Galaxy bring their own storm to Portland

Bad weather won't be only obstacle for Timbers

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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BEAVERTON — Typhoon or no, the Portland Timbers understand that a strong force will test them today at Jeld-Wen Field.

The names Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane make that clear.

As their two consecutive MLS Cup championships demonstrate, the Los Angeles Galaxy have a history of taking their game to another level when the stakes get big. With Portland sitting one point in front of L.A. in the scramble for playoff spots, the stakes are sizeable for this nationally-televised match.

The Timbers are looking forward to the storm.

Portland has a win and a draw in the first two meetings with L.A. And the Timbers, so far, have kept the ever dangerous Keane (13 goals, 11 assists in 18 games) and Donovan (eight goals, eight assists, 18 games) off the scoreboard. Disciplined defense is part of the reason. So is assertive play going forward.

An ankle injury suffered two weeks ago against D.C. United kept Donovan out of last weekend's 1-1 draw with Seattle. He did not play in the Galaxy's midweek CONCACAF Champions League win in Costa Rica. Donovan told media in Los Angeles on Friday that he hopes to play. "But we'll see."

Donovan plays as a forward alongside Keane but often moves into midfield or outside during the course of a match. Those movements are one way Donovan can uniquely challenge opponents.

"It's just (about) good communication between the two holding midfielders and the two centerbacks and even the fullbacks at times because he can drift in and out of those spaces," said Will Johnson, who plays alongside Diego Chara in Portland's midfield. "We'll be aware of him. But if we have the ball and we're attacking and getting shots in their end, he can't do much to us."

Ideally, the Timbers would like to have more possessions than the Galaxy. But there is risk in pushing the attack, too. In part because of the individual skill of Donovan and Keane, the Galaxy is one of the best counter-attack teams in MLS.

"The challenge is when you have the ball and your lines get high, those type of players can really open you up on the counter attack," Timbers coach Caleb Porter said.

"We just have to predict bad things are going to happen," Will Johnson said. "We have to know where (Donovan is) at all times because he's a different class. He's a danger man, and we'd be foolish to not have our eyes on him."

Eyes are also on the weather, with a weekend of wind and rain more typical of November. Might that work to Portland's advantage against Los Angeles?

Rain, Porter said, makes balls move quicker and skip differently along the Jeld-Wen surface.

"I actually like it a little more wet than I do dry," Porter said. "It's too slow, and there's too much static and there's too much friction on turf if it's not a little wet. Which is why we wet it down even if it doesn't rain.

Porter noted that his team has done well in the rain. Portland beat 2-0 Houston in May, Colorado 3-0 in June in the two wettest home games this season. And the Timbers won their first two home openers in downpours, scoring four goals against Chicago in 2011 and three against Philadelphia in 2012.

"I don't think there will be much difference on the field. It'll just be naturally hosed down," Porter said.