LAFC vs Portland Timbers: Preview
By Benjamin Virgen
March 8, 2019
Let’s keep it going.
Coming off a thrilling 2-1 Hollywood ending win over Sporting KC, LAFC will host Portland Timbers on Sunday March 10th at Banc of California Stadium in Week 2 of the 2019 MLS season. Kick-off is scheduled for 4:30 PM and will be nationally televised on FS1.
We all remember what happened last season with Portland, on and off the field. The racial comments from a Timbers player directed at Adama Diomande during a game, their fans waving an offensive flag to Korean Americans at Banc of California Stadium and Portland protesting LAFC played too many foreign players in the Open Cup quarterfinals created controversy between both teams and fan-bases. The game on Sunday will reignite the rivalry once again where LAFC have yet to beat Portland in league play (2-1 loss in Portland and 0-0 draw in Los Angeles).
Sporting KC was also a team that LAFC failed to get a victory over last season but after this past weekend’s result, that is no longer the case. With the term “revenge year” emerging in the minds of LAFC supporters, Portland may well be the next team to be crossed off that list. However, getting a win against the 2018 MLS Cup runner-up will not be an easy task.
Dealing with Transition
To a certain extent, Portland is going through a phase that LAFC had to go through last season where there are no home games for the first couple of months. The Timbers are currently on a 12-game road trip (Providence Park is undergoing renovations) that started last week in snowy Colorado in what was the lowest temperature match in MLS history (18 degrees). It was a frustrating 3-3 draw given the circumstances of the game where Portland had a man advantage for 60 minutes after Rapids defender Axel Sjoberg was sent off for using his hands to prevent a goal. Portland’s game was also decided in stoppage time but with a different outcome. While LAFC came away with the full three points in the dying moments of their match, the Timbers gave up a late goal in theirs and were forced to go home with only one point. Now they come to Los Angeles with a sense of urgency in an attempt to redeem themselves in what should be a warmer climate with soccer-friendly conditions.
Neither team has changed much since last year, so head coaches Bob Bradley and Giovanni Savarese know what each is going up against. The key for LAFC to win this game is to avoid deriving from the style that has characterized them up until this point. LAFC is going to press and keep their lines tight but must be careful with Segura and Zimmerman getting caught too high up the field. Portland will opt for maintaining possession of the ball, play with quick attackers and try to take advantage of LAFC’s over eagerness. The challenge for them will be just how quickly they can get the ball from the midfield to their forwards. In other words, the speed of transition for both teams will be the deciding factor in who comes out victorious in this game. Besides playing at home in front of our amazing fans, LAFC is looked at as the favorites in this match based on their performance against Sporting KC, their ability to create scoring opportunities and the shaky defense of Portland. If the ball can find the feet of Vela and Rossi in dangerous areas, I guarantee multiple goals for the Black and Gold.
Key Players and Playing as a Unit
It’s very difficult to take anything away from the snowstorm game that Portland played in Colorado due to the field conditions and temperature but there a few players that LAFC need to be mindful of: Diego Chara, Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco.
The midfield battle will have a Colombian flavor to it as Eduard Atuesta and Diego Chara will be seeing plenty of one another during the match. Chara is a veteran midfielder in MLS (8th season with Portland) that will look to use his experience and feistiness to disrupt the fluidity of LAFC’s game. On the other hand, you have the young 21 year-old Atuesta who is coming off a monster game vs Sporting KC and will look to build on that performance to consolidate himself with LAFC. In offense, Portland has two Argentine attacking midfielders that are technically gifted in Valeri and Blanco. Both players usually serve as playmakers for the Timbers but are also capable of scoring goals along with bringing danger on set pieces (2 of the 3 goals in Colorado were set pieces). Of course, Portland has other players that can potentially hurt LAFC but if they can contain those three players in particular, they will be in good shape.
Things are different with LAFC as there are not one or two players’ performances that will determine the teams’ success. Bradley has emphasized time and time again that his team is one that attacks and defends as a unit. As I mentioned before, Portland knows that to expect. LAFC is going to press with Ramirez, look for the passing lanes through the middle with Kaye and Nguyen and get the ball out wide to Vela and Rossi, the question is how well they execute that style of play. I expect Vela to constantly roam in the final third of the field to avoid any personal markings but will most likely continue to get the “love taps” from defenders. The backline will look to remain sharp like they did vs Sporting KC with Tyler Miller in the goal as their final source of security.
However, I do see two LAFC players that could potentially change the game coming off the bench: Latif Blessing and Adama Diomande. Blessing is the super sub that every team in MLS would love to have. His speed and incredible work rate drives opponents crazy and make him very difficult to stop. I look for him to come on with fresh legs in the second half. I don’t think anyone on the LAFC roster wants to score against Portland as bad as Dio does for obvious reasons. If he is someone able to get a goal, he and the stadium will erupt.
All in all I feel very confident in LAFC getting a result here. I expect the same starting XI from last week to step out onto the pitch and come out looking for an early lead. Full of confidence from last week’s win, we hope that confidence rolls over to this match along with the intensity and composure. LAFC need to prove that last week was not a fluke and that they are a team with consistent performances week in and week out.
Follow me on Twitter @lafcbenjamin to talk LAFC, ask questions or send comments. Thank you for reading and Stay Golden!