After Saturday night’s surreal 5-3 home loss to the LA Galaxy, the Portland Timbers embark on a crucial two-game road trip Wednesday afternoon against Chivas USA (1:00pm PT, ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940). With both teams two games out of a playoff spot, and starting out on the downhill slope of the 2012 season, it should be a desperate fight for points and momentum in Carson, California; and with memories of April’s fall-from-ahead 2-1 loss, the Timbers would appreciate some revenge to boot.
The Immovable Object Versus the Irresistible Force
It’s been well documented that the Timbers have struggled on the road this season, and it’s similarly true that home games haven’t been as easy as Chivas USA would have hoped. In point of fact, statistically Wednesday’s game pits the worst home team in MLS against the worst road team.
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After Dallas’ come-from-behind win at Colorado Saturday, the Timbers are the only team left in the league without a road win, and their two away goals this season—the last coming April 14 in LA against the Galaxy—is the lowest as well. Chivas USA, meanwhile, has just two wins and two draws in 10 home games, tied for the lowest such output in the league. Similarly, their five goals scored in the friendly confines is the lowest in MLS—and 12 goals less than the Timbers have scored in their ten games at JELD-WEN Field.
It gets worse for The Goats, however: their 11 goals in 17 games is the most miserly offensive output in MLS, and they’re last in shots as well. So how are they still within striking distance of a playoff spot?
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Because Chivas USA has the second-best defense in the league, led by recently-named All Star goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. A USL Timbers draft pick who started just 14 games in his first three years with Chivas USA, Kennedy has blossomed into perhaps the premier netminder in MLS. Among everyday goalkeepers, Kennedy has the second-best goals against average, despite facing the ninth most shots, and having an overall losing record.
Part of what’s helping this team be so good at the back is a very experienced defensive line. Left back Ante Jazic has been a pro for 15 years, and has been starting for Canada in their 2014 World Cup qualifiers; right back James Riley led the Seattle Sounders in minutes the past two years before an offseason move; a pair of May trades swapped out national-team-bubble Heath Pearce for former Phiadelphia Union captain Danny Califf in the center; centerback partner Raushawn McKenzie, similar to Kennedy, sat on the bench for four years in KC and Salt Lake before becoming a starter in California.
Weapons, Just Not Firing
That’s not to say Chivas USA only have quality at the back; far from it. Forward Juan Pablo Angel is the No. 6 active goalscorer in MLS history despite only being in the US for six years; recently-acquired Juan Agudelo, doubtful to play against the Timbers with a knee injury, is a bright young star of the US National Team; and attacking midfielder Alejandro Moreno’s 52 goals in 11 MLS seasons give him more than any other Venezuelan in league history.
The Goats will be without one big piece on Wednesday: intimidating midfielder ball-winner Oswaldo Minda is out with a seperated shoulder suffered in a recent practice. Pressure to pick up slack now falls on Ben Zemanski—a college teammate of Darlington Nagbe—Nick LaBrocca, and perhaps 13-year MLS and Cascadia Cup veteran Peter Vagenas.
If the Galaxy game showed how important the center of the park can be to an outcome, and with Diego Chara returning from suspension for the Timbers, keep half an eye on that battle as Wednesday’s game moves along…