Jeremy Ebobisse passed up a golden opportunity at the end of the first half of the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal between the Portland Timbers and LAFC. The Timbers forward slipped inside of Steven Beitashour from the left side, running through the space created by Brian Fernandez just outside the penalty area. Only green grass lay between Ebobisse and Pablo Sisniega's goal.
But Ebobisse's shot never reached Sisniega, let alone threatened the LAFC goal.
After taking an initial touch with his right foot, Ebobisse cut back to his favored left foot. The delay was just enough time to allow Steve Beitashour to close down the Portland forward, blocking his left-footed attempt.
In the 84th minute, Ebobisse found the ball on his right foot again. This time, he made no attempt to shift it back to his left, firing a first time shot beyond Sisniega without hesitation. The finish proved to be the match-winner and the end to LAFC's U.S. Open Cup run in 2019.
Football is like that sometimes.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC's 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers in the quarterfinal round of the Open Cup:
Deep Wingers And Double Teams
When the lineups came out, there was one notable exclusion from the visiting side. Portland talisman Diego Valeri started the match on the bench. And if you predicted that then maybe we should be headed to Vegas together.
The gamble wasn't without its reasons though.
Set up in a 4-4-1-1 defensive shape, the Timbers opted for the industry of Jeremy Ebobisse and Marvin Loria in wide areas. Both players can get forward but they can also be counted on to put in work defensively. Throughout the match, we saw the Portland wingers dropping deep to form a bank of four in front of the backline.
Without the ball, Portland kept to the width of its penalty area. The Timbers were all too happy to allow LAFC to play wide to the touchlines. But the moment Carlos Vela or Diego Rossi got on the ball, Ebobisse and Loria were quick to help double with their respective full back and force LAFC either backward or into playing a contested pass.
The disruption of LAFC's outside to inside play was successful, as the Black & Gold found few chances to play quickly back through the middle to exploit the windows created by playing wide.
Sisniega Keeps LAFC Afloat
Pablo Sisniega's three-match run in the U.S. Open Cup was a display of shot-stopping at its best.
After weathering the first 20 minutes, Portland looked the side with a real foothold on the match. The Timbers hemmed LAFC in for a long stretch, racking up one corner kick opportunity after another. But Sisniega was there at every turn.
Sisniega finished the night with four saves. He had three of those saves in less than a three-minute span in the first half. Had it not been for that, this match might have been said and done much earlier.
Harvey Doesn't Stop
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Jordan Harvey is a freak of nature.
The 35-year-old defender gets up and down the pitch in ways someone of his age shouldn't be allowed to. And he does it on a week in and week out basis.
Harvey's latest exploits? Oh, just an 80-yard sprint towards his own goal to put his body on the line as Brian Fernandez lined up what was most definitely a shot headed for the back of the net.
I wish I could be highlighting that sacrifice in a winning cause. But it shouldn't go unnoticed despite the result.
Little To No Clear Chances
The most damning statistic of the night for LAFC was the lone shot on goal.
LAFC may have 50+ goals in all competitions in 2019 but I wouldn't necessarily call this a side of lethal finishers. Where LAFC thrives is in high-quality chance creation. They simply break teams by creating chance after chance, as opposed to sniping one half-chance and grinding out the rest of the match.
Matches like these are going to happen more and more as this season wears on. LAFC is going to have to find ways to create chances even when they aren't at their best. Because if this team is going to rely on a couple of shots on target per match, they are going to struggle to find the back of the net.
Just How They Like It
It was choppy. Opportunities were at a premium. It was physical throughout. In other words, Portland was right at home.
This was the match the Timbers wanted. They set the tone and LAFC weren't able to wrestle control back from them.
It wasn't aesthetically pleasing but it was effective. There's no right way to play football when it comes to winning. On the day, the team that puts the match on their terms usually finds success.
This was one of those days for LAFC, and, unfortunately, it came in a knockout match.
Mark-Anthony Kaye couldn't hide his disappointment in the postmatch press conference, but he summed this match up perfectly:
"It’s all on us. Teams are going to try and destruct the way we play all the time. It’s up to us to find ways to break them down"
Through 19 matches in MLS play and three in the Open Cup, LAFC has found ways to exert control over matches and play their football a vast majority of the time.
Tonight Portland was better at their way of playing than LAFC was at theirs. And that made all the difference.