KeyBank Scouting Report: Portland Timbers vs LA Galaxy - July 13, 2013

Omar Gonzalez anchors strong backline for LA defense

Omar Gonzalez, LA Galaxy, Scouting Report, 7.12.13

Photo Credit: 
(USA Today Sports Images)

On Saturday, the Portland Timbers play host to defending MLS champions LA Galaxy in their second clash of the season (8pm PT, NBCSN, 750 The Game / La Pantera 940). Find out everything you need to know about the opposition.

TACTICAL VIEW

What can the Timbers expect?
Galaxy is a team with the quality to outscore any opponent in the league due to the personnel that they can call on but also their style of play. Always looking to move the ball forward, Bruce Arena’s side can score all kinds of goals because they don’t follow predictable patterns and they are just as dangerous from crosses into the penalty area as they are from swift passes in open play.

With two of the best strikers in the league in Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan (though Donovan is away with the USMNT), the Galaxy is never short on firepower. But they are also a tough team defensively, especially when Omar Gonzalez is in the heart of it. Last year’s MVP in the MLS Cup final, Gonzalez organizes the backline, makes important interceptions, and brings the best out in those around him. Normally set up in a 4-4-2 formation, Galaxy depends on Gonzalez to keep things tight at the back, so that they can play their counter-attacking game.

Where are they most vulnerable?
Central midfield is an area where Galaxy has been a little short since David Beckham left at the end of last season. But the recent arrival of league veteran Pablo Mastroeni could shore up that area and provide a steely edge that they have been missing whenever Juninho has been paired with Marcelo Sarvas. Yet, they can be exposed in that crucial area, especially against a team like the Timbers who operates with an extra man in midfield.

In defense, they have benefitted a lot from the arrival of goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, who is a step up on Josh Saunders. Across the backline, though, there are weaknesses with Sean Franklin and A.J. DeLaGarza not as dependable in one-on-one situations as Gonzalez and Todd Dunivant are. But it is all about dragging those defenders into areas of the pitch where they are isolated enough that they can be left behind.

Who are their main threats?
The obvious threats are Keane and Donovan – two internationally-renowned game-winners – who link up so well that it looks as if they have been playing alongside each other since they were kids. But Donovan is missing due to Gold Cup duty with the United States, so that leaves Keane carrying the load all by himself and they will miss the spark that Donovan provides.

Never fully reliant on their two main forwards, Galaxy has other options up front in Gyasi Zardes, Jose Villarreal, and Jack McBean, who are all young players with huge potential. In midfield, Juninho possesses a thunderbolt of a long-range shot, while Sarvas, Robbie Rogers, Michael Stephens, and Hector Jimenez can also pop up with crucial contributions. While Gonzalez is a beast at attacking set-pieces and the outside backs like to get forward to set up chances.

KEY MEN

Head coach: Bruce Arena
A born winner, Arena has picked up four MLS Cup rings (two with D.C. 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: Omar Gonzalez
A colossus at the back, this 24-year-old defender is fast becoming one of the most important players on the United States national team. It took a little longer than expected from him to make the breakthrough, but he is now considered a regular starter. The reason for that step up at international level has been his consistently superb performances for Galaxy – including an MVP display in last year’s MLS Cup final. He is undoubtedly one of the best defenders around.

One To Watch: Robbie Rogers
The first openly gay athlete to play for a major sport in the United States during his prime years, Rogers is seen as a trailblazer for his honesty and his decision to come out of premature retirement. But, the former Columbus Crew man is also a really good soccer player and he is starting to settle in with the Galaxy following some time in England. Rogers is a midfielder who is not afraid to take on defenders, opens up space, and creates chances for his team.

FLASHBACK

What happened when the teams last met?
The points were shared at the StubHub Center following a 0-0 tie on June 19 as the Timbers extended their unbeaten streak to 14 games. Galaxy kept goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts busy as he made four big saves on the night, while Darlington Nagbe went close for Caleb Porter’s side as they picked up a valuable point on the road.

What did the Timbers learn from that game?
Even without all of their key players, Galaxy can still be dangerous. Against the Timbers, they were missing Gonzalez and Sarvas, yet they fired off 13 shots, won 51 duels and registered 15 crosses from open play. The return of Keane was a big part as to why they were such a threat as he combined well with Donovan, while rookie Zardes proved to be quite a handful for the Timbers defense.

Often on the backfoot in the game, the Timbers showed just how strong they are defensively with Pa Modou Kah and Andrew Jean-Baptiste both excelling at center back. In front of them, Diego Chara and Will Johnson were superb at breaking up play and providing cover, but they also found that they could turn the momentum in their favor when pushing forward and getting their attacking play going.

What did the coaches have to say at the time?

Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter
“I think for us to come on the road and play this team toe-to-toe, and outside of the first 15 minutes, I thought we had large periods of the game, I’m pleased with it. Not as pleased as if we had got three points but keeping it all in perspective, it’s a good result.”

LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena
“There are some things we can certainly do better, but I am not sure Portland had a whole lot of chances tonight. At the other end of the field, I thought their center backs played well. Obviously, [Donovan] Ricketts is not easy to beat; this was going to be a game where we had to jump on any kind of opportunity we got.”

How has the Galaxy fared since then?
Similar to last year, the Galaxy is beginning to pick up the pace now that the season has passed the halfway point. Since drawing with the Timbers, they have claimed wins over Chivas USA, Columbus Crew and FC Dallas, while falling to a surprise defeat to San Jose Earthquakes. They have scored seven goals and conceded four in those games with Keane back to his best form.

Did You Know?
Galaxy retired its No. 13 jersey in honor of long-serving midfielder Cobi Jones, who played for the club from 1996 to 2007, during which time he won two MLS Cups, two U.S. Open Cups, two Supporters’ Shields, and the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup.

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.