Sunday, September 13, 2020
8:00 p.m. PT
TV: YouTube TV, Estrella TV
RADIO: ESPN LA 710AM, ESPN App, KFWB 980 AM
Phase one of the 2020 MLS Regular Season restart has been difficult for the Black & Gold, who, after a 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night find themselves with a losing record for the first time in Club history.
“It’s easy to see that we are in a period where it’s well below our standards,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “There’s only one thing we can do – we have to play ourselves out of it.”
Up next is a perfect opportunity for the Club to do just that, against fierce on-field rival Portland Timbers at the Banc of California Stadium on Sunday night.
This will be the sixth regular season matchup between the two Western Conference foes in a series that has been replete with on-field controversy, with LAFC holding a 2-1-2 record. LAFC has also 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, but suffered a 1-0 defeat in 2019.
Portland find themselves on the heels of a major victory against Cascadia rival Seattle Sounders FC on Wednesday, but while they gained three points, they lost MLS Is Back Tournament MVP Sebastián Blanco for the rest of the 2020 season to a torn ACL.
After clinching the MIB tournament championship in Orlando, the Timbers have also had a rough opening in their return to regular season play. Portland went winless in their first three matches of the recent MLS restart, losing to Seattle and the Galaxy and drawing Real Salt Lake before beating Seattle. The Timbers currently sit in fifth place in the Western Conference with a record of 4-3-2 (14 pts).
With the loss to Real Salt Lake, LAFC still find themselves in a slump, dropping four of their last five matches and already surpassing last year’s loss total (4). LAFC opened the 2020 MLS Season with a win over expansion team Inter Miami FC and a draw against the Philadelphia Union before the season was suspended on March 12th as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the MLS Is Back Tournament, the Black & Gold were sent home by Orlando City SC in the quarterfinals by way of penalties, but not before picking up five regular season points in the group stage with ties against Houston and Portland and a win over the Galaxy. Since the season restart, the Club suffered back-to-back losses to the Galaxy and Seattle Sounders, took three points from San Jose, then suffered two more losses to the Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. The Black & Gold currently sit in eighth place in the Western Conference with a 3-4-3 record (12 pts).
The Timbers are a well-organized, veteran team that consistently seem to find ways to get the job done. That experience, coupled with skilled newcomer, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, and an offensively-integrated Eryk Williamson have proven tough for opposing defenses to handle. On the defensive end, although the Club has struggled a bit of late, it’s done so while rotating through different lineups as a result of the shorter turnaround times of the more compact MLS schedule.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Los Angeles and Portland are two cities that have gone through their own set of unique challenges recently. Not only are players living through the difficulties of managing life amidst a global pandemic, but both cities have incurred periods of civil unrest and in the past week, extreme weather conditions. Oregon and California are currently dealing with some of the worst wildfires on record, as the Timbers were unable to practice at their home facility because of issues with unsafe air quality. LAFC could not train at their own facility this week either, being forced to travel downtown because of poor quality around Cal State Los Angeles. It is important to keep in mind that the players on these two clubs might have more than winning soccer games on their mind right now.
“For everyone, this is a different year,” Bradley said. “We’re all facing it. So many unique challenges - whether it’s family members, whether it’s kids, school, parents, distance, just day-to-day life.”
LAFC WILL WIN IF…
The Club can figure out what to do on defensive set pieces. LAFC has given up goals every which way this season, but particularly on chances from second balls on set pieces. The main culprit seems to be a lack of organization and communication plaguing the Club at these moments. This is a Portland squad that has not found much success of their own on set pieces this season, and the Black & Gold cannot let them start now.
PORTLAND CAN WIN IF…
They can continue to create promising chances in the absence of their best player, Sebastián Blanco. Blanco has been a thorny antagonist to LAFC over the years, and it will be important for other Timbers players to step up in his absence. Look for Williamson and Marvin Loría to have an additional opportunity to shine – and Portland can find success if they do.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Much has been made about LAFC’s recent on-field field struggles, but it is important to keep in mind the added challenges the Club has had to face, along with the opportunity it presents.
“So, yes, we’re at an interesting moment where we’re facing more adversity than we have in the first two years, and that’s part of becoming a good team,” Bradley said.
With the loss of experienced veterans from the 2019 squad, including Steven Beitashour and Lee Nguyen, Bradley is providing an opportunity for the younger and more inexperienced LAFC players to manage through adversity and find ways to grow both on and off the pitch.
It’s worth noting that LAFC’s last three matches has featured the two youngest lineups in MLS this season with an average age of at 24.1.
While LAFC stars like 2019 MLS MVP Carlos Vela and 2019 MLS Best XI midfielder Eduard Atuesta continue to be sidelined with injuries, Portland now has to deal with a major loss of their own after star and MLS Is Back Tournament MVP Sebastián Blanco tore his ACL in the club’s last match against Seattle.
“Getting injured at that point and not being able to continue, definitely it was difficult,” said Portland Head Coach Giovanni Savarese. “But the team showed once again that once we put our minds into working together, when we stay disciplined and execute the plan that we ask in our style of place, then we can achieve great things."
All eyes will be on Portland to see if the Timbers squad can continue to find success in Blanco’s absence as their season continues.