BEAVERTON, Ore. – When teams go up against the LA Galaxy and their vaunted front line of Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, pressure understandably falls on the back line.
There’s no question the Portland Timbers, who welcome the Galaxy to the Rose City for a nationally televised Sunday matinee at JELD-WEN Field (12:30 pm PT; NBC, 750 The Game / La Pantera 940), will need their defenders on the same page – or in other words, speaking the same language.
For central defenders Mamadou “Futty” Danso and Pa Modou-Kah, who turned in a clean sheet starting together last weekend in Portland’s 1-0 win over Colorado, that won’t be a problem. They speak a language, literally, that very few others understand.
Both from The Gambia, they communicate in Wolof, one of a handful of languages spoken in their homeland.
“I think we have a little bit of an edge because we speak our own language, so it’s easier for us to kind of communicate,” Danso said. “People will not understand what we say. If we stay stuff in English, people will know what we’re trying to talk to each other about.”
Communicating in Wolof alone won’t likely be enough to stop Donovan, Keane and Co., but it underscores the chemistry between the two veteran defenders. Their start last week was their first together since mid-June thanks to a Danso foot injury.
“We’ve been around the block for a long time,” Danso said. “It’s the time of the season where you need more experience.”
Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said the decision to start the 33-year-old Kah and 30-year-old Danso and leave second-year pro Andrew Jean-Baptiste on the bench against Colorado was due to his desire to bring a veteran presence for the playoff push. That will be especially true when facing off against the two-time defending MLS Cup champions.
“It’s not about me or about ‘Drew or Futty, it’s about the whole team,” Kah said. “You win or lose with everybody, and you also defend with everybody.”
Actually, Portland have had quite a bit of success against the Galaxy this year. The Timbers beat LA with a stoppage-time goal by Jean-Baptiste on July 13 and played them to a scoreless draw on the road in mid-June. And, most importantly, neither Donovan nor Keane have scored on Portland this year. Although Donovan didn’t play in the loss, and his status is still up in the air for Sunday’s matchup.
“Obviously they have one of the best attacking partners in the league, so we have to take that into consideration,” Danso said. “But if we stick to our game plan and how we want to play, I think we’ll come out victorious.”
Regardless of past success, both players know the Galaxy are a team that knows how to flip the switch at the right time. And this key Western Conference matchup, with the Galaxy trailing third-place Portland by just a point, doesn’t get much bigger.
“Every game is different,” Kah said. “The last game in LA was different, and this game is going to be different. We just have to approach games like we always do.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.