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KeyBank Match-up: Timbers' Defensive Backline vs. Landon Donovan & Robbie Keane

An aptly named soccer club if ever there was one, the LA Galaxy have three of the brightest stars in MLS: David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Robbie Keane.

The trio are among the finest players ever produced by their respective countries and the three helped lead LA to their first MLS Cup in 2011.

2012 has proved to be a more difficult run for the Galaxy but this group can be as dangerous as ever. While much is made of Beckham’s mastery of free kicks—which will certainly be a threat on Saturday as the Portland Timbers host LA at JELD-WEN Field—it is the attacking prowess of Donovan and Keane that will be of particular note (8 pm PT, NBC Sports Network, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940; Presented by CenturyLink).

For the Timbers and their new interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson, they’ve had a defensive line that’s been in flux. Injuries, suspensions, and additions have all shifted things around in the first half of the season. How that backline, and in particular the center back position, can shut down the crafty veteran Keane and the quicksilver Donovan brings us to the KeyBank Match-up.

KeyBank Match-up
Timbers Defensive Line vs. Landon Donovan & Robbie Keane

Donovan is well known to American audiences. World Cup veteran and hero, MLS active leading scorer, and an occasional EPL player with Everton, Donovan—who normally sets up in the midfield but with the freedom to roam—has been placed more up top at forward with injuries sidelining LA’s Edson Buddle.

When given a seam, Donovan can either burst through it with pace or lay off a perfectly weighted through ball. He’ll attempt to work both on Saturday with strike partner Keane.

Keane—no stranger to the EPL either and Ireland’s national team goal leader—has only played 16 games with the Galaxy since coming over late last season. But in those 16 games, he’s already tallied 8 goals. He’s got guile to spare and a nose for goal. Freshly returned from last month’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, Keane put up a brace last week in LA’s 2-0 win over Chicago.

The Timbers will counter with a backline that has been altered often but provided workmanlike performances throughout the season. The signing of ex-Rangers defender Steven Smith and last week’s acquisition of former Rapids man Kosuke Kimura look to shore up the outside positions.

The center back area is one of some depth, all of which has been on display this season. Of the five center backs listed on the roster—Eric Brunner, Futty Danso, David Horst, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, and Hanyer Mosquera—have all seen playing time and have all been in and out of the starting XI due to injuries, suspensions, and the like. Brunner is still listed as out on the latest injury report and Jean-Baptiste was loaned this week to USL Pro-side L.A. Blues, but regardless of who gets the start between the remaining three, look for the two center backs to clog up the attacking runs of Donovan and Keane.

Futty, Horst, and Mosquera are all incredibly physical and imposing players. Their marking and communication will be essential in helping protect goalkeeper Troy Perkins. Their positioning will also be important should the aforementioned Beckham look to float in a long ball or free kick.

Provided the Timbers backline, and their center backs in particular, can put a hold on the dangerous Donovan and Keane duo, then the Timbers could be well on their way to picking up a crucial three points.