The Story So Far
On the back of a Brian Fernandez brace, the Portland Timbers wrapped up their 12 game road odyssey in Philadelphia with a win. The top-in-the-East Union were no match for the Timbers new Designated Player, who now has three goals in two appearances. What a better way to head home is having a 4-1-1 record in their last six. He will now make his debut in front of the Timbers Army on Saturday.
LAFC comes into Providence Park unbeaten through their last six games (3-0-3) and at the top of the Western Conference six points ahead of city rival LA Galaxy. They recently took out the Montreal Impact 4-2, and league leading goal scorer Carlos Vela picked up his 15th goal of the year while adding two assists to his tally as the Black and Gold rolled to victory.
Can the returning road warriors get three points in the newly renovated Providence Park or will the black and gold of Los Angeles Football Club play spoiler on the Timbers’ special night?
What To Watch For
Los Angeles Football Club (10-1-4, 34 pts)
I’m not sure where to really start when it comes to LAFC. They’re number one in the West, with the best record in Major League Soccer. This team can come at you from all angles, they ran a 4-2-3-1 against Minnesota as you can see - normally they run a 4-3-3 with no true number six. All three midfielders in that formation are encouraged to go forward. Diego Rossi, Latif Blessing, Carlos Vela, and Christian Ramirez form a fear inducing front four.
LAFC lead the league in goals scored with 36, which works out to 2.04 goals per 90, and they’ve only allowed 11 goals for 0.73 goals per 90. Former Timbers and current Columbus Crew coach Caleb Porter equated LAFC with Manchester City in the Premier league.
“In my opinion, in watching all the games and all the teams, they’re the Man[chester] City of MLS,” Porter said. “The budget, the talent, the way they play, that’s the best team in the league. And as I’m standing there at 1-0, I’m looking at my team and my feeling was that I was proud of them for how they played, everything they gave.”
I’m not quite sure I agree with Porter, but they are the best team in the league right now and it’s not even close. Bob Bradley has his team firing on all cylinders and if they keep up their run of form, they’ll stay atop the West for a good portion of the season.
Look for LAFC to run a high-line defense, when they lose the ball look for them to counter-press and hunt in packs to get the ball back. This is something they can do all game and the Timbers will need to be aware of this. Through 11 matches so far this season, the LAFC defense is holding teams to 8.29 passes per defensive action. Another way to look at it this, opponents are averaging just over eight passes before a tackle, pressure regain, interception, etc. occurs from LAFC. This is a pretty big improvement over last season where they averaged just over 11 passes per defensive action.
LAFC’s average shot total from high-press/counterpress events jumped from 3.62 to 4.45 in 2019. Which has showed they’re winning the ball higher up on the pitch. Here’s a good example of the counterpress working like a well oiled machine against the Seattle Sounders.
When LAFC lose the ball at about the 23 second mark their counterpress goes to work. From back to front it’s the team defending that has rocketed LAFC to the top of MLS. It only took a season to sort out what was a big talking point last season concerning their defense. This team is very well rounded.
The last time these two teams faced each other was at Banc Of California Stadium early on in the road trip, a match the Timbers dropped 4-1. This is the last time these two teams will meet in the 2019 regular season.
Portland Timbers (4-6-2, 14 pts)
While the diagram to the right has the Timbers in a 4-4-2 diamond, it was pretty fluid throughout the night in Philly, it eventually wound up as a 4-4-1-1. Either way, it worked and the Timbers were able to walk out of Philly as 3-1 victors and collectors of three points.
We can all agree that the addition of Brian Fernandez has been a revelation. Even though he’s only played 115 minutes, he’s on an average of 2.35 goals per game. Obviously that’s not really sustainable - but if he continues on in his current form he’ll be hard to stop. He’s tied Diego Valeri with three goals, Jeremy Ebobisse still leads the Timbers in goals with four, but I have a feeling it won’t be too long before he’s overtaken in goals scored.
This is going to be a tough match for the Timbers; of course, I said that for the Philly match and they made it look easy. But I don’t expect easy against this LAFC side, the defense is going to have to be on its toes for this one. Lots of threats in different areas of the pitch. I’m sure we’ll see Jorge Moreira back in the line-up for Jorge Villafana. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say Steve Clark will get the start between the sticks. I’m not sure what’s happened with Jeff Attinella, but Clark seems to be ahead in the competition for the number one spot.
I’d also expect Sebastian Blanco to be back in the starting eleven after coming off the bench in Philadelphia which was in part to make sure he could play in the home opener, as he’s just one yellow away from suspension for accumulation. Christian Paredes is also now available for selection, though he’s still listed as questionable for Saturday night according to the injury report on mlssoccer.com.
One thing to watch for is how the Timbers deal with the press/counter press of LAFC. The Black and Gold rely on short passes, while attacking through the middle of the pitch. They have a 55.1% possession on the season and are extremely comfortable playing the ball in the opposing half of the field.
This has all the trappings of a big game, a celebration in re-opening Providence Park, the best team in the league coming to town. A win for the Timbers will draw them closer to the red-line, currently the Timbers are four points out of that last playoff spot.
The Timbers will play 17 of their last 22 matches at Providence Park, following their extended road trip to begin the 2019 season. Portland concluded its 2018 home campaign unbeaten in its last seven matches (5-0-2) at Providence Park, including playoffs, while registering five shutouts during that span. The Timbers posted a record of 14-2-5 in all competitions at Providence Park in 2018.
Saturday’s match marks the fourth meeting all-time in MLS regular-season play between Portland and LAFC. The Timbers won the first-ever match between the two sides on May 19, 2018, at Providence Park, recording a 2-0 win, while the two teams played to a scoreless draw on July 15, 2018. LAFC won the first meeting in 2019 at Banc of California Stadium on March 10. LAFC is unbeaten in its last seven matches (4-0-3) and enters the week with the best record (10-1-4, 34pts) in MLS. Carlos Vela leads the league in both goals (15) and assists (9) in 2019.
Referee: Robert Sibiga, Assistant Referees: Frank Anderson, Nick Uranga, 4th Official: Victor Rivas, VAR: Jon Freemon