Just six days removed from their biggest win of the season against the Seattle Sounders, the Portland Timbers are back in action with another marquee match at Providence Park — as the Los Angeles Galaxy make their first and only visit of 2016 to the Rose City (12:30 PM, TV on ESPN).
SportsCenter on the Road will broadcast a one-hour show from Providence Park in the buildup to the match, marking the first time that ESPN's flagship program has originated from the sight of a Major League Soccer game. After that celebration of Portland soccer, the Timbers will look to keep their foot on the gas against one of MLS' best teams.
This is the first MLS meeting between the Timbers and Galaxy in Portland since March of last year, but the two teams met just three-and-a-half weeks ago at Providence Park with LA knocking the Timbers out of the US Open Cup 1-0 thanks to an early Raul Mendiola goal. The Galaxy, with a 4-2 win over the Sounders on Wednesday night, are through to the semifinals of that competition.
But it was the first meeting of the year between the two clubs, in Carson in April, will be more on the minds of Timbers fans and players on Saturday. In that game, which finished 1-1, notorious LA midfielder Nigel De Jong's horror tackle on Darlington Nagbe left the young midfielder's season in doubt.
Nagbe, blessed with inhuman powers of recovery, bounced back. De Jong, meanwhile, has continued his reign of terror. He was sent off against Vancouver two weeks ago, and — ironically — this Timbers game will be his first back from suspension. He's expected to start.
LA's games in Portland have been classics in years past — the Timbers ended a famous LA unbeaten run with a 3-0 mauling in 2011, Andrew Jean-Baptiste scored a stoppage time winner for Portland in 2013, and the Galaxy pegged the Timbers back in added time with an Alan Gordon goal to nab a 2-2 draw in the game last year.
The Timbers just can't stay healthy. Liam Ridgewell will miss this game, and the All-Star game next week, with a calf strain. Jack Jewsbury, who rolled his ankle on a tackle at the beginning of the game against Seattle, is also out.
Ben Zemanski likely would have come in for Jewsbury for this game anyway, and he'll start. Ridgewell's injury means that Jermaine Taylor will slide over to center back, and Zarek Valentin will play left back. New left back Vytautas Andriuskevicius — or Vytas — trained this week, and he'll be available off the bench.
Bruce Arena has injury questions in Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole. Both players should travel to Portland, but are game-time decisions. The Galaxy haven't conceded a goal in their last three league games — all wins — and the battle between center back Jelle Van Damme and Fanendo Adi should at least equal Adi's battle with Chad Marshall last Sunday.
Adi, along with his coach, complained midweek about the lack of calls he's been getting. Refereeing could play a major part in this game. One of the league's best — Irish referee Alan Kelly — is slated to be in the middle. It'll be his first appearance at Providence Park this year.
Portland's set-piece defending — suspect against Seattle — will have to improve. With rumors circling that the Timbers are looking to bring in a new center back, Nat Borchers, and, to a lesser extent Liam Ridgewell, will be under added pressure against LA's front three of Robbie Keane, Giovani dos Santos, and Gyasi Zardes.
90 - Gleeson
2 - Powell
4 - Taylor
7 - Borchers
16 - Valentin
14 - Zemanski
21 - Chara
6 - Nagbe
8 - Valeri (C)
26 - Melano
9 - Adi
Both teams are in form, but LA has been on a run of luck — winning despite being outshot almost two-to-one in their last three games — and the Timbers offense looks better than it has all season. Still, the injury to Ridgewell is hugely damaging for Portland. 2-2 draw.