You're not having déjà vu.
Once again, LAFC is in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup for the second year running. Once again, the Black & Gold have a chance to clinch a spot in the semifinals at home. And once again, it's the Portland Timbers standing between them and the final four of the competition.
Since we last saw the Timbers in the Open Cup, there's been no love lost between these two sides. In two matches with Portland in 2019, there's been a total of 62 fouls, 11 yellow cards, one red card, and one nasty get-together between the two teams and coaching staffs on the sideline.
While LAFC has been victorious in both matches, you can throw previous records out the window in a quarterfinal. It's win or go home on Wednesday, here are the Toyota Keys to the Match for the Open Cup quarterfinal between LAFC and the Portland Timbers:
Up The Tempo
Portland knows what it does well and doesn't try to disguise it.
Gio Savarese asks his team to defend in tight lines, keeping seven and sometimes eight men behind the ball. While they disrupt and slow teams with a low block, Diego Valeri and Brian Fernandez have the license to float and find spots to be dangerous on the counter.
Breaking down a low block like Portland's requires sharpness and a mix of tempos. LAFC needs to find passes that lead to the next in quick succession. Moving Portland side to side will open windows through the defense but LAFC can't be slow or predictable in the way they go about it.
Anticipate And Execute
The Timbers don't just defend. They lure you in and immediately look to Valeri and Fernandez on the break.
In order to find those two though, they need the opportunity to turn the ball over and look upfield for the right pass. LAFC will lose the ball in moments - their play is predicated on taking risks when advantages present themselves. So, the Black & Gold has to be ready to immediately pressure Portland in those moments. If LAFC reacts quicker and in precise ways by being positioned well in attack, they'll not only create additional chances but also stymie Portland's best weapon.
Stars Gotta Be Stars
The US Women's National Team proved it in repeating as World Cup champions this past weekend: you need your stars to star in knockout matches.
LAFC has to get Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, and Eduard Atuesta into spots to influence the match. From there, those players need to seize the moment. If any of those three is the best player on the pitch come the final whistle on Wednesday night, there's no doubt LAFC will be on to the next round.