The Portland Timbers head down south to California to take on the 2011 and 2012 MLS Cup champions the Los Angeles Galaxy tonight. But where the LA Galaxy have been the better team in the standings in year's past, this year the Portland Timbers sit 6 points clear of their Western Conference rivals. While that means little when the match actually gets underway, it's a notable and stark contrast compared to what we're used to. Feels nice...
Here's the breakdown:
The Portland Timbers head into tonight's match coming off a hard fought 1-nil win against FC Dallas, the current league leaders. That's important because, while the game certainly wasn't easy for the boys in green, it certainly boosts their confidence prior to facing another historically tough side. The fact that it's a road game adds an extra layer of toughness to it.
The big news heading into tonight's game is the starting lineup at large. In the midst of a busy schedule that's also been wracked with international call ups, the Timbers are certainly no strangers to rotating key players in and out. Caleb Porter even mentioned as much yesterday:
"We've rotated the squad enough where I think we've been fresh mentally and physically going into games, which is a big part of winning," Porter said. "And obviously when you rotate your squad as well your chemistry is better."
As such, I think what you'll find is a healthy mixture of normal starters and bench players tonight. I expect Ben Zemanski and Ryan Johnson to start, for example.
The other big news is Futty Danso's condition. He was pulled off the field against FC Dallas due to a sprained ankle. Based on Will's most recent training report, I'm thinking it will probably be Andrew Jean-Baptiste who lines up next to Pa Modou Kah.
Rodney Wallace, for his part, should be returning today, but I doubt he'll start with the team. He might even fly directly to Portland. I expect to see him start this weekend against the Colorado Rapids.
Here's my predicted starting lineup:
Donovan Ricketts; Ben Zemanski, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Pa Modou Kah, Michael Harrington; Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara; Kalif Alhassan, Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe
LA is a different beast this year. If you haven't yet done so I do recommend reading my preview interview with Josie from LAG Confidential. In it, she helps break down what's different about this team.
Of course, you can't really preview this year's LA team without mentioning the absence of David Beckham, a key player in LA's midfield for the past few years. Naturally his loss comes at a huge disadvantage for their team with multiple other players now forced to pick up much of one Beckham, by himself, managed to do.
Speaking of that midfield, the Timbers will catch a bit of a break tonight as Marcelo Sarvas serves a mandatory one game suspension. According to Josie, Sarvas has been one of the Galaxy's key midfielders this year and is currently the club's assist leader. His absence from the squad will surely come as a boon for a Timbers side that might be a bit weary.
One notable addition to the squad for LA, however, is Pablo Mastroeni from the Colorado Rapids. It's been said Mastroeni might start tonight alongside Junihno. Mastroeni has proven to be a bit of a road block in the midfield before and, while I doubt he's comfortable with his new team yet, he could still prove to be an issue for the Timbers. Keep an eye on him.
Here is Josie's predicted starting lineup:
Carlo Cudicini; Sean Franklin, A.J. DeLaGarza, Tommy Meyer, Todd Dunivant; Michael Stephens, Juninho, Robbie Rogers; Gyasi Zardes, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan
It's worth noting that she left Mastroeni out of her lineup, so perhaps Mastroeni will factor in more as a bench player tonight.
It's not going to be an easy game tonight. LA is coming off bye week so they're nice and rested. The Timbers are heading into their 3rd game in a week's time. The dynamics at play here make tonight's match a bit of an uphill battle for the Portland Timbers. Still, we've seen the Timbers pull off some amazing feats this season and LA isn't without its own challenges. If Portland can secure an additional 3 points tonight they'll be at the top of the league. Perhaps only briefly, but it would pretty amazing regardless.