In what’s become an almost bankable three points for the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center, the Portland Timbers lost one-nil after Todd Dunivant headed home a corner at the match’s hour mark to provide the margin of victory for the hosts.
The game started well for the Timbers in the opening period, weathering numerous chances by the Galaxy and testing former Timbers netminder Josh Saunders, who made his return to notch a clean sheet and LA’s first win in eight attempts.
LA struck first in the opening minutes, Sean Franklin turning Mike Chabala inside out at the byline before centering a dangerous cross to the top of the six yard box, where Marcelo Sarvas outleapt Portland captain Jack Jewsbury. The skipper beaten, Sarvas was certain of scoring on a snap header before Troy Perkins made himself big and deflected the close range effort over the bar.
Portland countered in the seventh minute, a Kalif Alhassan ball into the box dummied by Kris Boyd landing at newly signed Danny Mwanga’s feet in an uncomfortable position for the Galaxy defense. Mwanga did well to feed the ball back to Boyd, the Scot firing from only yards out to find the frame but also gloves of a sprawling Saunders, who paid the price for parrying as he went to ground in pain.
Another former Timber would be involved in the match’s next opportunity in the 15th minute, Bryan Jordan sprinting down the flank to center a pass to an onrushing Landon Donovan. Donovan expertly put his laces through the ball to beat Perkins with a thunderous volley, only to be denied by the woodwork as his shot caromed off the goalpost.
Portland would counter through Mwanga not long after, the Congolese striker bursting into space, only to be brought down by a crunching tackle from Dunivant, who just got a toe to the ball before the forward was then clattered through by Saunders. The officials saw nothing wrong with either challenge, which drew the ire of the traveling Timbers Army, again making themselves at home in enemy territory with the volume of their vocality.
Mwanga was able to pick himself up, and five minutes later his strike partner Boyd would dust off his shooting boots. The Timbers were looking comfortable in possession, and after a darting run into space from Darlington Nagbe, whose layoff set up Boyd for a long range effort, but again Saunders was equal to the effort.
Shots on goal were few and far between the remainder of the half, with both sides ruing missed opportunities while also sighing relief that their own goal remained unbreached. LA came out brighter after the restart, ten minutes after the interval Donovan taking another game effort from outside the area. After nutmegging Diego Chara, he cut back another rapacious blast that only narrowly clipped over the crossbar.
The near miss was a signal of intent from the Galaxy, a precursor to the breakthrough goal in the 61st minute. Not surprisingly, David Beckham was the provider from a corner kick, while Landon Donovan was again integrally involved in Portland’s downfall as his obstruction of Perkins offered Dunivant a clear path to the ball for the winning header.
Perkins was livid at the lack of a call on Donovan, earning a yellow card for his protests, but Donovan merely stood his ground. What was more worrying for the Timbers defense was that Jewsbury failed to get goalside of Dunivant before the LA defender bounced his header off the turf to tuck into the net off the far post.
Portland was feeling no pity in the City of Angels, er, Carson, and manager John Spencer soon made his first change as he brought on Sal Zizzo for Franck Songo’o in the 65th minute. Before the speedy winger could make his usual impact, LA had taken hold of the proceedings, and Beckham nearly doubled their advantage when he put a dangerous free kick narrowly wide in the 72nd minute.
Spencer tried to evoke more offense from his unproductive attack as Mike Fucito replaced Boyd in the 73rd, followed by the exit of Alhassan for Eric Alexander in the 79th. Spencer’s managerial counterpart Bruce Arena responded with changes of his own, taking off Jordan for Kyle Nakazawa in the 80th, then relieving Portland area native Chad Barrett with teenager Jack McBean, who made his debut for the Galaxy at only seventeen years old.
As the clock wore down, Arena’s changes proved more effective, McBean in particular doing well to hold up play to protect their one goal lead, while the Timbers substitutions failed to improve upon the starters’ pointless performance.
It’s difficult to find fault in Spencer’s strategy, the Scotsman’s selection inclusive of the roster’s most creative attacking talent, yet the players continue to come up short where scoring is concerned. While early exchanges between Boyd and Mwanga appeared positive, the result was the same for the Timbers faithful, again lamenting a disheartening loss to a Southern California club.
The loss leaves the Timbers tied for last place in the Western conference, the Galaxy profiting as LA switches places with Portland in the standings. While the defending MLS Cup champions breathe new life into their title challenge with the win, the Timbers must return home next weekend for a Cascadia derby with their fiercest rival, the Seattle Sounders.
After going down meekly to the Montreal Impact in the Quebecois club’s new Stade Saputo unveiling, the Sounders will have no lack of motivation to turn around their recent poor run of form in the league. For Portland, one can only hope Seattle’s defensive woes continue, at this point the Timbers will need some offensive assistance if they are to gain ground on their northern neighbors.