STATS: Comparing the 2014 LA Galaxy MLS Cup winners to the 2015 Portland Timbers

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

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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 Powell

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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

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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

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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:

LA Galaxy & Portland Timbers Dream Team

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?

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MLS Re-Entry Draft XI 2015: Three released Whitecaps feature

By Jamie Dawe

With the first round of the MLS Re-Entry Draft closing in, it would seem an appropriate time to form a side with the best eleven players from the 60 that are eligible for the 2015 Re-Entry process.

Players eligible for the draft must be at least 23 and have a minimum of three years of MLS experience or be at least 25 with a minimum of four years of MLS experience – which makes this group more exclusive and hence why there’s only 60 players available! So, here we go.

GK: Tally Hall – Age 30 – released by Orlando City

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After tearing his ACL in August 2014, Hall lost a starting berth that had been his for four-straight years at the Dynamo. Once he recovered from his ACL injury, Hall found himself in new surroundings in Orlando and quickly became the expansion side’s first choice. However, following another injury blow, the Lions deemed him surplus for their second season in MLS. This two-time MLS All-Star provides an opportunity not to be missed in the draft.

RB: Steven Beitashour – Age 28 – Released by Vancouver Whitecaps

This Californian born Iranian international not only carries tonnes of experience with him, but was arguably one of the most solid right-backs in the league this season. With 27 regular season starts and five assists, he played an important role in the Whitecaps’ second place Western Conference finish. Beitashour will be a solid pick for any side in need of a starting right-back but he won’t come cheap.

LB: Kevin Alston – Age 27 – Released by New England Revolution

Alston has made his name as a solid but speedy wingback since the Revs drafted him in 2009. He’s a solid option at left or right back and is certainly a player who can expect to be drafted early on.

 

CB: Tommy Meyer – Age 25 – Released by LA Galaxy

The second youngest player on this team, Meyer has plenty of time to grow into the starting defender that he’s never been given the chance to become during his four-year spell at the Galaxy. 26 regular season starts relatively evenly spread over the four years show that Meyer has always been on the peripherals of a team that has had some good centre-backs. Meyer is capable of grabbing a spot on the roster of almost any MLS side and will expect to be drafted on Friday.

CB: Pa Modou Kah – Age 35 – Released by Vancouver Whitecaps

Seattle Sounders vs Vancouver Whitecaps Pa-Modou Kah Celebrates

The oldest man on this list, Kah is still a viable option as a starting centre-back for at least one more season. Born in Gambia, but a former Norwegian international, Kah knows how to command a back line and even chipped in with three goals for the Whitecaps during the 2015 regular season.

CDM: Jeb Brovsky – Age 27 – Released by New York City FC

The ultimate utility man. Brovsky could have been positioned anywhere across the back line and anywhere in the centre of midfield but holding midfield seems to suit him best. He never quite seemed to settle into his best form in the extremely porous NYCFC defence but he will hope to find another home within MLS now.

CM: Boniek Garcia – Age 31 – Released by Houston Dynamo

At 31, Garcia’s future will surely be in the middle of the park – or possibly in a more attacking central role, rather than out wide. With 12 goals and 18 assists in 89 MLS games for Houston, Garcia has proven what he is capable of and he has to be seen as a viable option for any side looking to pick up a robust option to cover attacking options in midfield.

CM: Mauro Rosales – Age 34 – Released by Vancouver Whitecaps

Rosales enjoyed a solid 2015 season with Vancouver and will be disappointed not to be staying with the Canadian side. The Argentinian midfield enforcer has proved to be a reliable option since moving to MLS in 2011 and will hope his age doesn’t stop a team from bringing him in for the 2016 campaign.

LW: Marco Pappa – Age 28 – Released by Seattle Sounders

Seattle Sounders vs FC Dallas  Marco Pappa

Pappa started only half of the regular season games for the Sounders this season, but in that time he managed to contribute three goals and six assists. At 28, he certainly has the ability to contribute to a team for at least another few years as a starting option and carries invaluable playoff experience, having played ten postseason games with the Sounders and Chicago Fire since 2008.

RW: Robbie Findley – Age 30 – Released by Toronto FC

Findley is a capable starter and also a great bench option for most MLS teams. He has 40 MLS goals and 18 assists to his name across eight seasons in the league. Findley can add an injection of pace into any MLS attack and a spark of fear into any opposing backline. He also offers five years of MLS Cup Playoff experience from his time in Real Salt Lake and could prove invaluable to an MLS side looking for attacking reinforcements.

ST: Maximiliano Urruti – Age 24 – Released by Portland Timbers

Urruti is an incredibly gifted forward with an eye for goal and now an MLS Cup Champions medal under his belt. At just 24, Urruti has buckets of talent to offer any MLS side. Urruti has been used predominantly off the bench in Portland, starting only 28 of his 67 regular season appearances, but he’s capable of staking a starting berth in an MLS side – possibly one looking to rebuild with young talent.

These are only 11 of the 60 players available in the draft. Who do you think should be included in this team that’s not listed above and why?