German Alegria / LA Galaxy

Three Points: Looking ahead to Saturday’s match against the Portland Timbers

PORTLAND, Ore. — Three points looking ahead to Saturday’s match against the Portland Timbers.

Can Lopes step up if Gonzalez is unavailable?

With Omar Gonzalez still in recovery mode and skeptical about his ability to perform on JELD-WEN Field’s turf surface, the Galaxy will likely be forced to find a replacement for the defender the second consecutive match.

READ: Gonzalez unlikely to feature in PNW trip

Gonzalez’s absence means that David Junior Lopes will likely be partnered alongside A.J. DeLaGarza in central defense. After an inconsistent run of games following his acquisition from Chivas USA in April, the burly Brazilian defender put in one of his strongest performances to date during the Galaxy’s win over Chicago last week. Against the Fire, Lopes provided a commanding presence in the back four, routinely bailing out the LA defense by making a team-high 13 clearances.

Should he get the start against Portland, Lopes will be tested again by a Portland attack that is expected to be aggressive from the outset under interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson.  With the Timbers likely to come out aggressively from the opening whistle, the Brazilian’s ability to utilize his speed and size to shut down the Portland attackers could be the difference for LA.

Who replaces Juninho?

With Juninho suspended due to yellow card accumulation, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena must find a replacement to fill the Brazilian’s spot in the center of the park.

One option may be Marcelo Sarvas, who has started the club’s last two matches alongside Juninho while David Beckham served a two game suspension. Sarvas’ deft passing touch could provide an added dimension to the attack particularly on turf at JELD-WEN, which is one of the fastest playing surfaces in the league. However, Sarvas’ shortcomings on the opposite side of the ball could lead Arena to opt for the more defensive Michael Stephens in the holding role.

Making his first start since mid-May against Chicago, Stephens’ energetic play along the left flank was instrumental in limiting the Fire’s play on the outside. But while Stephens shined on the left side last week, Juninho’s absence could lead Arena to push him into the center to provide the defensive cover that would allow Beckham to go forward against Portland.

How will the Galaxy handle the new look Timbers?

As if facing playing before the raucous crowd at JELD-WEN field wasn’t enough, the Galaxy will be tasked with stopping a Timbers side that promises to be emotional following a week that saw head coach John Spencer relieved of his duties.   

Since taking over for Spencer on Monday, interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson has pledged to instill a sense of belief in a Timbers club that currently sits in eighth place in the Western Conference with just 19 points from 17 games. With Portland looking for a fast start, the onus will fall on the Galaxy midfield to attempt to control the pace of the game and prevent Portland from using the speed—particularly from the likes of Franck Songo’o and Danny Mwanga—to create chances.

But if the Galaxy cannot match the Timbers’ intensity, they may be destined to repeat last year’s trip to the Rose City: a match that ended in a 3-0 Portland romp.