The start to 2020 has been less than ideal for the LA Galaxy, who roll into the MLS is Back Tournament after taking just one point from their first two matches.
They scored just once in those two games, a draw against the Houston Dynamo and loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez is yet to find the back of the net. They will also be without midfield engine Jonathan dos Santos, who will miss the tournament with a groin injury.
The Galaxy return to play on Monday against the Portland Timbers (8 pm ET | FS1, TUDN; TSN, TVA Sports in Canada), who refuse to take the five-time MLS Cup champs lightly despite their slow start and a missing star.
“They’re still a very competitive team, it’s a game that’s going to be difficult," Timbers head coach Gio Savarese told reporters on a video conference call. "We’ve analyzed how they played so we can arrive at the match as competitive as we can. (Despite) having Jonathan dos Santos out, who is a very important player for them, they’re still a very good team. They can still unbalance you in different moments, with players who can have individual moments to change the game.”
The Timbers have those kinds of players too, of course.
Diego Valeri, Yimmi Chara, Sebastian Blanco and Jeremy Ebobisse highlight a potentially stellar attack as Savarese looks to build chemistry within the group. They played one final intra-squad scrimmage in training ahead of their return to play and Savarese is excited with where the group is at.
“We wanted to see some things from the players and build a little bit of stamina to prepare for the first game of the tournament," Savarese said. "It went very well. The competition between the players has been great, they’ve kept a good level of training. I have to give credit to the players.”
Another key player for Portland is in line for his MLS debut in Orlando, as Designated Player Jaroslaw Niezgoda is available for selection for the first time in his nascent Timbers career.
The Polish forward joined this winter and was leading the Polish top flight in goals at the time of his transfer. Overall, Niezgoda netted 29 goals in 60 appearances with Legia Warsaw after finding the back of the net 24 times in 67 games for Wisla Pulawy. He also spent a year on loan with Ruch Chorzow, where he scored 10 times in 28 games.
“You can see the quality he has, but he has a little bit of catching up in the group," Savarese said. "We’re trying to build confidence in him, to make sure he’s another important piece of this group. He’s evolving and working hard. We’re glad to have him back again. Every day I learn more in what he’s about, in a good way."