Despite Brian Fernandez’s fourth goal in three appearances, the Portland Timbers lost 3-2 to Los Angeles FC in their first match at the renovated Providence Park.
Things took a bizarre turn for the Timbers seven minutes into the match when, after collecting the ball in the box, Jeff Attinella looked for a quick pass to start the attack, but instead of finding Jorge Villafana with the ball, he served it directly to Golden Boot leader and likely MVP Carlos Vela instead. With only Attinella between him and the goal, Vela carried the ball forward and coolly slotted it home at the near post before the other twenty players on the pitch could work out just what had happened.
After giving up the unthinkable first goal, the Timbers began to put the visitors under pressure, sending ball after ball into the box and forcing LAFC into a long spell of emergency defending at the fifteen minute mark before a foul on a Timbers corner kick broke the momentum.
The Timbers nearly gifted LAFC their second of the night in the 29th minute, when the visitors managed to break up some short passes in the Timbers end and send a ball toward winger Diego Rossi, breaking in on goal. With Attinella scrambling, Rossi hit the ball with his first touch, but could not put it on goal and keeping the scoreline at just 1-0.
Moments later, it was the Timbers who were on the attack as Attinella quickly took a goal kick and caught LAFC off balance for a quick break down the pitch. After Diego Chara found Sebastian Blanco out wide on the left flank, the wily Argentine broke in on goal, dribbling around one defender before taking his shot, but putting it well wide of goal.
The Timbers finally gave up their second of the match in the 34th minute and, while not quite as embarrassing as the first, the second LAFC goal did not cover the Timbers in glory either. After a rapid series of passes found Tristan Blackmon out wide on the Timbers’ left, the LAFC full back served a low, rolling ball into the box that looked certain to be cleared by Jorge Moreira. As Moreira cocked back his boot to clear the ball away, however, in streaked Rossi, putting a boot to the ball before his flat-footed opponent and tucking his side-footed shot home to put the league-leaders up 2-0.
The Timbers seemed shaken by their second concession and struggled for the remainder of the first half. The team’s funk was quickly shaken off when the second half began, however, as the Timbers came out of the locker room swinging.
The energy and desperation of the Timbers attack quickly paid dividends in the 47th minute when the Timbers managed a fast, scrappy goal to pull within one. After a Timbers break down the pitch, Diego Valeri managed to corral a loose ball at the end line and cut a pass back into the path of Blanco. Serving the ball to the back post, Blanco found the curling run of Brian Fernandez for a snap header from the new arrival that forced LAFC keeper Tyler Miller to parry the ball away. The spinning rebound did not go far and fell nicely for Cristhian Paredes who had no trouble finishing the play with a point blank volley into the back of the net.
Moments after the restart the Timbers came close again when a long ball out of the back found Fernandez breaking in behind the LAFC back line. Fernandez took the ball down and burst in on goal, but Miller was equal to the chance and got low to save Fernandez’s low shot at the far post.
As the Timbers looked to hold their momentum and fight their way back into the match, they were caught off balance by the visitors and LAFC struck again. Pushing forward from his full back spot, familiar Timbers foe Jordan Harvey served a long diagonal ball into the box, toward the back post. With both Timbers center backs tracking the near post run of striker Christian Ramirez, nobody picked up the late run of Latif Blessing. As the ball dropped to Blessing in space, the LAFC midfielder leapt and put a boot to the ball, placing it just around Attinella for LAFC’s third of the match.
Again down by two, the Timbers continued to fight and the chances came for the home side. In the 56th minute, a diagonal ball from Moreira found Fernandez in the box for a header on goal, but Miller was able to parry it away; in the 62nd, Valeri cut across the top of the LAFC box and hit a curling shot through traffic that forced Miller to dive at full extension to parry it away; and in the 76th, the the Timbers thought they had drawn a penalty when the ball struck Harvey’s arm on the edge of the box but referee Robert Sibiga ruled that the infraction had taken place just outside the box.
Finally, in the 86th minute, the Timbers managed to break through in spectacular fashion. After laying siege to the LAFC end for several minute, Jorge Villafana collected the ball on the LAFC end line and floated a curling ball into the box. Rising up over his man, Jeremey Ebobissed flicked the ball toward goal where Fernandez was lurking. As the ball fell to him facing away from goal, Fernandez threw himself into a bicycle kick, making solid contact with the ball and sending it past Miller and into the back of the net to pull the Timbers again within one.
As the Timbers went in search of their equalizer and LAFC sought to grind the match down, the remaining minutes devolved into a series of fouls and scuffles, causing players and coaches from both teams to come together on multiple occasions. Finally, after four yellow cards in the final ten minutes of the match, Sibiga blew the final whistle.
Having opened their new stadium, the Timbers are back on the road for their next match on June 12th when they will face the Seattle Sounders in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The match will be the fourth time that the Timbers and Sounders have met in the U.S. Open Cup in the last six years.