PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Timbers head coach John Spencer thinks he has the answer teams across MLS have been searching for: the secret to countering Landon Donovan, the player he considers the best in the US.
“Definitely, when he comes into your area you’ve got to try to kick him six feet in the air, and when he lands on the ground you try to kick him again,” Spencer joked at training Monday. His Timbers are preparing for a match Wednesday at JELD-WEN Field (10:30 pm ET, ESPN2) against Donovan and his first-place LA Galaxy.
Joking aside, Spencer gushed when describing Donovan’s game.
“Donovan is the best player in the country, by a country mile,” Spencer said. “The best American player in a number of years. Worth every single penny and a little bit more than LA paid for him. The guy is a quality talent. He is definitely one player that when you come up to him and face him as a team, that I think about more than any other player in the league. That’s the best compliment I can pay him.”
It’s not just Donovan’s skill that has enraptured Spencer, but his work-ethic and heart.
“He plays wide left for his team at times and runs 60 yards forward, 60 yards back for 90 minutes and doesn’t take a play off,” Spencer gushed. “That’s a testament to the player himself because he could give it the superstar mentality.”
Donovan’s numbers speak for themselves. His 11 goals are tied for first in MLS with New York’s Thierry Henry, and the Galaxy’s 33 team goals are good for fourth in the league.
“Obviously, you’ve got to watch him a little bit more,” said Timbers forward Eddie Johnson, who earned his second MLS start Saturday in Portland’s 2-2 tie against Toronto. “He’s talented. He’s been doing it for a long time in this league. He scores goals and is a threat.”
The problem that the rest of the league has had in countering LA is their talent doesn’t end with Donovan — not by a long shot. Soccer royalty David Beckham is second in the league with eight assists from his midfield position, while forward Chad Barrett has four goals and three assists.
“They’re running on all cylinders,” Timbers midfielder Jack Jewsbury said. “They’ve got multiple guys that we have to be aware of. But for us, the important thing is focusing on what we can control.”
Portland and LA come into the game heading in the opposite directions.
Donovan’s second-half brace in a 4-0 rout of Vancouver on Saturday pushed the Galaxy’s unbeaten streak to 14 games. Portland, on the other hand, have won just one of their last 10 matches after squandering a 2-0 lead in the final 20 minutes at home Saturday against Toronto.
Johnson, for one, said the hype around the Galaxy match could serve to refocus the reeling side.
“I think maybe it might be a good thing to play someone like the Galaxy after coming off a disappointing result because we know we have to put everything into the game,” Johnson said. “They haven’t lost for quite awhile now. And we’ve got some confidence even though the results haven’t gone our way recently.
"We know we’ve got enough if we all play well to beat the Galaxy. I think we can beat anyone in this league, so hopefully we’ll bring it on Wednesday.”