As always, Landon Donovan will be one of the most important players to look out for in today's game against the Galaxy. (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)
In less than a week our recently promoted team will have gone from playing against the Ventura County Fusion, a PDL side in the greater Los Angeles area, to playing against the Los Angeles Galaxy, arguably one of the best teams in the league and Supporter Shield winner for 2010. If playing against Ventura County ended in a hard fought draw, I'm not overly confident in our ability to play against a well seasoned team like LA, at least not 2 weeks into official training.
As many of you may or may not know, I'm originally from Los Angeles (I know, I hated it too!) and I followed the Galaxy for many years prior to moving to Portland. Today, I'm a diehard Timbers fan and while I have since shirked my obligations to supporting the Galaxy (upon the Timbers promotion to the league) I feel like I have a decent idea of how the team will play and what the Timbers should be looking out for.
The obvious players the Timbers will have to watch for are Landon Donovan and Juan Pablo Angel (Beckham too, but he's still training with Tottenham so he's a non-threat for this game). I know it seems like everybody says this when they play against LA, but Landon Donovan is a seriously huge threat. While his technical abilities far surpass the average MLS layer, it's his breaks that make him truly dangerous. Essentially if our players give him an inch to move, he'll easily take a mile. Likewise, Angel, former Red Bulls top striker, is no slouch, despite his age. This is a player who is very gifted technically at scoring goal as he has shown at New York for the past few years.
Now, if memory serves me correctly, and Arena hasn't shaken things up too much, Landon Donovan will probably continue to be leading the midfield with Angel and Magee up top. This provides our team with a golden opportunity to capitalize on Donovan and Angel's inexperience at playing with each other (remember, they've only been training for a couple weeks as well now).
Additionally, and this is probably the best thing about playing against the Galaxy, if for some reason Landon Donovan doesn't have his heart in the game, the Galaxy will almost always fall apart. No other MLS teams relies so much on a single player as the LA Galaxy. Should Donovan slack off, the entire team will play like crap. It sucked when I was a Galaxy fan, but now I'm relishing the opportunity to be a benefactor in such an occassion.
Looking a bit further back, unfortunately, Los Angeles' backline has never been stronger. In 2008, LA flopped all over the place when defending. Seriously, they were an utter mess. In 2009 they brought in some excellent defenders and strengthened the core so much so that they almost won the MLS Cup. In 2010, they almost perfected their defense, were it not for the World Cup I firmly believe LA would have been even better in 2010. Now, unfortunately for us, there has been little movement in their backend from 2010-2011 meaning their players are only getting better and more solid as time moves on.
Obviously, the big man to watch out for is Omar Gonzalez. Easily one of the best young defenders in the league, he became a starter for the team since he joined in 2009 and hasn't left his spot since. Beyond that, he's now been capped for the international side a few times. I wouldn't be surprised if he became one of our national team's best defenders as he matures.
Up next we have Greg Berhalter and AJ De La Garza. Both of these players are solid defenders that play center of the field and, unfortuantely, both play different roles. Berhalter is the veteran who has lead the charge for a stronger defense since 2009. He's technical, talented, and absolutely not afraid to get a card if he believes that it will serve his team for the best. On the other hand we have De La Garza who is very speedy and has years of history playing with former college-mate Omar Gonzalez. No matter who Arena slots in here, the combination of Gonzales/Berhalter or Gonzalez/De La Garza will prove to be a hassle for our strikers.
The two wings of LA's backline are typically managed by Sean Franklin, a speedy winger, and Todd Dunivant who I've always been impressed with. Both play with an attacking mentality and, while they are defenders at heart, absolutely will not skip a beat to run up the sides and cross into the box given the opportunity. Dunivant has the added experience, where as Franklin is very speedy. Two very important players to watch out for.
Of course, chances are LA will want to swap out many of their first team at various intervals for reserves or subs, so, hopefully, we won't have to face the full onslought of Los Angeles today. While I remain cautiously optimistic that our team can open LA up a bit today, I certainly hope our players take this opportunity to really study how LA plays so that when we go up against them in the regualr season we'll be more prepared for what they can throw at us.
Today's game kicks off at 3:00pm and, as far as I know, is not being broadcast.
Update 8:08 PM:
The scoreline ended at 1-1. Los Angeles Galaxy struck first with a goal by Paolo Cardozo off of a cross from Bryan Jordan. The Portland Timbers scored in the second half on a Corner by Rodrigo Lopez. The ball bounced off of a Galaxy player and came to trialist Bryan Umony who slotted the ball home from 7 yards out. The line-ups were as follows, obtained from Portlandtimbers.com here:
POR (First Half): GK Brown, D Purdy, D Brunner, D Horst, D Wallace, M Hall, M Braun, M Marcelin, M Pore, F Nagbe, F Johnson
LA (First Half): GK Ricketts, D De La Garza, D Leonardo, D Gonzalez, D Hejduk, M Lopez (Cardozo, 26), M Juninho, M Stephens, M Donovan, F Angel, F Barrett
POR (Second Half): GK Gleeson, D Cameron, D Danso, D Goldthwaite, D Taylor, M DeMartin, McManus, M Lopez, M Alhassan, F Umony, F Perlaza
LA (Second Half): GK Saunders, D McCarty, D Franklin, D Berhalter, D Thomas, M Jordan, M Birchall, M Kirovski, M Cardozo, F Magee, F Christman