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MLS Preview: LA Galaxy at Portland Timbers

Sep 28, 2013, 5:16 PM EDT

San Jose Earthquakes v Portland Timbers - Portland Timbers Tournament Getty Images
  • Landon Donovan remains iffy with that slow-to-recover ankle injury
  • The Galaxy’s Robbie Keane remains among Major League Soccer’s MVP favorites
  • Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri is elbowing his way into that same MVP conversation lately
  • This is a meeting of the West’s 3rd– and 4th-place teams – so post-season positioning is at stake

Yes, the LA Galaxy are two-time defending MLS Cup champs, still blessed with three highly paid league luminaries in Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez.

And, yes, the Portland Timbers remain one of the league’s top stories of 2013, playing well and with an eye-please panache under first-year boss Caleb Porter.

But here’s the thing as it relates to both Western Conference clubs ahead of their Sunday afternoon meeting in Oregon: neither one has secured a post-season spot just yet. Drop three points on Sunday and it’s not just a nationally televised downer; Depending on other Round 31 results, it could leave the loser squirming uncomfortably, still with a bit of lf work ahead in securing the post-season berth.

Kickoff from Jeld-Wen Field in Portland is 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC. (The match is also available on NBC Sports Live Extra, NBC Sports Group’s live streaming element for desktops, mobile devices and tablets.) The official league-preview is here.

Even if the teams involved aren’t too worked up over actually making the playoffs just yet, valuable positioning is certainly at stake. Remember, positions Nos. 4 and 5 in each conference must go through one more post-season round, a potentially taxing one at that. Presently, Portland is third but just a single point ahead of the fourth-place Galaxy.

LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena was able to rest his regulars for a mid-week CONCACAF Champions League win down in Costa Rica (which booked his team’s spot for the regional tournament’s quarterfinals early next year). While the rest for Keane and others is certainly beneficial, we still don’t know much about whether Donovan’s ankle, twisted two weeks ago during a draw at D.C. United, is well enough for performance from the club’s all-time scoring leader.

The fact that Sunday’s match is on artificial turf is sure to have Arena extra cautious on Keane’s preferred partner up front.

The battle to watch Sunday is in the midfield, where the Galaxy’s talented, well-rounded central pairing of Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas must deal with Portland’s rising Diego Valeri (pictured above). The Timbers’ top offensive threat has managed to get better and better as 2013 has moved forward. He has the Timbers’ last three goals, in fact.

“Diego has been a revelation with this club,” Timbers midfielder Will Johnson, the team’s emotional fulcrum, told MLSSoccer.com this week. “I love playing with the guy, and it must be a real treat for the city of Portland to watch this guy; he’s special.”

This will be the teams’ second meeting at Jeld-Wen in 2013; Andrew Jean-Baptiste’s stoppage time winner was the difference in a 2-1 Timbers win on July 13.

Portland comes in just a little better on form, unbeaten in its last three. That includes last week’s tough, 1-0 home at Jeld-Wen over Colorado’s young bunch. The Galaxy, meanwhile, is winless in its last three. That includes a 1-1 draw at home last week against Seattle.

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