In their second MLS regular season face-off against the defending MLS Cup Champions, the LA Galaxy (9-3-8) defeated the Portland Timbers 2-1 in the 97th sellout at Providence Park, as early goals from Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes combined with LA’s resilient defense to beat back an onslaught of attacks from the Portland Timbers – the Timbers took 18 shots, 6 of which were on target.  The road win marks LA’s fourth consecutive victory in league competition and pushes them 4 points clear of Real Salt Lake firmly in 3rd place in the Western Conference standings. Portland’s undefeated streak of nine matches that started on May 15th came to an abrupt halt and LA notched their second all-time win in at Providence Park, the first since July 14, 2012.

Portland Timbers’ coach Caleb Porter made a simple point prior to the match, “When you get healthy you get continuity,” that came to life in front of the home crowd’s eyes, as veteran and anchor centerback, Nat Borchers, was taken off the pitch in the first half on a stretcher with a likely left ankle injury that could sideline him for the rest of the season. The LA Galaxy, also lacking an injured Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard, were able to make due without the two veterans (and Robbie Rogers who continues his recovery following surgery), thanks to a deep and experienced defensive line and the return of Nigel de Jong after his suspension.  After receiving criticism for being overly reliant on their defense this season, the Galaxy put their strong defense to good work and, thanks to a heroic five saves by Brian Rowe, LA’s early 2-goal lead was enough to maintain domination over the Timbers whose only goal came in the first half via Zarek Valentin.

The first goal came in the 7th minute, courtesy of a beautiful dribbling display by Giovani dos Santos, who outmaneuvered Diego Valeri and placed the ball deftly at Robbie Keane’s quick feet for an easy tap into the net. The goal brought Keane’s season tally to 7 and career tally to 80.

Four minutes later, Gyasi Zardes found himself in position for yet another easy goal for LA, when a cross from speedy Emmanuel Boateng, who’d received a long ball by Jelle Van Damme, volleyed off Portland’s Borchers, giving Zardes opportunity for a header to finish things off with a simple redirect. The goal was Zardes’ first for LA in league play since April, and Boateng proved himself worthy of the starting spot with his third assist of the season whose play, ability to connect and anticipate has improved considerably since his debut.  Gyasi Zardes has five goals and five assists in fifteen appearances for the LA Galaxy this season.

Although Portland was able to reduce the goal gap to one in the 41st minute thanks to a blast from Zarek Valentin from the top of the 18-yard box in his first goal of the year, the second half bore no fruit for either team in spite of a highly physical back and forth with more shots on goal by both sides. The score held 2-1 in favor of the visitors.

LA Galaxy’s fourth consecutive win in MLS, and sixth overall including U.S. Open Cup play shifts the language and expectations for the team, making Arena’s job more interesting. At mostly full-fitness, LA can withstand the pressure of multiple Cup runs and force a higher level of play from its roster, which should give fans hope for the coming months.  While today’s victory was in no way proof the LA Galaxy are definite MLS Cup contenders, the ghosts of last season are dissipating and the language of winning has taken hold.  Indeed, Bruce Arena is just one match away from his 200th MLS win.

“Mentally is the biggest difference. Once you get that confidence in a group of guys and start knowing that we’ve closed it out before, we can do this, it’s huge for us…It was really a great team effort tonight,” Brian Rowe reflects on their recent shift in away game performances.

A busy Galaxy next play Seattle (again!) on July 30th before hosting the New York Red Bulls on August 7th and FC Dallas in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals on August 10th.

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