The Black and Gold trounced its fiercest rival Saturday night, routing the Galaxy 6-2 to set up an intriguing matchup against another of the Club’s biggest nemeses, the Portland Timbers on July 23 in the third and final Group F match. A win gives LAFC a first place finish in the group, while a draw secures them second place and a ticket to the next round.
The four previous regular season matches between the clubs have seen an extra bit of chippiness and on-field controversy, and Portland is looking to even the all-time regular season series, as LAFC currently holds a 2-1-1 advantage. To add even more flavor to the rivalry, LAFC has faced the Timbers in the last two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals. In 2018, LAFC held off the Timbers in a 3-2 victory to advance to the first semifinal in Club history. However, in 2019 the Black and Gold suffered a difficult 1-0 elimination loss.
Portland currently sits atop the Group F table, automatically advancing to the next round after two 2-1 victories over the Galaxy and Houston Dynamo, as they seem to be continuing where they left off after an early season 1-0 victory over expansion Nashville SC before the global COVID-19 pandemic brought the MLS season to a halt.
After LAFC earned a hard fought draw in the first match of the MLS Is Back Tournament on July 13, vs. Houston, they are now in second place in the group with four points after that 6-2 drubbing of the Galaxy that saw Diego Rossi make history as the first player in MLS history to score or assist on five goals in a single game two times in his career.
The Portland Timbers of the MLS is Back Tournament have looked like a very different team than the previous iterations LAFC has faced.
These Timbers feature a strong set of three midfielders who set the tone and make the Portland attack flow. Skilled passer Eryk Williamson, savvy veteran and former MLS MVP Diego Valeri and the relentless Diego Chará all are difference makers, and together attempt to play an attractive, attacking style, taking advantage of the dangerous goalscoring abilities of forward Jeremy Ebobisse.
In the first two matches of the tournament, Portland has consistently looked to utilize their outside players to quickly move the ball inside and provide service to Ebobisse. The Timbers backline is solid and more than capable of defending in space.
AGE IS MORE THAN JUST A NUMBER
The Timbers rely heavily on a lineup full of dangerous and experienced veterans. The squad that finished the previous match vs. Houston included: Diego Chará (34), Diego Valeri (34), Sebastián Blanco (32), Steve Clark (34) and Larrys Mabiala (32) among others, amounting to an average of 29.3 years old.
Comparatively, LAFC finished its previous match with an average age of 23.9, and that includes Jordan Harvey (36, oldest player on team) making an appearance for the final three minutes.
As an organization, LAFC has focused on finding, nurturing and developing electric young talent, and in the muggy, draining Florida heat and humidity, it will be interesting to see if the Timbers older legs will be able to keep up with the Black & Gold’s quickness and youth that has so far worn opponents down and registered six second half goals in the LAFC Is Back Tournament. The ability of Bob Bradley to bring on young players with international experience off the bench such as Pancho Ginella and Jose Cifuentes was a game-changer vs. the Galaxy.
LAFC WILL WIN IF…
So far in this tournament, Portland has shown a willingness to open the game up and play a creative, attacking style. While effective, that style can also open up more space – and if LAFC midfielders Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta and Latif Blessing can lead the way and find and exploit these gaps left in transition, LAFC can get the three points and clinch first place in Group F of the MLS is Back Tournament.
PORTLAND CAN WIN IF…
They are physical and limit LAFC’s movement and rotation in the midfield. If the Portland midfield trio is effective and imposes their style of play on the LAFC backline, the Timbers could be undefeated in Group F play.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
In Portland’s last matchup vs. Houston, Jeremy Ebobisse scored for a second consecutive match, the second time in Ebobisse’s career that he has scored in consecutive MLS matches. No one else on the Timbers finished with more than two shots. Ebobisse has been a dangerous finisher, and Sebastian Blanco has recorded a combined six shots in the last two matches – but they will need some help for the Timbers to advance.