The LA Galaxy came from behind to pull out a 1-1 draw with the visiting Portland Timbers. It ended up being an ugly match, with LA dominating possession, and creating a lot of half-chances (one of which eventually led to a Nat Borchers own-goal). On the defensive side, they were more sturdy, but still managed to give up the one chance that allowed Portland to score, and then sit back an protect their lead.
Perhaps the most talked-about aspect of this match will be the officiating. The official seemed to make a decision early that he was going to let a lot of things go. Through most of the the match this played to the visitors advantage, as Diego Chara and his teammates were allowed to get away with a lot of chippy play. However, it may have come back to bite the Timbers in the end, when Nigel De Jong got away with what may have been a red-card-worthy tackle on Darlington Nagbe late in the match.
In the end neither team was really happy with the result.
- Playing the high press: Just like last week, LA came out ready to play in this match. They pushed Portland and created a lot of turnovers. They played with a lot of energy, didn't let their opponent get comfortable, and pressed the Timbers into completing only 74% of their passes. It's exciting to see the team being proactive and taking the game to their opponents.
- Controlling the ball: While LA pressed high, Portland did as well. However, LA did a great job countering that press with strong, quick combination play. LA completed 82% of their passes and controlled 60% of possession. They also managed to create a lot of half-chances out of that possession. All of this should be a positive sign moving forward.
- Strong defense: Not surprisingly, as a result of dominating possession, LA did not give up a lot of chances to Portland. The visitors scored the opening goal in the fifty-second minute on only their third shot of the match. It also proved to be their only real scoring chance on the night. In other words, LA did a very good job shutting down a potent Timbers' attack.
- Coming from behind: Despite going down a goal, LA continued to create chances. The best chance of the match was scuffed wide by Mike Magee in the fifty-eighth minute, after a beautiful run to the end-line and low cross by Sebastian Lletget (who had a very solid game). Gyasi Zardes also looked very dangerous on the night, making many incisive runs. Finally LA drew even on an own goal that was forced by another dangerous cross from Lletget. The take-away is that even after the Timbers went up a goal, LA were able to continue to impose their will on the match. We'll talk about the missing element to the LA attack in the "negatives" section below.
- Giving up points: Win at home, draw on the road. We essentially lost three points in relationship to Portland tonight. This can't continue.
- More injury woes: In the opening minutes of the match, Robbie Rogers went up for a header against Fanendo Adi, and got hip-checked. It wasn't a dirty play, but it was the kind of chippy physical play that the Timbers have built their team around, and it immediately created problems for Rogers, who mishit a ball up the line and continued to limp around on the field until Bruce Arena replaced him with Rafael Garcia in the seventh minute. Unfortunately, Garcia ended up being the most culpable player in Portland's only goal, giving Adi too much space in the penalty area to cut back and curl a shot far post. The depth of this team is being tested beyond anything in recent memory. Garcia (normally a central midfielder) and David Romney were the only defenders on the bench tonight. Someone else needs to get healthy, or more players from Los Dos are going to get called up. Then again, Giovani dos Santos, in his return from an injury lay-off, was the worst LA player on the pitch tonight... so maybe we shouldn't be pushing for guys to come back too quickly.
- Failure to finish: As I mentioned above, LA actually looked pretty good in most aspects of their play tonight. The big thing that was missing was their ability to either make the incisive pass, or finish their opportunities. Free kicks just weren't quit dangerous enough. Shots weren't on target. Decision-making in the opponent's penalty area was poor. It's not that LA doesn't have players capable of delivering on the pitch. Lletget, Magee, and Zardes are all proven goal-scorers in MLS. dos Santos should be able to make something happen as well. It just looks like these guys can't quite put it all together. With Robbie Keane out for the next 4-6 weeks, someone needs to step up and get the ball rolling, or the team will be in for a painful stretch.
- The Nigel de Jong feeding frenzy: At the end of this match, the broadcast crew from Fox Sports did a disservice to both teams. They claimed that the key moment in the match was a rough tackle by de Jong on Darlington Nagbe. On the play, de Jong and Nagby were going for a 50-50 ball. The LA midfielder went over the ball and stepped on Nagby's ankle, rolling it in the process. It was a tackle that should have resulted in a red card to de Jong, and Portland's young attacker left the field injured. However, despite what you may read on twitter, or in other commentary, it did not appear to be a dirty play. It was not reckless and out-of-control. There did not appear to be an intention to injure. It was simply a poor tackle and a missed call by the ref. The media saw an opportunity to go after a guy with a rough reputation, and they took it. It's unfortunate, because de Jong has been a very clean, smart, and skillful player since he's been in an LA kit. We'll see how things play out over the season, but I suspect by the end of the year there will be multiple other players on the squad with many more disciplinary issues than de Jong.
The 2016 MLS season is now well under-way, but I can't help but feel that this Galaxy team has yet to find its identity. The injuries haven't helped, but the designated players haven't stepped up, and the rest of the players just don't seem to be completely comfortable with one-another. If the team can continue to stay in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference, and pull things together as the season progresses, they should be fine heading into the playoffs. However, things could just as easily go south for this squad.
As always, we'll know more next week.