LAFC v Portland: A win for the history books
It was billed as one of the biggest games of the year, and boy, it did not disappoint. With Portland re-opening their larger stadium, they were finally ready to be home. While El Trafico is a great rivalry between two close teams, in reality, the biggest rival LAFC has is between the Portland Timbers. This game just added more fuel to that fire, so let’s break it down with a new 3252 breakdown!
3 things that went well
Not playing scared
From the opening whistle of the match, LAFC came out looking for blood. There have been moments this season (ahem: Vancouver) that LAFC looked flat when it came to an inferior opponent. This was Portland’s first game at home and they sat in 11th place out of 12 coming into the game. I was fully expecting LAFC to come out flat, or be overwhelmed by the moment of a “new” stadium. Well, I was wrong. LAFC put their foot on the gas and almost never let up. They moved the ball between the lines of Portland and found a way to get through and towards goal all the time. They never looked like the moment was too big, and that’s a good step towards the future of this club.
Press, press, and press some more
A constant for LAFC this season has been their pressing against the opposing team. I likened LAFC’s style to Liverpool last month because of the amount of pressing both teams like to do during the course of the game. For LAFC, this became apparent during the second half. The Black & Gold kept on pressing the midfielders of Portland, cause a lot of turnovers or backward passes. If LA wasn’t pressing the Timbers, they would step throw their feet up to block a pass through the lines, and it worked more than you realized. LAFC won this game because Portland was never able to get their system of play working.
LAFC calmed down when Portland started to press hard
To put the second half in a single word, it would have to be chaotic. Portland scored early to get one back, but LAFC did not fret, they found their rhythm again and were able to score with Blessing to get their two-goal lead back. Even with that, the Timbers continued to try and find a way to get back into the game. There were a crazy number of fouls, flashpoints, and even the coaching sides of both teams got into it. Whereas LAFC would have failed last season, they showed resilience to get themselves three vital points on the road.
2 things that need to be worked on:
New turf for everyone
Going into the game, I was worried about the condition of the field. In the short history of LAFC, they have not played well on turf. Even this season, they lost their only game on turf 1-0 to Vancouver. While they play great on grass, knowing exactly how their passes are going to slide along the surface, they can never figure it out on the turf. Too many balls go long or the first touches are way off. Luckily for LAFC, Portland had zero experience on this turf as well! They only had one practice on the new ground prior to the game, and it showed throughout the match. This played in favor of LAFC as they ended up being not the worst team on turf. Still though, LAFC need to make sure they lock up home field advantage for the playoffs so they don’t have to worry about playing on turf when it really matters.
Protecting Carlos Vela
Throughout the pre-season, one thing that Benjamin and I from Heart of LAFC saw was how hard Vela was getting fouled in every match. Even though it was the preseason, teams were hacking at him at all times. Prior to tonight’s match, that wasn’t much of an issue, but tonight was another story. Every opportunity Portland had, they took aim at Vela. #25 of Portland, Bill Tuiloma somehow kept on avoiding the different colors from the referee’s book with every hard foul on Vela. LAFC needs to do better at keeping their best player healthy, which includes creating more open spaces and sometimes not passing to him because Portland was always expecting it.
5 key moments of the match:
Carlos Vela’s 16th goal of the season
Once again, Vela shows that he is a class above everyone in Major League Soccer. To have the presence of mind to see the Portland keeper Jeff Attinella, try and pass it to the outside to get it to left wing. Vela was able to see the pass from the keeper, intercept it, and drive towards goal and place the ball at the bottom corner of the net. In a tough environment, LAFC was able to go up one early in the match.
Diego Rossi’s miss in the 28th minute
After LAFC was able to make in-roads within the Portland defense, the Black & Gold were finding more and more space to move the ball around. Finally, they were able to get the ball to Rossi, who uncharacteristically, blazed the ball over the bar. On the road, LAFC has to get better on taking advantage of the goal scoring opportunities because they do not come as often as they would like.
Rossi scores in the 34th minute
Brushing aside his miss only eight minutes earlier, Rossi was able to put away one of the best team goals of the season. LA took possession of the ball in the midfield and was able to move the ball on the right side of the pitch to Rossi who was streaking from the left side to the middle of the pitch. Rossi created this goal, likely because he was trying to make up for this mistake eight minutes earlier. It was a great team goal because it looked like it came from the training ground. With LAFC up two goals to nil, it looked like they were going to take charge of the game.
Portland score to start the second half
The Timbers were keen on getting the second half started right, and they did that with an early goal. Portland looked flat in the first half, and if they were going to create a game, they needed to get an early go in the second half. They did exactly that and LAFC looked like they were still in the locker room. It was officially game on.
Latif Blessing scores a beauty
Blessing, who has arguably played the best for LAFC since he has had to switch positions, made a great play to restore LAFC’s crucial two-goal lead. Blessing got the ball at about 23 yards out from goal, passed it to Jordan Harvey on the left wing, and continued his run towards goal. Harvey easily spotted him out and placed a perfect ball to Blessing’s boots. Blessing, as cool as a cucumber, was able to put the ball away from Portland’s keeper and LAFC regained their two-goal lead, which would prove to be imperative later in the game. Best and longest give-and-go you might see this season.
2 key players of the game:
For the first (or second) times this season, Miller ends up in my players of the match. It’s well overdue, but tonight Miller has an unreal game and it was likely his best game for LAFC. Even though the Timbers were able to get two goals past Miller, he made some amazing saves during the course of the game. There were two chances that Portland had when the game was 2-1 for Portland to level to 2-2, but Miller made some heroic saves to keep LAFC in the lead. I was a loud critic of Miller last season, but this year, he has made leaps and bounds to being one of the best keepers in MLS this year.
Vela tonight became the fastest MLS player to score 16 goals and have 10 assists in a game. He has been dominating on the field all this year, trying to prove that he is indeed the best player in the league. He scared Portland so much, he was fouled over, and over, and over again. Portland didn’t have a plan for him, only to foul him constantly. He still found a way to get a goal and a vital assist to put the Black & Gold up. Because of his toughness though, Vela was able to keep LA in front of the game, guiding them home for a win. The team and referees need to do a better job of protecting Vela, but he is showing that he is tougher than this league.
This win for LAFC is massive. With a long MLS break, only to be broken up by the fourth round of the US Open Cup, LA needed to have something positive going into the break. The Black & Gold of LA keep on proving why they are the best in MLS and everyone should fear them. LAFC has a real shot at winning one of the three pieces of silverware by the end of the season. This team is special, and this game proved it.