Everyone pick themselves up after last weekend? Good — because it’s time to go again.
A week removed after their worst loss of the young MLS season, the Portland Timbers (1-3-0, 3 pts) host fellow Western Conference strugglers the Los Angeles Galaxy (0-1-2, 2 pts). Saturday’s meeting at Providence Park (1:30 p.m. PT, Apple TV-Free, FOX) is of course still early in the year, but it feels like it has big implications for the general mood around the Timbers’ prospects for the 2023 season.
A look at the opposition
Life hasn’t been the greatest for the Galaxy to start the year. Their marquee opener against LAFC was rained out, robbing them of a chance to quiet the noisy neighbors out of the gate. Since then, they have gone on to play three soccer games of pretty subpar quality.
They lost their opener to Dallas 3-1, put up a stinker of a 0-0 game at Sporting Kansas City, and then drew 1-1 with Vancouver in somewhat controversial fashion in their first home game last week. They have yet to win, and at this point do not look like the playoff team many experts predicted they’d be.
But they might not be as bad as their numbers suggest.
The Galaxy have only scored two goals so far in the season, but it’s not through lack of trying. LA has fired off 41 shots through three games this year, and 14 of those have been on target (for comparison, the Timbers have 37 shots and put 16 of those on target and they have played a whole entire 90 minutes more than the Galaxy. Yikes).
LA’s lack of goal production has primarily been the result of bad luck. They’re underperforming their expected goals numbers, but you could also argue that they haven’t been generating the highest quality of looks: those xG numbers may lean more on quantity over quality of shots.
So two things can be true about the Galaxy: they haven’t been playing good soccer, and they may still be a sleeping giant that can put it all together.
If they do put it together, it will very likely be via the foot of Riqui Puig. The Barcelona academy product took the league by storm late last year, and was a trendy preseason pick for MVP this year. He isn’t at that level yet, but he still has the capacity to rip teams open with just one pass, as he showcased down the stretch last year.
⏰ 4th minute - Riqui Puig with a great pass and pre assist to initiate the attack for Galaxy’s 1-0 goal— Michael (@MichaelEmilio_) September 5, 2022
⏰ 87th minute - Another brilliant pass from Riqui Puig resulting in a 2-2, equalizing penalty for Galaxy pic.twitter.com/1bL6ZKkBTx
A lot of pressure will be on Puig to carry the visitors, as like Portland they’re also missing several key pieces from their squad. Forwards Chicharito (injury) and noted Timbers-killer Dejan Joveljic (international duty) are both unavailable for the Galaxy. Starter Kelvin Leerdam is also away with his national team, and starting goalkeeper Johnathan Bond is listed as out with a shoulder injury.
On paper, the Galaxy are a team that is floundering and missing several important pieces. On paper, the Galaxy are a team that has played poorly on the road. On paper, they are beatable.
We’ll see if that all pans out on the field.
Timbers team news and outlook
Take it away, el Profe:
#RCTID injury updates (via Gio):— Ryan Clarke (@RyanTClarke) March 23, 2023
Asprilla/Ayala: “Possibly playing next weekend.”
Mora: “Progressing well. Can’t give you a timeline.”
Blanco: “We’ll see how he feels.”
Paredes/Yimmi: “Earlier than we thought, but we need to be careful.”
Evander: “Hopefully by next week.”
It was impressive and also a bit depressing to hear Giovanni Savarese rattle off all of those updates — and it reinforced the fact that Portland is still just as banged up as they were last week.
The reasons that Portland got eviscerated by Atlanta last week were many, and the injuries certainly played a part. But so too did the lack of midfield discipline, and Portland’s inability to keep counterattacks contained.
Every time the Five Stripes came forward last weekend on a break it just felt like they were going to score (and more often than not, they did). That was due in part to the incredulously high line Portland was playing, in part to Eryk Williamson and Diego Chara not being on the same page, and in part to the backlines’ slow reaction time.
You can bet at least three Providence Park beers (a not-insignificant sum of money!) that LA will be sitting back and looking to counter-attack tomorrow, and so they will be looking to exploit the same weaknesses Atlanta did. With the squad set to remain essentially the same this weekend, those are all problems that Portland will need to address to find a positive result.
Saturday, injury updates and more— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) March 23, 2023
Gio Savarese on what to look forward to heading into our weekend clash with the Galaxy #RCTID
Portland will also need to address its own lack of goalscoring production. As mentioned above, the Timbers’ offensive output has been poor this season. Yes, the injuries have played a part, but Portland has scored just one goal from open play at home this year, and even that was the result of a broken play and some pure Juan Mosquera hustle.
Portland will be without Mosquera on Saturday, as he’s off with the Colombian men’s national team, so they will play their first match without their early-season MVP. The burden for offensive production will fall to Williamson and Santiago Moreno. Neither player has really hit their form for the Timbers yet, and if they are to start righting the ship it’s going to have to come from one of those players.
It would also be lovely to see a starting forward score for the Timbers. The last time a player not named Dairon Asprilla started a game at forward for the Timbers and scored was... Jaroslaw Niezgoda on July 30, 2022 in Minnesota. It’s uh, been a while.
New striker Franck Boli landed in Portland late this week, but he is almost assuredly not in line to start tomorrow, so he’s not breaking that duck. He is however currently undergoing fitness checks with the team — and don’t get your hopes up too much — so there is still a small outside chance we see him take the pitch for the first time tomorrow.
Projected Starting XIs
Portland (3-5-2): Ivacic; McGraw, Mabiala, Zuparic; Bonilla, D. Chara, Williamson, Moreno, Bravo; Nathan, Ikoba
LA (4-1-4-1): Klinsmann; Edwards, Caceres, Neal, Mavinga; Burgman; Rodriguez, Delgado, Puig, Alvarez; Boyd
Saturday isn’t gonna be a pretty soccer game. Both teams are missing too many contributors, and neither is playing well at the moment. I’m riding with a boring 1-1 draw, with Nathan and Puig getting the goals.
You could maaayyybe talk me into a 1-0 Timbers win... but I don’t think I’m fully there yet.