On an action-packed MLS Decision Day filled with plenty of twists and turns, the Portland Timbers tied LAFC on the road 1-1 thanks to a late goal from Jorge Villafana. Portland will go into the playoffs as the third seed.
The Timbers were unable to go with their strongest lineup, with several key players missing. Jeremy Ebobisse was out of the lineup once again, making it his fifth straight match missed with a concussion. It also didn’t help that Diego Chara sat out because of yellow card accumulation, with Cristhian Paredes starting in his stead. Besides missing those two key cogs, though, it was the usual starters for Portland.
LAFC came into the match with their spot already clinched, but with plenty of potential seed reconfiguration they came out strong. They were aggressive with their press against Portland and earned early opportunities because of it. Portland’s backline struggled with that press early on.
Portland have spent most of the season thriving by scoring early, but in this one LAFC struck first. In the fifth minute, Eryk Williamson had a bad giveaway in LAFC’s final third, resulting in Latif Blessing taking the ball. Blessing took the shot and was blocked, but reigning MLS MVP Carlos Vela was there for the rebound. Vela put it right by Steve Clark to make it 1-0 early.
Giveaways like the one that led to Vela’s goal were what really hurt Portland in the first half. Too often, the backline would try to either make a play that wasn’t there, or midfielders like Williamson and Paredes wouldn’t be in the right position to help connect the defense and offense. It was those early giveaways that underscored the importance of having someone of Diego Chara’s quality on the pitch.
Portland started to look better towards the end of the half. They started to get past the midfield with the long ball and looked dangerous in the final third. The problems stemmed from the defense, however, which gave up nine shots and plenty of opportunities for LAFC to extend their lead. LAFC was firmly in control with the 1-0 lead going into halftime.
The second half was a little more even than the first. LAFC continued to create danger in the final third, but Portland started to find ways to counter it. The Timbers were able to take some of that confidence they started to build at the end of the first and translated that to the second half.
Portland finally started to get real chances in the attacking third towards the end, with some excellent chances coming off the counter-attack. They finally got their first shot on goal in the 80th minute, when Diego Valeri launched a shot from the top of the box that was just saved by Kenneth Vermeer. The Timbers outshot LAFC 5-3 in the second half.
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter if you outshoot your opponent in any half if it doesn’t result in goals — and for that goal finally came in the 90th minute for Portland. The Timbers got into the counter-attack, and Valeri ended up with the ball on the right side of the field in the attacking third. Valeri launched an inch-perfect cross to Jorge Villafana, who headed it in for the goal. Finally, Portland had flipped the script by becoming the team scoring the late goals in matches.
It was a tight back and forth as we went into extra time. LAFC started to ramp up the offensive pressure and Portland tried to do the same. As the clock wound down, it became more and more clear that a winner would not be declared today, and the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
Portland will now face off against FC Dallas in the first round of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs. That match will take place in two weeks on one of three dates: Nov. 21, Nov. 22, or Nov. 24.