The Portland Timbers came to LA with a plan. And they refused to deviate from it.
On Sunday, LAFC and Portland played to the first 0-0 draw in Banc of California Stadium history. It was a match that had its moments. But was always crying out for a goal.
Here are the takeaways from the 0-0 draw between LAFC and Portland:
Two Styles Go Head To Head
This was a match of two teams with undoubtedly the clearest identities in MLS.
On one side, you had a team adamant in dictating play with the ball at their feet. And on the other, a team happy to concede possession in order to constrict space and hit on the counter.
LAFC had long spells of possession in the match. They probed. They switched play. They played short. They played long. And Portland was happy to let them do so, as long as it was around the periphery of the Timbers' penalty area.
Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese set up his side to counter everything LAFC did well. You have a striker off to a historic start? Ok, we'll put three center backs on the pitch and crowd him out. Like to go at defenses with wide attackers like Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi? Here's two wingbacks to help out our center backs. And no matter what, our three central midfielders aren't going to let you play find space in front of our backline. That was Portland's plan, and in some ways you have to respect it. Because it's not easy to defend and keep connected like that over 90 minutes against LAFC.
Missing The Little Things
In his postgame press conference, Bob Bradley cited the "little things" as his team's undoing today. And it did seem like every time the team put together a few good passes, play came to a halt in the pivotal moment.
A lot of that can be attributed to Portland's discipline over the course of the match. As already noted, the five at the back were so perfectly connected to one another that the spaces just weren't there for LAFC. But the quick combinations weren't there as well. Maybe it was the heat of the afternoon start. Maybe it was a lack of familiarity between Vela and Diomande. Either way, the precise movements that were coming off in LAFC's last two 4-1 wins at home just weren't today.
Stellar Saves At Both Ends
Despite the two sides canceling each other out for much of the match, Tyler Miller and Jeff Attinella had to work for their shutouts.
Miller stepped up first on Sunday. His point-blank stop on Diego Valeri in the fifth minute of the match probably saved us from the Timbers dropping even deeper for the 85 minutes and change left in the match. At the other end, Attinella flashed his quick reflexes with a stop on Diomande from less than five yards out in the 31st minute. And those were probably the two best chances on the day.
But from there, each goalkeeper had to be solid positionally. There were some decent saves at either end, but the goalkeepers pretty much had things covered - aside from the one shot Portland's Samuel Armenteros angled off the outside of the post. In the end, Miller and Attinella both finished with six saves on the day and a shutout for each.
Looking For A Breakthrough On Set Pieces
If all things are even in a match like this, set pieces can be the difference. LAFC had 11 corners to Portland's two on Sunday.
Against the Timbers, LAFC focused on direct corners, as opposed to the short variety they've been fond of in the past. I'm actually not a proponent of short corners. With guys like Walker Zimmerman, Laurent Ciman, and Mark-Anthony Kaye providing height in the box, I think it's best to whip it in and let those guys go to work.
Portland do a really nice job mucking things up in the penalty area though, and LAFC weren't able to really create any separation. With the teams set to square off again on Wednesday, it will be interesting to see what LAFC can change to possibly capitalize on dead ball situations.