On Sunday, the Portland Timbers will, once again, head down to Los Angeles to play against the LA Galaxy. This will be the second time this season where the Timbers are playing away from home. Such is the way of life under an unbalanced, conferenced league. But I'm not really here to complain about that, I'm here to make the case for why the Timbers have absolutely no reason to not come back home with three points.
Let's not beat around the bush. We all love the Portland Timbers. No doubt about it. But to say they're a top team in MLS right now is, unfortunately, wrong. Fact is they've never been a top team. That's fine though. It gives the fans something to look forward to. You can't always be at the top of the league year-in, year-out. MLS makes that a near impossibility. Case and point: the LA Galaxy.
Last year and even earlier this year when the Timbers played in LA, I think there was a bit of an excuse machine running in the back of Timbers' fans heads on why a loss in LA would be okay. Let's face it, three designated players and some quality depth in all parts of the field make for a formidable foe. On top of that, when they first met in LA, the Galaxy were on top of the world having their best season ever and well on their way to securing the domestic double (Supporters' Shield, MLS Cup).
Fast forward one year later, however, and the tides of turned. Now, on Sunday, there really is no reason why the Timbers can't bring back 3 points... here's why:
Both of their star strikers are OUT
While Robbie Keane can certainly pull off some handy maneuvers in the box and Edson Buddle knows how to hit the back of the net, the fact is both will not be able to play for LA on Sunday. Keane is still in Europe where he's representing for Ireland and Buddle is out after having knee surgery.
This means that LA will be relying on Chad Barrett as their star up front,a player who has seen minimal minutes this season and scored zero goals. Who he gets partnered up with is a mystery to me, but the options are a bit paltry: Jack McBean, Adam Christman, or Pat Noonan... none of whom are starting MLS forwards.
Regardless, aside from Landon Donovan pushing up top, LA's offense is looking a little haggard for this weekend.
Spotty defense continues
LA has not been a strong defensive side this year. A bit odd considering Bruce Arena usually plays very defensively. However, over their past three games they've allowed in at least two goals per match. Maybe it's still Omar Gonzalez's absence that's affecting them this much, or maybe it's something else. I'm not an LA analyst so I don't know. What I do know is that LA has been allowing in a ton of goals lately.
The real question, however, isn't whether LA's defense is still shaky, but rather if the Timbers strikers can figure out how to score again. Hopefully Danny Mwanga will add a bit of creative flair to the attacking options.
LA lives and dies by this man. If he's playing sluggishly, the team plays sluggishly. I don't think there's another team in MLS that relies this heavily on a single player.
The reason I bring this up is because Donovan is coming off an intense USMNT World Cup Qualifying run where he was both traveling, training and playing. This kind of travel puts a lot of stress on players and we've seen in the past how such a thing can dampen Donovan. My guess is, despite playing on Sunday, he'll be a little sluggish on the ball. Hopefully that reflects in the team as well.
Let's get one last thing straight though. I'm not saying that Portland WILL win. This is soccer and anything can happen. All I'm saying here is that if they do lose, there's no excuse or reason why. LA are not the dominant powerhouse they were last year, or were perceived to be earlier this season. Thy're a struggling team. Just as we would expect a win from Toronto FC or Philadelphia Union, it's acceptable to expect a win against LA.