Ever since their inclusion into MLS in 2011, the Portland Timbers have provided one of the best fan environments in the entire league. The boisterous support has shown the world that soccer is definitely alive and well in North America with scenes such as this. On the field, however, the results have been less promising. Other than their lone trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2013, success has been hard to come by for the Timbers. Last season, Portland finished sixth in their conference and more importantly one spot out of the playoffs.
One of the stat lines that will provide the Timbers’ fans with some optimism for the rest of the 2015 season is the fact that they scored the third-most goals out of any MLS side last year. The team has plenty of attacking force with players such as Diego Valeri (11 goals in 2014), Maximilliano Urruti (10 goals) and Darlington Nagbe who is capable of scoring wonder strikes like this. However, the team only finished with a goal differential of +9 after allowing 52 goals (third highest in the conference). In the 2015 MLS Superdraft, the Timbers tried to bring in pieces to solve this problem with defensive midfielder Nick Besler, (brother to Sporting KC defender Matt Besler), and also by bringing in veteran defender Nat Borchers out of Real Salt Lake to solidify their backline.
In their first game of the season, the Timbers were able to hold the aforementioned RSL to a 0-0 draw. Despite the lack of scoring action, the Timbers dominated what few chances that were to be had and were unlucky not to beat Nick Rimando. The once-shaky defense looked very solid and composed in front of Adam Kwarasey in net. If they are able to continue this defensive form and also capitalize on their chances against LA, Portland has a very good chance of defeating the reigning MLS Champions.
Landon who? The LA Galaxy did not seem to miss their once-beloved captain in their first game since his retirement last season. A dominant performance over a weak Chicago Fire side saw the Galaxy cruise to a 2-0 victory. Some fans probably forgot that the California side has another world-class striker on their roster in Robbie Keane. The 34-year-old Irish striker led the team with 21 goals during the 2014 campaign and opened his account for this year with an 81st minute goal last week.
The success of the Galaxy this season will fall on Keane’s shoulders as well as players such as Gyasi Zardes and Omar Gonzales. Zardes, who received his first international appearance for the US during the offseason, will be looked at to pick up the scoring tally now that Donovan is gone. The young striker showed the league his scoring potential last season by putting it away 17 times. Gonzales has always been seen as a pillar for the LA backline. Consistently a name on the USMNT team sheet, and a four-time selection of the MLS Best XI, the American defender will have to show his leadership qualities and also his veteran experience if the Galaxy hope to repeat as champions.
In 2014, these two teams played three times with LA winning once and the other two matches ending in draws, including the one game played in Portland. As much as I want to see the Timbers’ fans react to upsetting the champions, I just don’t think that they will be able to cope with the star power that the Galaxy bring to the field. Los Angeles has picked up right where they left, and I expect their dominant form to continue, as they will travel North and silence the Timber Army with a gritty 3-2 victory.