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MLS Preview: LA Galaxy at Portland Timbers

Jul 13, 2013, 4:47 AM EDT

Before becoming the head coach of the Portland Timbers in 2013, Caleb Porter amassed a record of 119 wins, 18 losses, 17 ties, and one national championship in seven years at University of Akron. (Photo: Getty Images.) Getty Images
  • Teams tied for third in Western Conference
  • Portland’s 15-match unbeaten run snapped last week
  • Donovan out, Johnson unlikely to play

Caleb Porter and the Portland Timbers appear to have taken their streak-snapping result in stride, their 1-0 defeat in Columbus putting an end to their 15-game unbeaten run. Though they were four games short of history, Portland had yet to become preoccupied with their streak, all of coach and players insisting the run wasn’t a point of conversation within the team.

That they played last Saturday’s game down a man for nearly 80 minutes made the loss that much easier to take.

“It’s not a bad thing to taste defeat,” Porter explained, “we haven’t in 15 games. We’ve had a great run of results, and now that it’s midseason, it’s not all that bad to get bloodied and taste defeat. This team will respond positively from defeat, like good teams do, and I’m looking forward to seeing their response [this] week.”

There is no better test than the defending champs, with the teams meeting Saturday night (11:00 p.m. Eastern) at JELD-WEN Field. Even with Landon Donovan away at the Gold Cup, LA serves as a type of de facto standard. They’re still the team you’d least want to see when they’re in big game mode, as FC Dallas found out on Sunday. If Bruce Arena asks his team to hit fifth gear, the Timbers will face their stiffest test of the season.

Last month, Porter got his first glimpse of the defending champs, Portland getting a 0-0 draw in Carson on June 19. Omar Gonzalez was still away with the U.S. national team, though it didn’t matter. The teams played to a relative stalemate, the Galaxy able to offset the Timbers’ possession game while creating the match’s best chances.

You’d think things would improve for Portland in the snug surroundings of JELD-WEN’s field, but without Will Johnson, the Timbers will be missing their best player. The Timbers captain was back in Portland on Friday, no longer with Canada at the Gold Cup, but he along with Frédéric Piquionne, back from duty with Martinique, look unlikely to play (Rodney Wallace remains with Costa Rica). That means another start for Ben Zemanski beside Diego Chará in midfield, the duo tasked with protecting a central defense that will be without the suspended Pa-Modou Kah.

It’s more opportunity than Robbie Keane, our mid-season MVP, needs to be effective. He and Gyasi Zardes could be more than Futty Danso and Andrew Jean Baptiste can handle, if Portland loses the midfield battle. And with Marcelo Sarvas (who missed the teams’ first meeting) and Robbie Rogers seemingly getting better as their summers progress, LA should be even more formidable through the middle than they were at StubHub Center.

If that midfield holds up and LA gets their second straight win in Portland, the Timbers will have their first major setback of the season – a result that will be a clear indicator of where Porter’s project sits in the Western Conference’s pecking order. A Timbers win, however, will provide validation for the streak they lost, giving them a valuable three points against the standard-bearers in Major League Soccer.

More: LA and Portland each have 30 points, four points behind Real Salt Lake for first in the Western Conference … The Timbers have played one fewer game … Of LA’s seven losses this season, six have come on the road.

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