The Portland Timbers will look to get their second win of the season tomorrow against an L.A. Galaxy team that have played three fewer matches this season. The Timbers have finally gotten their first win of the season, but that does not make getting three points in tomorrow's match any less vital.
Weighing heavily on the Timbers so far this season has to be their lack of shutouts. Last season the team was the second stingiest in MLS, pitching shutouts in almost half of their matches. Now, nearly a third of the way through the season, the Timbers have yet to keep a clean sheet.
The team has struggled through the defense, seeing poor performances and bits of bad luck all across the back line. Eventually, however, the Timbers are going to have to start making their own luck. Against D.C. United last weekend, the Timbers gave up goals on a fluke deflection and an own goal, which could be forgivable if it had happened only once. Instead, such freak occurrences continue to happen to the Timbers and will continue to do so until the team can get their defensive performances locked down. Whether that means giving an opponent less room to shoot from distance or working to give up fewer corner kicks or something else entirely, it is hard to say, but the Timbers seem like they are very close to putting it all together.
Thankfully for the Timbers, their offense was able to get it in gear against D.C. putting in their second multiple goal game of the season. Gaston Fernandez continued his goal scoring ways last Saturday, notching his fourth of the season, but also missing several of the match's best opportunities. The diminutive Argentinian may have scored the goal of the week in the first minute of the game, but his finishing later in the match left something to be desired. If the defense were performing at the same level as last season, the Timbers might be able to get away with scuffing their chances, but until they do the Timbers will need to be more ruthless in front of goal.
The chance are coming for the Timbers now, however, and a great many of them can be attributed to the improvement in play from the Maestro, Diego Valeri. Although he continues to deal with the aftereffects of his offseason surgery to correct a sports hernia, Valeri has dialed in his delivery, assisting all three Timbers goals against D.C. (even if only two were counted). If the Timbers are going to continue their push up the table and be in contention for a playoff spot in the fall, big performances are going to be vital from players like Valeri.d
Match Preview with Stumptown Footy
Michael answers LAG Confidential's questions on the Timbers ahead of tomorrow's match.
By now most will be familiar with the Galaxy forward pair of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane. The pair constitutes the most potentially dangerous forward line in MLS, but they have not yet gotten on the same page this season, something that the Timbers will hope to continue tomorrow.
At the start of the 2014 season, Donovan found himself one goal away from breaking the MLS all-time goal scoring record. Currently the joint holder with the now-retired Jeff Cunningham, Donovan only needs one goal to move into sole possession of the record. Through six games this season he has been unable to do so. Although it would certainly be an interesting historical footnote, the Timbers would almost certainly prefer to avoid being the team that Donovan scored that goal against.
The other half of the Galaxy's strike partnership, Keane, is having no such blockages. Already having scored four goals in L.A.'s six games, Keane is off to a good start to the season. Now 33 years-old, the wily (read: dive-y) Irishman continues to use his positioning and technique to get the better of MLS's defenders. Keane is containable, however, and the Timbers have historically had some luck shutting him down. Historically, Pa Modou Kah has been given responsibility for taking Keane out of the game and tomorrow's match should be no different, with plenty of attention being given to the Galaxy's current leading scorer.
At the other end of the pitch, the news surrounding the Galaxy has all focused on the potential absence of Omar Gonzalez. Although Bruce Arena has been hesitant to admit it, signs point to Gonzales sitting this one out. Instead the Timbers will be faced a somewhat patchwork back line featuring a talented youngster in Kofi Opare and a whole lot of question marks elsewhere. The patchwork nature of the Galaxy defense without Gonzalez should give the Timbers plenty of opportunities to pick them apart, but the sheer number of configurations that the back four could see depending on the whims of Arena makes this one difficult to predict.
Timbers Keys to the Match
- Continue to spread the field. The Timbers were able to create width against D.C. last week and their offense profited. If they can continue to do so against the Galaxy, who are a better team than D.C. and who are playing closer to home, the worries about the team's offense in the long term should diminish greatly.
- Remove Robbie Keane from the match. Keane needs to be watched 100% of the time and the Timbers have not been able to do anything 100% of the time this year. How the team steps up to shut him down will be vital in this match.
- Keep the opportunities coming. With Valeri starting to look like the fearsome playmaker that we saw last year, the rest of the team will need to continue to improve their games as well. If the chances are only coming through Valeri then teams will do everything in their power to shut him down and somebody else will need to step up and make things happen.
Watch it on: NBC Sports
Kick-off: 11:30 am pacific
Portland Timbers: 1-3-5, 7th place in the Western Conference
L.A. Galaxy: 2-2-2, 6th place in the Western Conference