Steve Carrillo

LA Galaxy face hot Portland Timbers on the road

The LA Galaxy exited StubHub Center on Wednesday night quietly. Knowing they’d return in the morning to begin their journey to the Pacific Northwest and fully understanding they were headed towards an opponent who was red hot!

The Galaxy (5-7-1) fell flat against FC Dallas during their midweek match. They’re lack of creativity and porous defense ensuring the game didn’t really heat up until they were already losing by three goals. Even Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s two late goals couldn’t rescue the Galaxy from their second loss to Dallas in the same month.

“I think it’s probably good we’re going again in two or three days,” Galaxy captain Ashley Cole said after the game on Wednesday night. “We have to kind of put this game behind us now because it wasn’t good enough, even though we scored two goals.”

But whatever the problems the Galaxy faced with Dallas, it’s clear that the Portland Timbers (6-3-2) are another animal altogether.

When the Galaxy and the Timbers face-off against each other at Providence Park on Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.; ESPN2) the Timbers will be riding a six-game winning streak and will still hold a perfect record at home (4-0-0).

And even with the Galaxy beating the Timbers in their season opener at StubHub Center by a score of 2-1, there’s little doubt that while one team has gotten better, the other has stagnated since that initial match.

“Portland is going to be a tough game so we have to be together,” Cole explained. “Everyone (needs to) play together, everyone (needs to) fight together. And we have to get a result.”

But in getting a result, the Galaxy will need to find an answer for a talented attacking group from the Timbers. Both Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri have scored five goals on the season and striker Samuel Armenteros is coming off back-to-back Goal-of-the-Week wins.

Lined up in the 4-3-2-1, the fourth place Timbers, coached by Giovanni Savarese, have a team that is firing on all cylinders and will definitely look to punish a Galaxy team for that win earlier in the season.

The Galaxy will be without striker Ola Kamara for this match. Kamara is away with the Norwegian National Team and won’t return to the club until their June 9 match with Real Salt Lake.

Ibrahimovic is expected to play by himself at the top of the formation for this game – the first time fans will have the chance to see this formation play out. He did travel with the club to Portland, even if there are some minor concerns over him playing on the artificial surface from fans and reporters.

With Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid rotating the lineup against Dallas, it seems likely that he’ll return to a formation that sees Galaxy defenders Michael Ciani and Dave Romney return to their prospective positions. And perhaps Emmanuel Boateng will be rewarded with a starting spot against a speedy and quick Timbers side.

Galaxy midfielder Perry Kitchen is still sitting on yellow card warning for the match, leaving him out of the lineup against Salt Lake if he should pick up any discipline.

This is the most difficult match of the remaining three-game schedule for the Galaxy before the league will break for the FIFA World Cup. And at this point, any points on the road they could swindle from the Timbers would be seen as a victory.

But time is slowly ticking down, for the club. And as the Galaxy try and make their way above the playoff line, eventually they’ll need to start getting results from tough matches.

“We have to start picking up points if we want to win — not just the playoffs. This team should be fighting to win it,” Cole sighed. “So yeah we’re fighting for the playoffs. It’s still in our hands but we have to be better as a team.

And better as a team also means better on defense where the Galaxy have allowed 22 goals on the season. They’ve also allowed the first goal in eight of their 13 games going 1-7-0 in those matches. So any improvement on that front should help their 2-3-1 road record.

But, according to Ibrahimovic, it’s more simple than all of that. The level of play has just got to be better.

“The thing is if we play against a team like Barcelona or Madrid, and we lose, I will say ‘yeah we did the hard work, we tried everything, we did,” he said to reporters. “But we are not playing those teams. Because the quality is not so high and they are not better than us. The opposite – we are better than them.

“But they are winning the games and that is the difference.”