The LA Galaxy played the Portland Timbers to an exciting 2-2 draw in their Sunday evening road opener. As defending champions, the Galaxy have a target on their back, as every team in the league is looking to make a statement by beating the champs. This match was no exception, with Portland coming out flying in a chippy first half. However, LA gave as good as they got, and managed to scrape out a result in one of the most raucous venues in MLS. So lets talk about both the bad and the good.
- A road result. The MLS regular season is all about accumulating points and preventing your rivals from doing the same. The truism that you hear over and over again is, "Win at home and draw on the road." I'm sure that Bruce Arena is thrilled to have stolen a point in Portland, and perhaps more importantly, prevented the Timbers from getting all three points. LA played a solid game, dominating the stats sheet in virtually every category: shots, possession, passing percentage, passing in the attacking half, and fouls. A win would have been nice, but a draw was vital.
- Gyasi Zardes opens his 2015 scoring account. One of the big questions coming into 2015 is whether or not Zardes could continue to produce goals as he did last season. He has looked quite good in the lead-up to season with the USMNT and LA. His hold-up play has been solid. His touch is looking better and better. His decision-making has been exemplary. His runs off the ball have been disruptive, and his work-ethic has been excellent. However, getting that first goal should calm his nerves and help him be more precise in his finishing.
- The debut of Mika Vayrynen. Last week, there was a lot of chatter about Baggio Husidic's perforamce off the bench. Husidic got the start in this match, and looked a little more pedestrian. However, LA's new Finnish signing got his debut in the 62nd minute, and looked very good. He covered a lot of ground and was tidy on the ball, creating a lot of mismatches in the midfield with his quick combination play. You can compare the chalkboard of Husidic and Vayrynen below and see that the latter had more touches on the ball, was involved in more combination play, and seemed to cover more ground in his thirty minutes than Husidic did in sixty. This could bode well for the Galaxy moving forward, but last week's Baggio-phelia should be a warning about reading to much into one late-match appearance.
- The attacking play from Omar Gonzalez. Omar has been recognized as one of the league's best defenders for some time now, but his attacking play continues to improve. Last week he had three passes that lead to golden scoring opportunities (on both goals and on the blown opportunity for Stefan Ishizaki). This week he had two key passes, including a ball over the top to Zardes that resulted in an open look just outside the penalty spot. If they're playing on grass, there's a good chance that Zardes buries that shot. The important take-away is that, in the pre-Stephen Gerrard 2015 Galaxy, Omar's ability to stretch the field will continue to create space in the midfield for LA's attacking players to operate in.
- The defending play from Leonardo. Leo has been an extremely inconsistent player in his tenure with the Galaxy. However, he seems to have turned a corner. Starting late in the 2014 season, he has been able to maintain his focus throughout matches. This Portland match has simply been the latest in a run of nice solid performances for the Brazilian. If he keeps playing like this, Galaxy fans are going to have to find something else to complain about.
- Jose Villareal continues to contribute. In the first two matches of this young season, Villareal has a goal and an assist. He is looking more and more confident in his play, and has been a surprising force in the aerial game. His assist on LA's opening goal was inch-perfect, and he had a second key pass leading to an open volley that Husidic put well over the crossbar.
- Alan "Fricken" Gordon. Can anyone name a more clutch player in MLS?
- Not getting three points. While Arena will be content with the draw, he has to feel that the three points were there for the taking. Both goals came on poor defensive breakdowns, and Portland really only had one other clear-cut chance (a three-on-two in just the third minute of the match). LA, on the other hand, had a number of open looks. Zardes, Husidic, and even Robbie Keane all managed to squander golden opportunities. So while a draw is a good result, there may be a number of guys in the Galaxy locker room asking... "What if?"
- Suspect defending. Overall, the LA defense did not look particularly sharp in this match. Robbie Rogers was beaten a number of times, including in the third minute leading to one of Portland's most dangerous chances on the night. He was out of position on the first goal, allowing Fanendo Adi to break LA's offside trap. When Todd Dunivant replaced Rogers in the 87th minute, there was some hope that he could lock down the left side for the remainder of the match. Unfortunately, Darlington Nagbe used his speed to get behind Dunivant and drop the ball to Adi for the go-ahead goal. If it weren't for Alan Gordon's 92nd minute heroics, that would have been the main take-away from the match. Bottom line... LA's defense needs to be more consistent going forward.
- Suspect goalkeeping. In his two matches this season Brian Rowe has actually been pretty solid in goal for LA. However, any experienced fan can't help but be a little uncomfortable watching him bat the ball around in the air anytime there's a cross into the box. Neither Portland nor Chicago were able to capitalize on this weakness, but you've got to believe that it's only a matter of time before some team does. Of course, Jaime Penedo has always had this same weakness, so It's not like the Galaxy have a clearly better option. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next couple of months. Either Rowe or Penedo needs to step up their game, or Arena may be looking for an upgrade in the summer transfer window.
- Where's the tiki-taco? Yes, it's true that the Galaxy are missing two key players (in Donovan and Sarvas) and that MLS teams have started crowding the middle in order to prevent their trademark combination play. The Timbers played a 4-5-1, stacking the middle with Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury behind Nagbe. While the Galaxy were able to successfully create chances from the wings, as a fan it's hard not to pine for the beautiful flowing attack that was LA at their best in 2014. The guys on the pitch are capable of playing that style of soccer. The question is whether or not, in the lead-up to Gerrard's arrival, the team will not just rely on the "Top Gun" attack that Sean has so thoroughly documented here.
So over-all, there's probably more good than bad with this early-season away game in Portland. It definitely is something to build on.