PORTLAND, Ore. – Against the LA Galaxy, the Portland Timbers defense did the unthinkable: It lost track of Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane.
And predictably, Portland were punished in a big way to the tune of a brace apiece for Beckham and Keane and a goal and an assist for Donovan in a 5-3 defeat last Saturday at JELD-WEN Field.
So while Juan Pablo Ángel, Alejandro Moreno and Nick LaBrocca may not be on the same level as the Galaxy’s star trio, the Timbers aren’t planning to make the same mistake twice when they travel to face Chivas USA for a Wednesday afternoon game at the Home Depot Center (4 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
HIGHLIGHTS: POR 3, LA 5
“I think we’re going to be tactically a little better,” defender David Horst said. “We’ll be tight as a formation and make sure we know where guys are. We lost track of Beckham, Keane and Donovan, and you can’t lose track of three of the best players in the league.
"And so coming up against Chivas, we’ve got to know where Ángel, Moreno and LaBrocca are, and I think we’re going to do a good job. Gavin [Wilkinson, interim head coach] has done a good job preparing us for it.”
Of course, Portland's main obstacle may be the road itself, a storyline the team hasn’t been able to shake and one that cost the job of former head coach John Spencer. The Timbers are winless in eight games away from JELD-WEN Field and are coming off back-to-back 3-0 road losses at Colorado and Real Salt Lake.
“A lot of it is about concentration and self-belief, I think,” Wilkinson said. “And it’s up to us as a staff and it’s up to the players to make sure we can fulfill that.”
But Wilkinson took that a step further, saying he addressed some of the tactical weaknesses that have plagued the team on the road. Portland haven’t scored a goal on the road since the last time they played at the Home Depot Center, in a 3-1 loss to the Galaxy on April 14.
“Also, it’s a matter of us keeping the ball a little bit better on the road,” Wilkinson said. “So we’re not tired defending and breaking down in the second half. So we’re going to look to maximize possession, we’re going to look to keep the ball in dangerous areas and see if we can put pressure on them. We’re not going back just to sit in and look to get a point.”
He also said players will now be expected to be fully integrated into his system. Wilkinson took the blame for the LA loss Saturday, saying the players had been through a lot with Spencer’s dismissal.
“We need to stay a tight-knit group,” Wilkinson said. “Everyone has to understand their jobs a little bit better than we did going into LA. And there has to be the execution side of it as well. Players will be held a little more accountable. Maybe they got a little bit of a pass on LA.
"I’m not saying they weren’t given the information, but with all the upheaval and all the change maybe that’s a reason or more of an excuse depending on how you look at it. But against Chvias, players will be held more accountable.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.