The Portland Timbers come up against MLS champions LA Galaxy for the third and final time in this 2013 season when they visit JELD-WEN Field on Sunday afternoon (12:30pm PT, NBC, 750 The Game / La Pantera940). Here is all you need to know about the opposition.
What can the Timbers expect?
Galaxy are a team that likes to apply pressure and push their opponents back inside their own half, so the Timbers can expect the reigning MLS champions to move quickly them from the start. With so many talented attacking players on their roster, Galaxy can keep the intensity up throughout the game and roll on substitutes who can make an impact in the final third.
Dangerous at set pieces with USMNT defender Omar Gonzalez such a threat plus free-flowing ability in open play, the Galaxy is a team that scores all kinds of goals. And when a team has two of the best forwards in the league in Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, they will always be in a position to wreak havoc. But this team is about more than just their star duo.
Where are they most vulnerable?
Even though they are a good team overall when all of their players are fit, Galaxy are still not as watertight in defense as other MLS Cup contenders. With AJ DeLaGarza struggling with injuries most of the season, Gonzalez has been forced to cover for the likes of Tommy Meyer and Leonardo, so dragging the center backs out of position is something that the Timbers should aim for.
Turning the midfield into a battleground would be another way for the Timbers to seize control of this game. The ball-winning talent of Diego Chara and Will Johnson can upset both Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas, who like to play with the ball at their feet and are uncomfortable when on the back foot. The same goes for Sean Franklin and Todd Dunivant at outside back, so whoever applies the pressure should dictate the tempo.
Who are their main threats?
It is hard to look past Keane and Donovan when mentioning Galaxy’s main weapons as the experienced forwards are so lethal. Republic of Ireland captain Keane is enjoying his finest season yet in MLS and should be an MVP candidate, while Donovan has regained superb form after missing the early past of the year. Together, they link up superbly and bring the best out of those around them.
Juninho is also one to watch as the Brazilian is dangerous when unloading from distance with long-range shots. Sarvas is normally the one who takes up playmaking duties in midfield, but Gyasi Zardes, Jose Villarreal, and Hector Jimenez are other players who can cut in from wide positions to contribute to attacks – as well as popping up with crucial goals.
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 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: Landon Donovan
Possibly the greatest American to ever play the beautiful game, Donovan has been there, won that and is still an integral component for club and country. The standout player for the United States during their recent CONCACAF Gold Cup triumph as well as World Cup qualifying run, the 31-year-old is also lighting it up for Galaxy as they bid to earn their third MLS title in a row – which would be his sixth overall. He is a class player with the ability to win a game all on his own.
One To Watch: Gyasi Zardes
There is no shortage of talented youngsters on Galaxy’s roster with Jose Villarreal, Jack McBean, Chandler Hoffman, and Tommy Meyer joining this fleet-footed forward. The Californian’s Mohawk hairstyle will catch your eye at first, but his neat self control, excellent technique and eye for goal will ensure that you keep watching him – something the Timbers defense will have to do as well.
What happened when the teams last met?
With the clock into the fourth minute of added time, Andrew Jean-Baptiste popped to turn a corner kick into the back of the net and seal a 2-1 victory for the Timbers at JELD-WEN Field back on July 13. Galaxy had taken the lead through Marcelo Sarvas before Ryan Johnson hit back and then the late heroics bookended a fiery game.
What did the Timbers learn from that game?
Apart from never giving up until the final whistle blows, the Timbers learned that they can stand toe to toe with one of the best teams in the league. They registered seven shots on goal and forced goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini into making three saves, but there was still more in the tank for Caleb Porter’s men and that was the most pleasing aspect – winning without exhausting top gear.
What did the two camps have to say at the time?
Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter
“You gain belief through success and when you’re in a game like this, where you’ve got two very good teams, winning teams give a little bit more, losing teams shrink – we grew.”
LA Galaxy defender Sean Franklin
“It’s been the story of our season – giving away late goals. It’s been a pattern for us and we have to okay with getting one point. We expose ourselves, we give up a corner late and we don’t do a job of defending on the set-piece and they get a goal.”
How has Galaxy fared since then?
It has been a very up and down season for Galaxy with great highs (4-2 win over Real Salt Lake), slumping lows (2-0 defeat to Colorado Rapids) and everything else in between (3-3 draw with FC Dallas). But Arena’s team remains very much one of the favorites for this year’s MLS Cup and will be a tough opponent.
Did You Know?
Galaxy goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini was involved in a serious motorcycle accident in 2009 in London, but the then Tottenham Hotspur stopper worked hard to get back playing again.
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.