Los Angeles Galaxy climbed off the bottom of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference Saturday with a 3-1 win over Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center – a result that consigned the Oregonians to last place.
Late goals from Juninho and David Beckham sealed a flattering win for Bruce Arena’s side after Landon Donovan had canceled out Kris Boyd’s opener on the stroke of half-time. John Spencer’s Portland side has now lost four straight MLS games for the first time – three of those after taking the lead.
The result hinged on the officials’ application of the offside rule with two key decisions going in the Galaxy’s favor.
Arena made three changes from the Galaxy team that lost 1-0 at Sporting Kansas City on April 7 without registering a shot on goal. David Junior Lopes made his debut in central defense alongside rookie Tommy Meyer. The 29-year-old Brazilian was acquired from Chivas USA during the week in a trade that sent Paulo Cardozo in the other direction.
Beckham returned after his unceremonious withdrawal at half-time against New England Revolution on March 31. Chad Barrett led the attack with Edson Buddle dropping to the bench.
Spencer made four changes from Portland’s 2-1 home defeat to Chivas USA the previous week. Mike Chabala replaced the injured Rodney Wallace at left-back. Hanyer Mosquera and Steve Purdy also slotted into the back four instead of Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Lovel Palmer.
Kalif Alhassan returned on the right side of midfield for Franck Songo’o.
The Galaxy began with some good phases of possession fueled by Beckham, Donovan and Robbie Keane. Portland allowed the hosts to retain possession across the field and stepped up to defend around their penalty area.
Darlington Nagbe relieved the pressure on nine minutes when he carried the ball forward and laid it off to Purdy on his right. The El Salvador international only had Boyd to aim for in the penalty area, but the outnumbered striker still managed to get a toe to the ball and force Saunders into a save.
Barrett’s cutback from the left on 10 minutes forced Troy Perkins to palm the ball away from the onrushing Keane, and the Timbers goalkeeper needed to beat out a Beckham free kick four minutes later.
Portland Take Control
The visitors have produced some attractive football this season despite their results. They did so again as the first half wore on and took the lead on 23 minutes.
Nagbe dropped deep to take a pass from Diego Chara that he laid off to Eric Alexander. That was the cue for Boyd to make his run and Alexander sent him through on goal with a first-time pass behind the Galaxy’s defense. The Scot only needed one touch to finish the move, confidently sweeping the ball past Josh Saunders.
The goal gave another example of the defensive problems that have plagued Los Angeles this season. Nagbe pulled Meyer out of the back line and Lopes and Todd Dunivant were slow to move up. That left a gap for Boyd to move into. Dunivant kept the striker onside as he peeled behind Lopes.
Portland should have doubled their lead two minutes later after Lopes turned the ball over to Nagbe on the halfway line. The lively Liberian skipped around his opponent before feeding Boyd just outside the penalty area. The former Rangers striker should have taken his shot first time. He delayed, allowing Meyer and Beckham to close him down, and Saunders easily fielded his weak effort.
Offside Controversy: Part One
Boyd put the ball in the net again on 26 minutes as Portland peppered Saunders’ goal. Alhassan was given an unforgiveable amount of space to receive Alexander’s pass at the edge of the box and the Ghanaian flicked the ball forward to Boyd. The striker took a touch before executing a clinical volley on the turn that left Saunders helpless. Boyd was level with Los Angeles’ last defender, but half of Chara’s body was advanced. The officials deemed the Portland midfielder to be interfering with play and disallowed the goal.
Soft Equalizer Brings Galaxy Level
The Galaxy had been relying on long balls forward to Keane or deep crosses from Beckham in the hope that something would fall their way rather than successfully creating something. Portland’s defending was stout, attacking the ball and clearing their lines effectively. That changed on 44 minutes.
Keane peeled to the left corner flag where he posed little danger until Eric Brunner tumbled to the ground, leaving the Irishman with an unopposed path across the endline. Donovan arrived late into the penalty area to drill Keane’s cutback into the net from 16 yards.
The game continued in a similar vein after the interval with neither team looking to press their opponent high up the field. Both midfields happily dropped to the edge of their penalty areas and allowed the defenders to clear any crosses into the box.
Saunders didn’t deal with Chabala’s cross on 57 minutes. The goalkeeper spilled the ball with Boyd in close proximity. Portland’s designated player couldn’t turn it toward the empty net.
Some of Portland’s forward impetus was lost when Alhassan made way for Songo’o on 58 minutes. Arena sought to perk up his attack by bringing on Buddle for Barrett on 67 minutes. Lopes should have given them the lead three minutes later, but the debutant somehow thighed Mike Magee’s knockdown over the bar from two yards.
Lopes came close again three minutes later when Songo’o cleared his header off the goal line from Beckham’s outswinging corner. Portland almost snatched the lead on the counter-attack when Alexander curled a shot against Saunders’ crossbar.
Offside Controversy: Part Two
Two disheveled midfields led to the teams exchanging attacks in the closing stages. Los Angeles took the lead in controversial circumstances on 83 minutes.
Portland again defended resolutely to head clear a Beckham corner and Donovan follow-up cross as the Galaxy applied pressure. Juninho outmuscled Nagbe to a loose ball at the edge of the penalty area and turned to fire a low shot that beat Perkins at his near post. Keane must have been obscuring the goalkeeper’s view as he stood in front of Perkins on the 6-yard line. This time the officials deemed that the Irishman wasn’t interfering with play.
Beckham took advantage of the space that had opened up in midfield to seal an unflattering win for the hosts in injury time. The Englishman’s first touch bounced 10 yards away from him, but he still had enough time to crack a shot into Perkins’ top corner before Brunner could close him down.
Things aren’t going Portland’s way at the moment. Spencer’s players have performed adequately in recent weeks yet haven’t been able to close out their winning positions.
Los Angeles’ defense still looks extremely fragile and the midfield are not doing a good job of protecting them. This game could have taken a very different complexion had Boyd’s second goal stood.