Keep Eye On: LA vs POR

Friday, July 4th, the showdown at the StubHub Center in Carson will be appropriately explosive. The LA Galaxy are coming off a 1-0 win against the San Jose Earthquakes and are set to face another Western Conference foe, the Portland Timbers. Both teams are tied at sixth place in the Western Conference, and looking to put some distance between each other with a win.

At this stage it’s important for the Galaxy to capitalize on the momentum of last week’s win. It extended an unbeaten streak and gave LA 20 points total. This season’s matches have been plagued with a lack of focus for the full 90 minutes, but to hear the Galaxy tell it, they’re on the cusp of hitting a stride. After their last contest head coach Bruce Arena said, “I thought our guys played a pretty steady game, we scored a great goal, our young center backs did a good job defensively. I think, overall, this was our best effort as a team, our concentration over 90 minutes.”

That doesn’t mean the Galaxy can let their guard down. “It’s only the 13th game this season,” acknowledged Arena, “so we’re not ready to have a parade in downtown L.A. We’ll see if we can keep going.”

They will be playing a team with something to prove. Portland has never won a game in LA against the Galaxy (they have, however, felt the thrill of an L.A. win against Chivas USA). Having lost their last game to Sporting Kansas City, the struggling Timbers are looking to break the sixth place tie and get ahead. This is a team who looked primed for an exciting 2014 season but have suffered from a questionable defense.

If those stats look favorable for the home team, bear in mind that an away win be huge for the Timbers. Head coach Caleb Porter had some tactical observations from Portland’s last game: “It comes down to man-to-man marking,” Porter continued:

We lost the first ball, we didn’t attack the ball. We lost the mark on the second ball. It’s upsetting and very frustrating to concede that type of goal, when they weren’t creating anything from the run of play. It’s one of the most frustrating things as a coach because it comes down to man-marking, which is an elementary play where you’re marking a player.
—Caleb Porter, head coach, Portland Timbers

Guessing the Galaxy’s lineup is practically a fool’s errand at this point. Bruce Arena has rotated players freely, though mostly stuck to a diamond midfield that’s allowed LA to look dynamic and un-defendable on good nights (albeit slow and uncreative when they’re off).

We know the Galaxy will be missing Omar Gonzalez, who isn’t quite recovered from his impressive stint for the USMNT in Brazil. Luckily his shoes have been well-filled by Tommy Meyer, whose performance last week earned all the praise it got. Gyasi Zardes, who scored for the second consecutive game last week, is a likely starter — and Marcelo Sarvas seems to have stepped out of injury and directly into his midseason form.

If the Galaxy can coax some fireworks out of Landon Donovan – who’s had moments of brilliance since his surprising World Cup snub – they just might be able to build off last week’s win. Either way the crowd will get their fiery display, as the front office has something special planned in celebration of the Fourth.