I think I speak for numerous Galaxy fans when I say that last Sunday’s 2-1 win against Chicago lifted some of the dark clouds surrounding the club. I know, I know… this team still has just one defeat in 2011, but you can point to numerous occasions where LA let points slip away.
But, I digress.
The win over the Fire helped LA earn five points out of a possible nine on the three-game road swing, but more importantly it gave a glimpse at some of the talent that Bruce Arena will be able to call on from the bench later in the year.
LA return home to take on the Portland Timbers, one of two new teams in MLS this year. The Timbers are coming off two wins at home, their first two MLS wins in club history, so this is a team that will be carrying some momentum.
But, Portland is also a team that is trying to establish its identity, a process that can take some time when there are so many new faces coming together for the first time. After a rough start, head coach John Spencer has made some changes to the line-up and the result is better play from Portland.
There are three players that the Galaxy will have to be particularly aware of in striker tandem of Kenny Cooper and Jorge Perlaza, and the wide, attacking midfielder Kalif Alhassan. Each of these players was a key figure in Portland’s wins last week.
If you are a fan of MLS you likely remember how dangerous Cooper can be from his days with FC Dallas. One-tenth of his 40 goals in 90 games with the Hoops came against LA, as he scored four times in 10 games against the club. Perlaza has found the back of the net twice in 2011, both of the goals coming in the home opening win over Chicago. The Colombian brings excellent pace to get in behind the defense, while Alhassan displays great individual skill, but is still learning to fit within the team concept. The Ghanaian did not start the first two games of the year, but will likely be making his fourth straight start Saturday.
Great news for LA, all three of the starters that missed the game in Chicago should be back and rested. That means Arena can restore his dangerous midfield of Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juninho and Chris Birchall. I don’t think we have seen anything close to the best from this group in 2011; but this match could be a perfect stage for that aspect of the midfield to come out.
Defensively, Portland is not the strongest in the middle of the field, so consequently there will be plenty of opportunities for LA to not just control this part of the pitch, but also to create from this area.
In addition, I think each player that missed the 2-1 win against the Fire is hungry to get back out and perform. That goes three fold for Donovan, who personally told me after training this week that he was going a little “stir crazy” having to watch rather than play this past week.
Finally, the Galaxy were dealt a big blow defensively Sunday when defender Leonardo went down with a knee injury that will likely have him out for the remainder of the year. The immediate replacement will be A.J. DeLaGarza. Veteran Gregg Berhalter is still an option once he returns from a knee injury of his own.
While initially this might expose some holes in the Galaxy defense, I think in the long run it will make third year defender, Omar Gonzalez step up into a bigger leadership role. There is no doubting the former Rookie of the Year’s potential on the field, but I think the next step for Gonzalez is growing between the ears. That will help him not just with LA, but also in his attempt to become a regular with Bob Bradley’s U.S. National Team.