KeyBank Scouting Report: Portland Timbers at Los Angeles Galaxy - June 19, 2013

Galaxy's Robbie Keane leads a dangerous LA side at home

KBSR vs. LA, Robbie Keane

Photo Credit: 
(USA Today Sports Images)

Back in midweek action, the Portland Timbers go on the road to take on MLS champions LA Galaxy Wednesday night (7:30pm PT, KPTV, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940). Find out everything you need to know about the opposition.

A brief history…
One of the ten clubs to be involved in MLS from the very start, Galaxy have been one of the most successful too – winning four MLS Cups, two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups, and the CONCACAF Champions League – and they have had some of the league’s marquee names play for them, as well as the league’s most successful coach in Bruce Arena.

Owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, Galaxy plays their home games in the newly re-named StubHub Center in Carson, California. They have also become an internationally recognizable brand over recent years – partly due to the signing of former England captain and worldwide star David Beckham, but also more recently because of their back-to-back MLS Cup championships.

How did they fare last season?
Following a shaky start – at least by their high standards – the defending MLS champions hit their groove in the second part of the season and began showing their true class. The partnership struck up by Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane proved to be devastating, while Beckham’s delivery and Mike Magee’s vital contributions helped them to inch their way into the play-offs.

Galaxy’s regular season form wasn’t actually that brilliant as they finished in eighth position with 16 wins from 34 games, but they did boast the second-best attack with 59 goals scored. In the playoffs, they overcame Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes to reach the Western Conference Finals, where they beat Seattle Sounders to set up a final showdown with Houston Dynamo, where they secured a 3-1 victory at the then-Home Depot Center.

Who have they brought in for this season?
Before they had a chance to deal with new recruits, Galaxy had to react to Beckham’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain. Replacing such an iconic midfielder, who had such an impact on MLS (on and off the pitch), was always going to be a tough challenge and the reigning champions has yet to fill that void with no new Designated Player brought onboard.

However, they did strengthen in other positions with Italian goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini coming in from Tottenham Hotspur, former Houston Dynamo Colin Clark picked up in the MLS Re-Entry Draft, while Greg Cochrane and Charlie Rugg were selected in the MLS SuperDraft. Amongs those who left the club were Josh Saunders, Andrew Boyens, Bryan Jordan, Chad Barrett, Christian Wihelmsson, Pat Noonan, and Edson Buddle.

The Galaxy has also been busy over the last few weeks by trading with the Chicago Fire to bring in Robbie Rogers and send fans’ favorite Mike Magee in the other direction. And, just this week, they made moves to bring in veteran midfielder and six-time All-Star Pablo Mastroeni from Colorado Rapids. They are expected to still make one more big-name signing this summer.

How have they done so far this year?
It has been quite a mixed season so far for Arena’s team with a record of 6-6-2, which works out as 1.43 points earned per game. While many believe they are simply doing their usual slow start before really catching fire when the games truly matter, others see a weaker team than the one that successfully defended the MLS Cup last season. But there are still a lot of games to play before judgements can be made.

The addition of Cudicini has added a security between the posts that they have rarely had in past seasons, while the likes of Tommy Meyer and Cochrane have stepped up in defense alongside regulars such as Omar Gonzalez, AJ DeLaGarza, and Sean Franklin. In midfield, Juninho has again been a stand-out performer, while Jose Villarreal and Jack McBean have showed flashes of brilliance up front despite their lack of experience.

KEY MEN

Head coach: Bruce Arena
A born winner, Arena has picked up four MLS Cup rings (two with DC United, two with Galaxy) and earned the MLS Coach of the Year honor three times. The 61-year-old has been there and done it at most levels, including college (with University of Virginia), internationally (twice brought the United States to World Cup finals), and MLS (he has enjoyed spells with D.C. United, New York Red Bulls, and now, Galaxy).

Star Player: Robbie Keane
Arguably the best striker in MLS right now, the Republic of Ireland captain has emerged as a real leader for the Galaxy. One of the all-time top scorers in the English Premier League, the 32-year-old has adapted well to the league since joining from Tottenham Hotspur and is on his way to becoming a potential Hall of Fame player. Blessed with a superb first touch, Keane uses his awareness and close control to open up opposition backlines, while his finishing power often wreaks havoc.

One To Watch: Sean Franklin
Selected as the fourth overall pick in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, Franklin has established himself as an important player since then and racked up over 100 appearances. Able to play anywhere across the defense or in midfield, he is most comfortable when zipping forward from right-back, where his pace, vision and crossing ability allow him to create goalscoring opportunities for his team-mates. If not marked closely, he can have a big impact on the game.

TACTICAL VIEW

What can the Timbers expect?
A lot hinges on the personnel available to the Galaxy with international call-ups depriving them of key players, like Gonzalez, but others, such as Keane, should be back in action for this game. If they can select most of their first-team players then the Timbers will find themselves coming up against a team who break fast, cause problems at set pieces, and can score all kinds of goals.

However, in recent weeks, Galaxy has relied on rookies like Brian Rowe, Cochrane, Villarreal, and Gyasi Zardes, which has left them short of firepower and also led to them being on the backfoot at key times. That was highlighted in their last outing – a 3-1 loss away to Real Salt Lake – where they had less than 40 per cent possession and registered just eight attempts on goal.

Who are their main threats?
When they click, Galaxy are among the best teams in the league. With Keane and Donovan linking play so effortlessly, Gonzalez attacking at set pieces, Juninho firing shots from long range, Marcelo Sarvas sliding passes across the pitch, and Cudicini making important stops, they are a top-class outfit. The only problem is, that has rarely come together this season and that should give the Timbers confidence.

Keane, if he starts, is undoubtedly the man to stop as his movement is so clever that he drags defenders out of position to create space for others and he has a knack of drifting into areas where he can score. But cutting off the supply lines to Keane – stopping Sarvas in midfield, tracking Franklin out wide – will give the Timbers an opportunity of keeping a clean sheet.

Where are they most vulnerable?
Without Gonzalez, Galaxy is missing a real leader in central defense. He is the one who barks out orders, organizes, and makes the kind of last-ditch tackles that can win a game – or at least save one. In his place, Meyer has potential but can be exposed and DeLaGarza has showed flaws when trying to deal with forwards, like Ryan Johnson and Jose Valencia, who tend to pull out wide and attack from angles rather than straight down the middle.

The centre midfield battle will be intriguing as Will Johnson and Diego Chara should have an edge over Juninho and Sarvas, but they cannot afford to underestimate that South American duo. If the Timbers can put enough pressure on Galaxy high up the pitch, then they should find that they win a lot of possession and from there they can launch counter attacks. For the Timbers, it’s all about attacking Galaxy and putting them on the backfoot.

Previous Meetings in MLS

2011: April 23 – LA Galaxy 3-0 Portland Timbers
2011: August 3 – Portland Timbers 3-0 LA Galaxy
2012: April 14 – LA Galaxy 3-1 Portland Timbers
2012: June 17 – LA Galaxy 1-0 Portland Timbers
2012: July 14 – Portland Timbers 3-5 LA Galaxy

Record vs LA Galaxy: 1-4-0

Did You Know?
LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane recently became the Republic of Ireland’s most-capped player after moving onto 127 appearances and he is also their all-time top scorer with 59 goals.

Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandTimbers.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.