Strong's Notes: Similar Motivations
After a two-and-a-half week long “second preseason”, the Portland Timbers return to action Sunday (4pm PT, KPTV Fox 12, Timbers Television Network, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940), and begin the next phase of their MLS campaign, against the LA Galaxy. It’s the second meeting of the year between the teams, and in a poetic twist, both sides enter the game with pretty much the same feelings as last time: a bit frustrated, and seeking traction to climb back up the Western Conference standings. Here’s hoping the game doesn’t take the same track: Kris Boyd’s early goal on April 14 being turned around into a 3-1 defeat.
Missing in Action
We’ve seen Timbers head coach John Spencer have to scramble around injuries, suspensions, and call-ups a few times when drafting his starting XI, and Galaxy head man Bruce Arena is in those very same shoes this week. Three first choice starters are unavailable: Robbie Keane is with Ireland at the European Championships, Mike Magee is suspended after throwing a ball at the ref in their last game, and Edson Buddle recently underwent knee surgery. Five other players are unavailable through injury and suspension, with question marks hanging over two others—one of whom, defender Leonardo, is still trying to get back from a 14 month injury layoff.
One player the Galaxy are very happy to see back is goalkeeper Josh Saunders. Out since April—seven games—dealing with stress and other issues, the former USL Timber started his journey back in the reserve game in Portland two weeks ago, and coincidence or not, his seven games missed have coincided with the team’s seven game winless streak.
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More History of the Wrong Kind
In my preview for the game in April, I listed all of the unfortunate superlatives dogging the Galaxy at that time. As it happens, I’m able to go back to that same well this time around: their 3-8-2 record has the defending champs at the bottom of the Western Conference; they’re winless in eight games in all competitions dating back to April 21 with four straight losses if you include the U.S. Open Cup defeat to the Carolina Railhawks. This is the Galaxy’s worst record through 13 games since 2006, and third worst in team history as they already have more losses this year than in any of the last three seasons. Moreover, they’re the only team in MLS not to have a shutout this year and have conceded 21 goals in 2012—they didn’t reach 21 goals against until September last season.
There’s actually more that I could include, but that’ll suffice for now. The point being, all that weight is hanging heavy on the Galaxy’s shoulders right now, let alone how often they’re being asked about it by the press. Safe to say, the motivation is strong to take a roster that still features some of the best individuals in MLS, and break out of this slump in a mean way.
And, just like in April, the Timbers are coming into the game in very similar circumstances. Now, let’s not forget the Timbers are actually in a decent run in MLS right now: unbeaten in four, just one loss in six, and with two teams between them and the Western Conference basement. However, the focus remains on improving goalscoring, and Sunday’s game will quite possibly see the debut of newly arrived Danny Mwanga, who is hoped to be—if not the last piece—a crucial piece of the Timbers’ offensive, and overall, puzzle.
There’s also the small matter of the Timbers’ last game out. The players all say they’re putting Cal FC behind them, as well they should. We’ve heard John Spencer say that the time for talking, and apologizing, is over. It’s about action now, and it’s about continuing their upwards climb in MLS. So, what better way to well and truly get that taste out of their mouths, and send a message that the past—all of it—is behind them, than get a first ever win in the Home Depot Center?