. Thierry Henry evades questions on retirement

    Jul 27, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT

    Thierry Henry, Oriol Rosell, Soony Saad AP

    The New York Red Bulls star and former France international is adopting a wait-and-see approach to the end of his playing career.

  15. Loïc Rémy fails medical, move to Liverpool is off

    Jul 27, 2014, 10:42 AM EDT

    Newcastle United's Remy celebrates his goal against Tottenham Hotspur during their English Premier League soccer match at White Hart Lane in London Reuters

    It’s back to QPR for the forward, while Brendan Rodgers will need to seek other options to help compensate for the loss of Luis Suárez.

  16. Arsenal confirm signing of Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina

    Jul 27, 2014, 9:54 AM EDT

    ospina AP

    It’s official! The Colombia goalkeeper joins the Gunners on a long-term contract, and is expected to make his first appearance next month.

  17. Inter consider swapping Fredy Guarín for Manchester United’s Chicharito

    Jul 27, 2014, 8:59 AM EDT

    guarin Getty Images

    Internazionale need more firepower up top. United need more depth in midfield. This switch seems like an ideal solution.

  18. Carlo Ancelotti expects Ángel di María back for preseason training

    Jul 27, 2014, 8:06 AM EDT

    angel_di_maria Getty Images

    The Real Madrid manager seems to enjoy destroying the hopes of players, clubs and fans by putting to rest rumors of summer transfers.