Stop me if you’ve read this before, but here’s the situation for the Portland Timbers right now: The Timbers are about to face off against a team to whom they had a less-than-favorable result last time around, a team they once again have to play on short notice, and who took points away last time after scoring multiple goals in rapid succession.
Sound familiar? That’s because the Timbers are faced with the same scenario they had in their last match. That one didn’t go too well, and they’re surely hoping for a better result on Sunday. After having their winning streak snapped against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, Portland has to play LAFC on only three days of rest. Last time these two clubs played each other, Portland lost 4-2 after LAFC put together three goals over the span of about 15 minutes at the end of the first half. And instead of getting at least a draw — like they did against RSL back in August — they added an L to their record. It’s a game that head coach Giovanni Savarese hasn’t forgotten, and one he thinks Portland can learn from.
“I remember every game,” Savarese said. “And in order to make sure that we’re ready, we have to plan and understand how they’re coming, what they’re thinking, what is the group that they have and plan.”
That last match against LAFC wasn’t a horrible one for Portland. They played well for about 75 to 80 minutes. But what hurt them in that game — and in most of the matches early in the restart — was that those other 10 to 15 minutes saw them concede goal after goal. Savarese has emphasized often that the problem isn’t giving up one goal; it’s conceding a lot of them in a hurry.
“I think it is important for us to make sure that we can have a complete performance,” Savarese said. “Every game that we play against this team we consider and we learn from it.”
Savarese also noted that games against LAFC always seem to have extra weight to them. LAFC has been a competitive force ever since joining MLS in 2018. While it has been an uneven year for the club — they sit at fourth in the standings currently and are 3-0-2 (W-D-L) in their last five — they know how to put together strong performances. Savarese is expecting a tough match.
“Always difficult when we play against each other,” Savarese said. “And we’re preparing accordingly to have our players play them.”
And once again, it all comes back to one concept: playing the full 90 minutes. Against RSL on Wednesday, the Timbers gave up two goals fairly close to each other. The whole first half, RSL was pressuring the back line and getting shot after shot on the goal. Shoring things up back there and not allowing those quick goals should be the first step.
The second step is to find that mojo on offense that they had during the streak. Portland never really found a groove offensively until the second half on Wednesday as they started to draw fouls that created a lot of set piece situations like the one Bill Tuiloma scored on. They’ve been one of the best clubs offensively all year, scoring the second-most goals out of anyone this season with 37 (LAFC is first with 39). Once they’re in a rhythm, this team is very dangerous.
“We have to make sure that we’re good with the ball,” Savarese said. “We have to make sure that we create the moments we need to create in order to put ourselves in a good situation, and be able to score some goals in this game that are going to be very important at the beginning to make sure that we continue to grow in confidence.”
The Timbers hit a bump in the road on Wednesday after spending five games cruising down the freeway at 90 miles an hour. It was a tough loss that halted some of that momentum they had as a club. They have a chance to get it back on Sunday.