After easing into the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League with a win in Costa Rica on Wednesday, LA Galaxy fly up to Oregon for the third and final regular season meeting with the Portland Timbers. With only one goal separating the two sides over the first two games, and just one point between them on the league table, everything points to a compelling and important game. Ahead of Sunday's tie at Jeld-Wen Field, we got in touch with SB Nation's Galaxy blog, LAG Confidential, for some updates on the Galaxy. Josie Becker was kind enough to give us some answers to questions about the state of the league's two-time defending champions.
Sunday's game will be the Galaxy's sixth in twenty-two days, including two Champions League matches. Has that stretch been as difficult to manage as Bruce Arena makes it seem?
The issue isn't so much the compacted schedule, it's having the depth to deal with it. In MLS, even with rosters expanded in recent years there's still the issue of getting that reserve roster getting repeated exposure to competitive matches. The reserve league, which often has wholesale changes at halftime to get everone involved, isn't the solution.
So when the Galaxy have to take on a CCL opponent going to the depth alleviates the fatigue problem, but creates a whole different issue; can they win? Luckily the reserves were able to get a victory over Metapan recently, and last year were able to handle the road legs of CCL. However, even without playing all that travel takes players out of their rhythm.
Landon Donovan missed last weekend's game with an ankle injury. What is the likelihood that he'll play against the Timbers and how does the Galaxy's set-up change if he's back in the line-up?
Since Donovan will need minutes before taking on Portland (he hasn't participated in full practice since the injury) he'll mix in with the reserves in Costa Rica. All things being equal, that should warm him up to get in the Starting XI for the match against the Timbers.
Donovan's been playing up top with Robbie Keane, creating for him and allowing Keane to be a target forward. If Donovan does start, I expect LA to go through the middle effectively, using Gyasi Zardes to create width. If Zardes can draw defenders out, I expect a goal or two from the Donovan/Keane pairing. With DeLaGarza injured, Hector Jimenez will likely start at the other wing spot so I'm not expecting the attack to be too dynamic, even with Donovan.
For all of the established stars in LA, the Galaxy have relied on a number of youngsters this season. Which young player presents the biggest challenge for Portland?
The only one I've mentioned thus far is Gyasi Zardes, and that's who I'm going to stick with. Ever since his declaration that his skill were going to blow minds, there's been media scrutiny of his play; mostly negative. He has shown flashes of potential, but there hasn't been the consistency there. Which is to be expected; the competition at CSU Bakersfield wasn't exactly at an MLS level.
With Robbie Rogers struggling to stay match fit, finding someone who can stretch out a defense has been crucial. Jose Villarreal and Jack McBean will be great forwards someday, but they aren't there yet. Even if he's not the best distributor, Zardes can contribute right away with his speed and ability with the ball on his foot.
Bonus: Expected starting XI
Injuries: AJ DeLaGarza, Robbie Rogers