Transition football: the key vs Portland in 4-1 win
By: Benjamin Virgen
March 11, 2019
Two games, two wins.
LAFC got their second win of the season last night after defeating thePortland Timbers 4-1 at Banc of California Stadium in front of a sold out crowd of 22,000. The “revenge year” continued for LAFC as they crossed off another team they failed to beat last season off their list. The late-game heroics were not necessary in this one as LAFC finished off their opponent early by playing as a unit, executing crisp passing and outpacing Portland in the speed of transition. The Black and Gold showed they are a complete team from front to back and adjusted when necessary while maintaining their identity of possession-based football.
During the first 15 minutes of the match, LAFC controlled the tempo on the field by maintaining possession, high-intensity pressure on the ball and good connecting plays between the midfield and attackers. When either Walker Zimmerman or Eddie Segura had the ball at their feet playing out of the back, they always looked for the best option available instead of forcing the long ball, which is a sign of understanding from both players on Bob Bradley’s style of play. There was a play where Jordan Harvey applied high-pressure at midfield and left his man unmarked. Segura instantly recognized the movement and chased his opponent all the way to the end line and finished the play with a strong tackle, knocking the ball out of bounds. The intelligence and ability to quickly recover in the 21 year-old Colombian is admirable. Also, I was very impressed with how quickly LAFC were able to recover the ball after losing possession. There were countless times during the game where within seconds, LAFC had three players hounding Portland for the ball and successfully regained possession. The level of intensity was high, especially in the midfield where each player had a couple of interceptions that interrupted any sort of attack that Portland was trying to build.
If you read my preview on this match, you remember that I mentioned the speed of transition for both teams will be deciding factor in who came out victorious in this game. In the 13th minute, LAFC came out quick in transition after a Portland corner kick with Diego Rossi receiving the ball at midfield. With Vela getting the ball in the right side and Portland defenders scrambling to position themselves after an offensive corner kick, it was apparent that the Timbers were disorganized. Steven Beitashour made an overlap run past Vela and the Mexican laid it off with just enough pace for the defender to cross the ball first time. Christian Ramirez made an excellent run to the first post, dragging two Portland defenders with him and Rossi almost scores the first goal of the game from 12 yards out if it weren’t for a great save from Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Atinella. Although the transition play didn’t end up in a goal, LAFC were rewarded with a corner kick of their own after defending one just moments earlier. Vela hit an in swinger and Mark-Anthony Kaye muscled off his defender for a very difficult header that found the back of the net. It was a very special moment for Kaye after everything he had gone through following his ankle injury last year. 1-0 LAFC.
Gift and a Curse: Transition and High Press
It was a good start for Los Angeles Football Club but Portland was aware of their adversary’s over eagerness at times, especially their center backs. Portland were prepared for LAFC’s high press, it was just a matter of how to use that to their advantage. There was a few times during the course of the game where Segura would press high up the field and leave huge amounts of space behind him. One of those plays cost Atuesta a yellow card in the 17th minute when he was forced to pull down Portland midfielder Diego Chara and prevent a counter attack. A few minutes later, Segura is caught up the field pressing high again and leaves Zimmerman one-on-one versus the Timbers attacker. Fortunate for Segura and LAFC, Zimmerman was able to handle the coverage impeccably. Although no goals were conceded because of it, Segura needs to be careful and communicate better with his team if he is going to pressure high up the field to prevent that gap behind him.
In the 18th minute, Beitashour suffered a head injury after clashing heads in the air with a Timbers player that took him out of the game for a few minutes. The defender then returned to the pitch and gave it a go for ten minutes until finally being replaced by Latif Blessing at right back. Bradley later confirmed in the press conference that Beita was having concussion-like symptoms and would be further examined this week. Just before the substitution, Portland Timbers would respond via set piece.Lee Nguyen committed a silly foul on Timbers attacker Diego Valeri, who had his back to the goal and was 35 yards out of the goal. There was no danger there with Harvey being just two yards away from stopping the play. LAFC cannot give away free kicks to teams like Portland who have a very good delivery man in Valeri and are more than likely to capitalize in those situations, which is exactly what they did in the 29th minute per Jeremy Ebobisse after a perfect Valeri cross. 1-1.
It took Blessing a few minutes to settle down into that right back position after an errand pass that led to a dangerous shot, being caught out of position a few times and getting a yellow card within five minutes of entering the game because of his attacking nature. However, Blessing held it down in his own way after that and played great football the remainder of the game, defensively and offensively.Right before the halftime whistle, the speed of transition would come into play again for LAFC. Tyler Miller had the ball played back to him and cleared it to the center of the field where Nguyen controlled a very difficult ball. Nguyen then laid it off to Atuesta who with the outside of his right foot curled it to Vela on the right side while the Timbers defense scrambled in defense. Vela then shrugs off several defenders and dishes it out to Harvey on the left side, who then crosses it into the box for Ramirez as he taps it in for the second goal. It was the epitome of transition football and LAFC were on top because of it. 2-1 LAFC at the half.
For the second 45 minutes, LAFC continued their sharp passing on the field, the timing of their movements was exceptional and the execution in the final third was precise. In the first play of the second half, LAFC had a beautiful buildup play that showed glimpses of what was to come. There was a play where Atuestareceived the ball in his own half under pressure and with a simple step on the ball, changed direction and got past his defender to convert the play into an attack for LAFC. The Colombian midfielder has consolidated himself in the midfieldthis season with great passing, astute movements and aggressive pressing on the opponent.
Ten minutes into the half, another LAFC defender gets caught pressing high up the field (Harvey) and leaves Zimmerman as the last man of defense. Just when Ebobisse was ready to strike the ball for the equalizer, Zimmerman slides for the goal-saving tackle. It was a crucial play in the game as the outcome of the match could have been different with that potential tying goal. Just moments later, LAFC beat Portland in transition again when Kaye finds Vela with a great lofted pass from the midfield to the box and the Mexican brings it down with his chest just to miss wide.
The game changed in the 62nd minute after AdamaDiomandewas subbed in for Ramirez. Remember the buildup play earlier in the half, well LAFC topped it. After 14 consecutive completed passes in a matter of 30 seconds, Vela delivers a great cross inside the 6-yard box right into the feet of Diomande who taps it in as Banc of California erupted. It was the perfect goal for many reasons but Dio surely enjoyed it more than anyone. Just three minutes later, Dio would again be involved in a goal when LAFC stole the ball in the midfield and beat Portland In transition. Dio received the ball in the midfield and dribbled a few yards to find Vela right outside the box on his left foot. The captain is deadly in that area and showed it as he curled the ball far post for the fourth goal of the day for LAFC. Diomande had come onto the game and within 5 minutes, had a goal and assist. What an impact. 4-1 LAFC.
Right after the goal, Kaye was subbed off the field due to cramps and the rookie Peter-Lee Vassell came on in what turned out to be a very good performance for the Jamaican international. His decision making was proper, his movements were great and his passing was brilliant. It just goes to show the depth this team has in all positions and how complete they are from front to back. There was not much to say about the last 20 minutes of the field with the exception of Portland midfielder Chara getting a red card after a double yellow in the 70th minute but the game had already been decided by then. The ejection just made it that much more difficult for the Timbers to get any kind of positive result.
LAFC looked motivated and are going to be a very tough team to beat in MLS. The confidence from last game certainly rolled over to this game along with the intensity and composure. They proved that the win vs Sporting KC was not a fluke and with consistent performances like this, the sky is the limit.
Follow me on Twitter @lafcbenjamin to talk LAFC, ask questions or send comments. Thank you for reading and Stay Golden!