Portland Timbers became just the second side not named LA Galaxy in the past five years to win MLS Cup last Sunday night. Here, Jamie Dawe looks at how Portland’s championship winning team compares to that of the Galaxy’s from the 2014 season and weighs up how a battle between the last two championship sides could play out…
If the three league matches in the 2015 regular season between Portland Timbers and the LA Galaxy tell us anything (5-0 Galaxy win, 5-2 Portland win and a 2-2 tie) – it would be that this matchup is extremely unpredictable!
However, these two sides have come out with the Major League Soccer’s biggest prize over the past two seasons and I’m sure if this ‘dream’ game were to come about, there would be some incredible battles on the pitch. So, here are four of the biggest head-to-head matchups that would occur if the past two championship-winning sides were to play up, along with a dream LA/Portland lineup.
1. Gyasi Zardes & Robbie Keane vs. Nat Borchers & Liam Ridgewell
Firstly, it would be interesting to see how Borchers and Ridgewell would cope with Zardes’ constant movement and blistering speed, as well as whether Keane could capitalise on any space created by Zardes dragging the two centre-backs out of position. Robbie Keane had an unstoppable 2014 season, scoring 20 goals and grabbing 12 assists across the regular season and playoffs – with these performances earning him the 2014 MLS MVP award. I could see Keane and Zardes causing confusion within the Portland defence with some speedy link up play – but whether it would be enough to unlock a defensive duo with 13 clean sheets in the 2015 season alone – we may never know….
2. Landon Donovan vs. Alvas PowellEmbed from Getty Images
Donovan is one of the most experienced MLS players to have played the game and a battle against a 21-year-old Jamaican right-back with only two years of MLS experience but an ever-growing reputation would provide great viewing. Even though you would expect Donovan to be able to hound Powell with pressure throughout the match, I have a sneaking suspicion that the youngster would use his attacking instincts to press down the right channel and pin Donovan in a more defensive role than he would otherwise be used to. Donovan’s 13 goals and 15 assists in his final season as a professional may have propelled the Galaxy towards MLS Cup, but you can’t dispute Powell’s ability to shackle any left midfielder in MLS. This battle would likely turn out to be the most surprising in the match – but then again, Donovan’s class knows no bounds and all he needs is one sniff of a chance to leave Powell as lost as a penguin in the desert.
3. Omar Gonzalez vs. Fanendo Adi
Adi is a 6ft 4in monster of a striker, but at 6ft 5in, Omar Gonzalez isn’t a man to be messed with either. This would be a battle of brute force and would be particularly interesting at corners, where Adi has the ability to release a majestic salmon-like leap to win headers that really shouldn’t be his. Gonzalez however, won 69% of aerial duels he competed for across the 2014 season, which sets him up as a formidable opponent in the air.
Adi’s technical ability in the box is hard to contain as well – who can forget this assist for Will Johnson against the Vancouver Whitecaps in the 2014 regular season. A terrific tally of 18 goals and 3 assists in his 39 games across the 2015 regular and post-season show his incredible attacking quality. Neither of these players are slow either, so I’d expect a lot of body checking and other examples of football’s dark arts to nullify each other’s pace and power.
4. Marcelo Sarvas & Juninho vs. Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe & Diego Chara
This would be an intense battle for control of the centre of the park. Whoever comes out on top in this head-to-head would control the possession and the tempo of this game. Obviously the formation that the Timbers play leaves them with three players to Galaxy’s two in this duel. However, you should never underestimate the tactical knowledge of the two Brazilians in the middle of the park for the Galaxy. Marcelo Sarvas racked up a formidable five goals, eight assists and an 86% pass accuracy rate from the heart of midfield in the 2014 season – with Juninho scoring one and creating five, along with an 89% pass accuracy – which is the same as Barcelona great Andres Iniesta over that period of time. However, Nagbe’s ever-growing ability (89% pass accuracy in 2015 season) along with the force of having three players in the middle would almost certainly win Portland control of the centre.
Predicted final score: 2-2
The attacking tendencies and qualities of these teams outweigh the abilities of their respective defences – but I couldn’t pick a winner between two strong forces in MLS history. Keane and Donovan would be favourites to score the goals for the Galaxy, with a header from Borchers and an Adi strike making this ‘fantasy’ matchup 2-2!
Portland Timbers/LA Galaxy Dream XI from MLS Cup winning sides:
GK: Jaime Penedo (2014): 34 apps – 93 saves & 31 clearances
RB: A.J. DeLaGarza (2014): 33 apps – 4 assists, 73% tackles won & 103 clearances
CB: Nat Borchers (2015): 37 apps – 4 goals, 188 clearances & 39 shots blocked
or Liam Ridgewell (2015): 37 apps – 236 clearances & 81% tackles won
CB: Omar Gonzalez (2014): 27 apps – 75% tackles won, 203 clearances & 12 shots blocked
LB: Jorge Villafaña (2015): 39 apps – 33 crosses blocked & 79 interceptions
CDM: Darlington Nagbe (2015): 5 goals, 4 assists, 89% pass accuracy & 82% tackles won
CM: Diego Valeri (2015): 27 apps – 83 key passes & 9 assists
CM: Juninho (2014): 39 apps – 89% pass accuracy, 30 key passes & 5 assists
CAM: Landon Donovan (2014): 36 apps – 13 goals, 127 key passes & 15 assists
ST: Robbie Keane (2014): 34 apps – 20 goals, 13 assists & 2014 MLS MVP
ST: Fanendo Adi (2015): 39 apps – 18 goals, 95 shots & 76 aerial duels won
(all statistics include playoffs unless mentioned)
Which championship team was better? The 2014 LA Galaxy side of the 2015 Portland Timbers?