This Saturday morning (wut) is the final regular season match between the Portland Timbers and the LA Galaxy. As was the case with the second encounter, the game will take place at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. The Galaxy are coming off of an emphatic win at Seattle while Portland came from behind to beat Montreal Impact last weekend. So who's going to win? As always we asked a few questions of LAG Confidential's Josie Becker. Here are her answers:
The LA Galaxy team on national TV routing the Seattle Sounders was really making its MLS debut. It's the first time in months the three DPs have been on the field together and this new goal poaching version of Gyasi Zardes is a fairly recent discovery. Seattle had a fairly significant late scratch on the back line, and the result was an attack which took advantage of every Seattle mistake and gave the Sounders few chances to get back into the match.
It's a fair bet that LA can do the same Saturday morning, as Seattle didn't get the best performance from Robbie Keane and still gave up three goals. Portland's lack of back line consistency tips this one is LA's favor, but I would never doubt the Timbers' magic draw earning power against the Galaxy.
2. Why is this game at 11:30 in the morning?
This match is going to be a rare unicorn indeed, the MLS match broadcast nationally on NBC. With NBC Sports preferring to do a half hour of pre-match work before kickoff, this one likely doesn't actually kick off until noon, so the it shouldn't run over onto local broadcast news on the East Coast. Kick off an hour later and suddenly WNBC local news is sitting their twiddling their thumbs. And we can't have that.
The NBC broadcast is tricker than one might think. With the NFL, the rules are so convoluted that which match gets broadcast is determined on a station by station basis and changes throughout the week. Soccer is more like the NBA with one game across the country, but with less interest there have been several instances of local stations choosing to broadcast local programming instead.
Which is all to say, some folk may tune in to watch MLS on NBC only to be treated to an informercial for the Ronco Food Dehydrator. If that's the case, be sure to pick one up. Fresh jerky!
3. Portland is the only team to score twice against the Galaxy since April 19 and one of only two all season. The attacking quality in LA always gets the press but is the defense actually the key to this year's team?
Absolutely, which is especially remarkable when one considers the long absence of Omar Gonzalez. LA have used a rotating combination of A.J. DeLaGarza, Tommy Meyer, Kofi Opare, and Leonardo over the past few months at center back and still have a notable defensive record to hang their hats on. Todd Dunivant and James Riley have been historical figures all season, and yet they've have a revelation in Robbie Rogers the left back and a career year from Dan Gargan.
It's been held together with spit and bailing wire, but somehow its held a league low goals against average. With Gonzalez returning against Seattle and DeLaGarza back as his center back partner the two of them can control balls in the air (Gonzalez) and those who wish to stretch them on the ground (DeLaGarza). It works well.
I love bonuses!
Jaime Penedo; Dan Gargan, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Robbie Rogers; Stefan Ishizaki, Marcelo Sarvas, Juninho, Landon Donovan; Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes
My answers to Josie's questions:
1. Twice this season the Galaxy and Timbers have played to a stalemate. Are those results still germane after watching the full strength version of LA play a defensively weakened Seattle?
(cop out alert) Hard to say. Though the Timbers were not quite at the full strength they are now, by which I mean adding both Fanendo Adi and Liam Ridgewell, they did feature a pretty strong line up in both games against the Galaxy. Ridgewell's inclusion does make a significant difference in defense, though Danny O'Rourke did his best over the weekend to prove that adding a Premier League defender does not necessarily bring the tide in to raise all ships. At present, Diego Valeri is in top form, and though he did score two of the three previous goals against LA this season, he is really something else right now. And yet, with all of that said, what the Galaxy did to the Seattle Sounders on Monday night would have easily destroyed this Timbers team. Will it play out the same way at 11:30am on a Saturday in front of 20ish thousand fans? Probably not, but assuming a third draw is automatic would be to overstate the Timbers' mini renaissance.
2. Who is the Timbers' no. 1 forward this season? Is it Urruti? Is it Adi? Or has it been a bricolage of whomever is available?
That is a game-by-game question. Caleb Porter has previously pulled Maximiliano Urruti after scoring a brace, inserting Adi (who scored a brace himself in that very game), so nothing is off the table as far as that goes. But at the moment Adi has struggled to find the form that led the Timbers to buy him on a full-time (and Designated Player) basis from FC Kobenhavn. Urruti has scored in each of the past two games after a long injury absence and is currently leading the team in scoring with eight goals. Porter has no qualms about rotating through the likes of Steve Zakuani, Gaston Fernandez and Rodney Wallace to go alongside Darlington Nagbe and Valeri. So there is no guaranteed front four, though it's all but certain the four will come from that group of seven.
3. What's the status of the Timbers' back line? Has it settled into a standard lineup or is it still a motley group of four?
One day either Pa Modou Kah or Norberto Paparatto will return to join Ridgewell in central defense. Until then, it's O'Rourke with some combination of Michael Harrington, Jack Jewsbury and Jorge Villfana filling the outside roles. While Ridgewell's introduction was very productive in the 2-1 defeat of Colorado Rapids at home, it did little to prevent Montreal Impact from scoring twice in the first half last weekend. For the Timbers to have any chance of making the playoffs, they've got to provide their attacking players with a chance to win 1-0 or 2-1 on a more regular basis. Allowing two goals to Montreal, the league's lowest scoring team, only sets up the rest of the team for failure. As it happened, Wallace and Valeri combined to produce a late winner but Portland needs to find results through a good defensive effort. Playing a hot Galaxy team is probably not the place to start that trend.
Which Timber would make the best cable television detective?
I had to think a lot about this. Will Johnson would probably be the worst, takes himself way too seriously. Michael Harrington could work but only on network tv. Too much of a goober. So I guess it falls to Gaston Fernandez. Though he doesn't do much by way of English, he's always in the right place at the right time, he often saves the day but without all the fanfare...wait, Fernandez might just be Penny Brown. And Inspector Gadget was on cable!
Pa Modou Kah