“It builds confidence because last time we came here we let in five goals and today we score five on them. Soccer lets you have second chances and we are happy to come out with the win.”
—Jorge Villafaña, Portland Timbers
The Portland Timbers steamrolled over LA Galaxy in LA’s final home match of the regular season this past Sunday in a 5-2 win, marking it arguably Portland’s best ever MLS match, and their first-ever win against LA on the Galaxy’s home turf. Portland’s emphatic revenge road win also meant LA’s incredible downfall.
While Bruce Arena claims to not be ‘shellshocked’, it’s understandable many fans are, and with good reason. Rarely have we seen a team so consistently strong at home (this was just their fifth regular-season home loss since 2013) sit back after scoring the first goal and yield 5 goals in one half to the opposition.
Earlier this week when asked if there was any reason to doubt the goal-scoring creative prowess of LA’s offense, the bottom line from the Arena was an almost complacent-sounding absolutely not, the combination of soccer star fueled power would take care of itself. But, time and time again, in recent months, his A-team formation has been inconsistent and not at ease with itself, unbalanced, top-heavy, defensively woeful at times, and the results attest to it. The tale of two teams eventually weaves into one, with similar shortcomings coming to fruition both at home and away. Given that LA Galaxy had a two-week break, granted with international week in between, and considering that a bye week occassionally builds complacency rather than fostering preparedness, the results at the StubHub Center this past weekend were not all that surprising.
Things started out right on the foot of LA’s captain Robbie Keane who scored twice (his 18th and 19th goals of the season), and gave LA the lead in the 36th minute off an elegant, long volley from Juninho, then again in the 84th minute when he shaved the goal deficit to one with a glancing header off a Jose Villareal chip. However, it proved to not be enough to counterbalance the holes LA had in defense and the lack of general offensive creativity in the second half of play.
After a timid first half, the Timbers burst forth like lightening in the second, controlling the pace of play from the start. Portland’s goal-scorer Fanendo Adi netted two goals just three minutes apart, Diego Chara scored a header seven minutes later, and Darlington Nagbe and Maximilano Urruti added late strikes pulling the Timbers from seventh to fourth place in the Western Conference. The gamechanger and mental breakdown for LA seemingly began when Portland forced an obvious penalty when Dan Gargan brought Adi down in the box, giving Portland the lead they were striving for, but LA’s shift in confidence started from the beginning of the second half. We learned what we already knew, that LA Galaxy does not play defensive soccer well.
This was a golden opportunity to make a huge statement at home against a building platform of criticism and doubt. Instead, heading into their final game of the regular season, their fate in the standings rests in both their hands and in the hands of others. LA were eliminated from the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield title races with FC Dallas’ win Saturday and likely need a win this Sunday at Sporting Kansas City to avoid a wild-card game to open the postseason. They are a point ahead of Vancouver and Portland, and three ahead of Seattle and Sporting; any of the four could overtake them, meaning the Galaxy could finish anywhere between second and sixth in the final Western Conference standings.
Watch out for Decision Day, the last day of MLS’s 20th season, when all 20 teams play. The results will determine which 12 teams are in the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs, the postseason matches, the Supporters’ Shield winner and Golden Boot winner. The Final Game for LA’s regular season and Sporting Kansas City’s regular season home finale has been chosen as the marquee Western Conference match and will be nationally televised on ESPN Galaxy at 4 p.m. PT on Sunday, Oct. 25th at Sporting Park. All eyes are watching the 5-time Cup winners and defending champs. Can they pull off a convincing effort? LA’s scoremakers are there on paper, but the results aren’t yet. Whereas it’s easy to proclaim the Timbers simply wanted the win more and let’s all move on to the next one picking up on the lessons learned, it’s worth taking the time to pinpoint the deficits and plug those holes, play with the formation and perhaps the starting lineup itself. Portland got their second chance, and LA can have theirs too as long as they’re willing to admit that it’s not just about taking a win and a loss as a team, it’s about adjusting their gameplan before it’s too late. Just making the playoffs shouldn’t be good enough; Making the playoffs while growing your team’s confidence and forcing the conversation of supporters and media in your favor, building an unwavering community and having the best of all worlds, could be what it’s about.
“Listen it’s at this stage of the season that we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. Disappointed now as I said, but it’s important to move on swiftly as possible. Big game now next week on Sunday, I think if we dwell too much on this, of course the players will be disappointed now and the next day or so, but I think after that it is very, very, important that we move on quick.” – Robbie Keane.