Hey, folks. The vagaries of the internet combined with my own inattentiveness have come together to kill the preview I wrote. Fun stuff. Anyway, here is my quick preview of this afternoon's match and just what we should be looking for as the stars align. -Will
The Portland Timbers are headed to Carson, CA today to take on the LA Galaxy in the team's final road match of the 2015 regular season. History, circumstance, and salary all say that the Timbers should lose this one, but this is MLS and in MLS anything can happen -- including the Timbers finally getting it together in the most difficult place to play in the league with their playoff hopes on the line.
Coming into this one, the Timbers are as riddled with injuries as they have been at any point this year. In the center of the pitch Ben Zemanski, Will Johnson, and probably Jack Jewsbury are all out of contention, leaving the less than desirable pairing of Diego Chara and George Fochive as the Timbers' only real options in the center of the pitch. On the back line, Alvas Powell is out after getting the double whammy of both injury and suspension due to yellow card accumulation against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday; Taylor Peay will almost certainly get his third career start here, barring a truly radical departure from the norm from Caleb Porter. Finally, the Timbers' might be without their five million dollar man, Lucas Melano, after he picked up a shoulder stain against RSL earlier this week, a potential absence that will test the Timbers' attacking depth.
All this adds up to significant uncertainty as to what Timbers team we are going to see on the pitch today: everything from lineup to formation is up in the air going into this game, something that would be Porter's ideal if it were not for the near-crippling absences that accompany it.
We have covered the extent to which Chara and Fochive have not worked well together as a double pivot midfield previously, and the Timbers do not have any game tested depth at the position right now, so this seem like another potential run out of the single pivot could be in the works. Of course, if the Timbers do run the single pivot, the team will suddenly find themselves with a big spot to fill where Lucas Melano was against RSL. Bringing in a nominal-winger could see the Timbers look to Dairon Asprilla for more straightforward flank play and for much of the year he would have been the assumed starter in this situation, but the recent resurgence (although if he ever had an initial-surgence is debatable) of Michael Nanchoff could add a twist here.
Adding in Nanchoff certainly could give the Timbers' some inventiveness and more positional diversity than Asprilla if they are looking for more free floating play, but with that they will make a big sacrifice in defensive work rate: something Asprilla can definitely lay claim to over Nanchoff.
There is a third option, however: Maximiliano Urruti. Bringing Urruti into the Timbers' lineup would necessitate reworking the midfield and the defensive responsibilities of players like Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, one of whom would need to take a larger role out wide, mostly on the right. In an ideal world, bringing in Urruti to play alongside Adi would give the Timbers a player who is going to push the opposition back line and create more space for players like Adi, Valeri, and Nagbe working underneath him. In practice, Urruti was completely shut down when given the start in the Timbers' last trip to LA.
Of course, just as the Timbers are dealing with a wave of injured players, the Galaxy are getting a number of injured players back to match fitness. Robbie Rogers, Baggio Husidic, and several others are making their way back from the Galaxy's injury report, but by far the most influential of that group is Mexican national teamer Giovanni Dos Santos. Although he has only played a handful of games for the club, Santos's influence and quality on the pitch are undeniable, particularly when he is combining with a player the quality of reigning MLS MVP Robbie Keane.
Dos Santos being back is something of a double edged sword for the Galaxy, however, as he necessarily displaces a player out of the team's high powered attack and creates a strange positional conflict with Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, also a new arrival since the last time the Timbers' played LA. Dos Santos and Gerrard, both attacking midfielders at heart, tend to occupy the same spaces on the field. When the pair are combining well and making full use of the StubHub Center's long (at 120x75 it is the same width as Providence Park) pitch they can be deadly, but just as possible is for the pair to get in each others' way as Dos Santos cuts in from the outside, as happened in the Galaxy's only recent home stumble, their 0-0 draw against the Montreal Impact.
Watch it on: FOX Sports 1
Kickoff: 4:00 p.m. PT at StubHub Center in Carson, CA
Portland Timbers: 13-11-8, 7th place in the Western Conference
LA Galaxy: 14-9-9, 2nd place in the Western Conference