Saturday, Oct. 16: Galaxy 2, Timbers 1
Scoring: Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez with a tap-in finish at the back post after a delivery from Victor Vazquez was whiffed on by Portland defender Larrys Mabiala (1-0 Galaxy, 62nd minute).
Sebastian Blanco's lofted ball from the left side of the 18-yard box floats over LA keeper Jonathan Bond and off the inside of the right post. Was it a shot or a cross? It was his fourth goal of the season (1-1, 2nd minute).
Sasha Kljestan penalty kick. Efrain Alvaraz dribbled into the penalty area and got Josecarlos Van Rankin to attempt a difficult tackle and foul the LA midfielder. Kljesten put a perfectly placed PK just beyond the reach of diving goalkeeper Steve Clark (2-1 Galaxy, 90+2).
What it means: Portland saw its eight-match unbeaten run (7-0-1) end in a difficult way. With five matches remaining, the Timbers remain fourth in the Western Conference (14-11-4, 46 points), four points ahead of fifth-place Real Salt Lake. The Galaxy was winless in its previous nine matches and needed the win. LA (12-11-6, 42 points) sits sixth in the West. The top seven teams make the playoffs, with the top four guaranteed a home match.
Storylines: The goals came in the second half, but the difference in the match was a dominant first half from LA. Portland was stuck defending deep for much of the first 45 minutes.The fatigue from that tough half probably contributed to the errors that gifted the Galaxy two second-half goals.
Before the late PK, the Timbers looked the more likely team to steal a win. Blanco, who said his goal was a cross attempt that spun into the net, noted that he was lucky on that play but unlucky a few minutes later when a swerving shot from distance clanged off the post.
With Claudio Bravo unable to go because of a hamstring injury (coach Giovanni Savarese said Bravo might be able to go Wednesday against Vancouver) Van Rankin started at his usual right back position and Pablo Bonilla at left back. The late PK came after Van Rankin shifted to the right side as Zak McGraw entered the game and Portland went to five defenders.
Portland had less than 30% possession in the first half. The Timbers spent so much time working to defend that players were not moving without the ball when Portland did get possession, making it easy for the Galaxy to quickly win back the ball. The Timbers were much more proactive in the second half, and thrived by getting Blanco on the ball more, but the cumulative fatigue probably led to the simple mistakes on both Galaxy goals.
Jaroslaw Niezgoda made his first start of the season and went 65 minutes. Said Savarese: "I think today it was important for him to get a feel to continue to get confidence, to get minutes the way he did today, and now he's a very important option for us to have coming from the bench or starting some moments" or perhaps playing alongside Felipe Mora.
Santiago Moreno was influential in his minutes off the bench. "He was very good today," Savarese said. "He was good on the ball. He defended well. He brought in good energy. He was dynamic. He made some good choices. He was brave. Very good performance."
Added Blanco: "He's a great player. Of course, when you arrive to a new team, you need time to adapt. But we know him now. We believe in him. I'm glad to see him play more minutes. This guy, he's got pretty good talent. He's fast. He (good) one-v-one."
Steve Clark played a strong match and kept the Galaxy off the board in a busy first half by making six of his saves, perhaps the toughest on a low shot from distance that was deflected and forced him to change directions at the last moment.
Up next: Vancouver at Portland, 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 20 (FOX 12 PLUS).
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