The Portland Timbers continue their road stretch this evening in Los Angeles, where they will face off against Los Angeles FC. Coming off of their best performance of the season since MLS is Back last Sunday, where we all got to see a good ol’ fashioned fish gutting, the listing ship that was Portland’s 2020 season seems to be righting. And they picked a swell time to do it too, because the Western Conference standings are a bit of a jumble at the moment. Portland currently sits in a four way tie for 5th place on 14 points and are 3 points off of 2nd, but also 2 points above being out of the playoff picture. So, a win tonight would be lovely, boys.
However making that prospect more challenging tonight are two glaring absences: Diego Chara and Sebastian Blanco. Chara is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, a seemingly bi-annual tradition, after he picked up a caution last week in Seattle. Blanco, as we’re all unfortunately aware, tore his ACL in the opening minutes of last week’s match and is out for the remainder of the season. Decidedly not the best of times, folks!
But this is not the LAFC of last season. Heck, this isn’t even the slightly-subpar-but-still-pretty-good LAFC of MLS is Back. This LAFC is reeling a bit. They currently sit 10th in the Western Conference, currently out of the playoff places. They are coming off a 3-zip drubbing at the hands of Real Salt Lake, and have only won once in their past five games. In the process, they have shipped 12 goals. While Bob Bradley’s side will very much be looking to right their own ship, that defense is taking on water fast, and Portland has to look to take advantage this evening.
1. The Godfather is out- who steps up?
We all know this one- since July 2015, the Portland Timbers have won just one single solitary MLS game without Diego Chara in the lineup. His absence will loom large over the game this evening, due mostly due to his superhuman ability to cover ground and break up attacks, a much needed asset against LAFC’s normally potent attack. With Cristhian Paredes most likely to replace him in the starting lineup, a lot of pressure will be on him to step up and provide defensive cover. The same goes for Eryk Williamson, who, after an excellent man of the match performance last week, may be asked to provide more defensive tracking and not maraud as high as he did against Seattle. The defesnisve midfield balance is going to be key.
2. Yimmi Chara: come on down.
Speaking of pressure, let’s talk Diego Chara’s younger brother. Yimmi was brought in on a big Designated Player deal to provide some added spice to an attack that stagnated in 2019. Portland has shown that their overall attacking strategy has evolved since last season, but much of that evolution came by way of Sebastian Blanco ascending to god status, and becoming the attacking hub for the Timbers. With his absence, there is a massive attacking hole that needs to be filled, and all eyes turn to Yimmi Chara to fill some of it.
Obviously, no one is asking Yimmi to do what Seba does. Yimmi is more of a direct attacker that can stretch defenses, so he brings something different to the table. But one thing he hasn’t brought is goals or assists: in just over 300 minutes he has a sole assist to his name. Numbers aren’t anything, and Yimmi very clearly brings attacking verve to the Timbers. But he’s on the of the team’s attacking DP’s, and when another key attacker goes down, the DP has to step up.,
3. Will the defense remain steady?
Last week’s showing against the Sounders was the best the defense has looked in a good long while. They couldn’t keep a clean sheet, but they managed to stymie a very potent Seattle attack (just ask San Jose how bad it can get). The central defenders showed better organization and communication, and Jorge Villfana had probably his best game of the season both in attacking and defending. It did wonders for my blood pressure, and restored some confidence that Portland can defend leads and hold out for results. If Portland hopes to have a chance against this wounded but still very dangerous LAFC side, the solidarity in the back will have to continue.
Location: Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles California Washington
Kick-off time: 8:00 Pacific / 11:00 Eastern
TV broadcast: Root Sports
Rival SB Nation site: Angels on Parade
Radio broadcast: 750 The Game (English) and La GranD 1150AM/93.5 FM (Spanish)