The Portland Timbers take on the LA Galaxy in a match with significant playoff implications in a few short hours. With the two teams both in serious contention for a higher playoff seed and only separated by one point in the standings, Portland at 46 points and LA at 45, this is a true six point match.
Here is what you need to know about the two teams:
Despite the recent injury history of Diego Valeri, the Timbers should be back at full strength again in their midfield, with Valeri, Will Johnson, and Diego Chara providing the offensive and defensive bite that made the Timbers' midfield such a force for the first half of the season. However, despite the line-up settling in the center of the pitch, the Timbers will still have some questions to answer among their forwards and defenders.
The Timbers' attack, as usual, will primarily flow through their midfielders, but who will man the spot at the top of the formation is a big question mark for Portland. In recent weeks Jose Adolfo Valencia and Maximiliano Urruti have seen time at forward for the Timbers. Both players are quick and talented and know how to play to the formation, particularly Urruti who came up through the youth system of Newell's Old Boys under Tata Martino who now coaches world power Barcelona. Opposite the Timbers' youth movement is Ryan Johnson, the team's journeyman forward and joint scoring leader. When he was introduced to the match last Friday against the Rapids, Johnson was able to add a linking element that the Timbers lacked with Urruti and Valencia in previous weeks.
At the back, the Timbers have recently looked to more experienced heads to make up the line, inserting Jack Jewsbury instead of Alvas Powell and Futty Danso for Andrew Jean-Baptiste. AJB has historically shown well against the Galaxy, including his headed game winner in stoppage time earlier this season, and it seems possible that he will get the start today. Futty, who always provides a calm head for the Timbers when inserted into the lineup, also played in the Timbers' 2-1 win over the Galaxy back in July and could potentially start along AJB for the first time since that match.
Against Colorado last week, the Timbers ceded possession for the first half of the match, only going ahead thanks to Valeri's beautiful chip shot over Clint Irwin, his third strike of the year to win the Goal of the Week award from MLSsoccer.com. When the Timbers take on the Galaxy today, they will be facing an LA team that is deadly on the break with Landon Donovan and MVP candidate Robbie Keane headlining the attack. It will be imperative that the Timbers limit the chances that LA gets and play a very cohesive defensive game, something that the Timbers have struggled with at times recently, like we saw against Chivas USA several weeks ago on their lone goal.
Our expected Timbers line-up: Donovan Ricketts; Michael Harrington, , Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Jack Jewsbury; Will Johnson, Diego Chara; Rodney Wallace, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe; Ryan Johnson
While the Galaxy have been fearsome at home, they have been decidedly more vulnerable on the road this year. Of all the teams currently positioned to make the playoffs, none have as bad a road goal differential (-8) as the Galaxy except for the Houston Dynamo. Even two teams below the red line, the New England Revolution and Vancouver Whitecaps, have better road goal differentials than the Galaxy. The Timbers, in contrast, have a home goal differential of +16.
The Galaxy's struggles on the road have often come while missing Donovan and/or Keane and/or defensive giant Omar Gonzales. The Timbers have successfully dealt with all three players this year, although they have yet to face all three at once.
Strangely, the Galaxy have not been a particularly effective team from set pieces this year. In fact, LA has only scored nine times from set pieces this year. Where the Galaxy have been particularly deadly is in the penalty box. Specifically, LA have earned six penalty kicks, more than any other team in MLS. Including the Galaxy, the average number of penalty kicks converted by each team in MLS this year is approximately 2.7. Amusingly though, all six of the Galaxy's penalties this year have been scored at the Stub Hub Center in Carson, CA.
Our expected Galaxy line-up: Jaime Penedo; Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, Leonardo, Todd Dunivant; Hector Jimenez, Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas, Gyasi Zardes; Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane
Don't forget to buy your capo a pint.
Watch it on:
NBC Sports NBC
Kick off: 12:30 pm at Jeld-Wen Field
Portland Timbers: 46 points, 3rd in the Western Conference.
LA Galaxy: 45 points, 4th in the Western Conference.