It was in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson last October that the Portland Timbers looked for the first time like a team that was capable of winning MLS Cup — exploding for a jubilant 5-2 win over the then Cup-favorite Galaxy.
Now, the Timbers return to Carson (6:30 PM, TV on FOX Sports 1) for the first time since that watershed day last fall trying to pick up the pieces after a middling start to the 2016 season took a turn for the worse last Sunday in Orlando.
There are many moments to savor from the Timbers championship run last year, but the victory over the Galaxy in the regular season's penultimate game will always stand apart for its shock value. Not only had the 2015 Timbers struggled — often mightily — to score goals all year, but going into that match, Portland had never won in five MLS seasons at the StubHub Center.
When the team's played in Carson last June, the Galaxy had run riot in a 5-0 win. Take away the 5-2 win last October, and the Timbers' best result against the Galaxy in California was arguably a 0-0 draw in 2013 notable only for being the last game that John Strong and Robbie Earle called for the team on local television.
This is the first of three meetings between these two sides in 2016. With the exception of the 0-0 three years ago, Timbers games against LA have rarely been low-scoring. In the last two years, at least four goals have been scored in every one of these fixtures.
The high-point of the rivalry between these two sides also came in 2013, when a stoppage-time winner from Andrew Jean-Baptiste in a high-strung, high-stakes July game in Portland kicked off a post-game kerfuffle between coaches Caleb Porter and Bruce Arena. Tensions between those two, however, seem to have cooled.
Porter has promised to shake things up in the personnel department in the aftermath of the Timbers' shellacking in Orlando, and it's a good bet that we'll see Chris Klute make his first-team debut at left-back in place of Jack Barmby.
Barmby shouldn't and won't be buried for his nightmarish debut in Orlando, but it's Klute who the Timbers have frustratedly waited for to stake his claim to Jorge Villafaña's old position. At center-back, Liam Ridgewell remains sidelined. The team is targeting the Toronto game on May 1st for his return.
The midfield three look set, but Porter could experiment in attack. Jack McInerney has been much more impressive than either Lucas Melano or Dairon Asprilla have so far this year, while getting Darron Mattocks more minutes could be a priority as well.
Including McInerney or Mattocks up top with Fanendo Adi could require a formation change — and at the very minimum, would require a tweaked tactical approach — but changing the Timbers' 4-3-3 at a time when the rest of the league appears to have figured it out might not be such a bad thing.
The Galaxy, meanwhile, have injury concerns all over the field. Captain Robbie Keane is out after knee surgery, while Steven Gerrard looks set to miss out as well.
LA still can't hang with the Timbers athletically in midfield, but they'll have no problem finding goals if they Timbers don't improve defensively. Expect fireworks in the combustible battles pitting Jelle Van Damme and Adi, as well as Nigel de Jong and Diego Chara.
12 - Kwarasey
2 - Powell
4 - Taylor
7 - Borchers
15 - Klute
21 - Chara
6 - Nagbe
8 - Valeri (C)
11 - Asprilla
26 - Melano
9 - Adi
No team in MLS has been better after losses in the last three years than Caleb Porter's Timbers. With the likes of Alvas Powell and Fanendo Adi motivated, Portland beats a severely average LA team 3-1.