The Portland Timbers’ unbeaten streak ended at eight, as they suffered their first loss since August in a 2-1 defeat in Los Angeles to the LA Galaxy. An unfortunate mistake on the backline would gift Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez the opener and an audacious back post chip from Sebastian Blanco would grab the equalizer back for Portland momentarily. A stoppage-time penalty scored by Sacha Kljestian broke Portland hearts and gave the Galaxy the win at the death.
The match began as most Timbers away days do - with the hosts holding most of the ball and Portland sitting in their mid-block absorbing pressure and counterattacking. The Galaxy were mostly denied the middle of the park, being forced down either of the sides. They whipped in crosses, almost exclusively down the right side.
That pattern of play produced the first real chance of the game when Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez got on the end of the low cross and fired a first-time shot at Portland’s goal. Steve Clark was up to the task and made a great reaction save to parry the shot away.
Clark was active in the first half, making 3 saves including another excellent reaction save. He dove to his right after being wrong-footed to save a deflected shot through traffic halfway through the first half.
The Timbers also produced a moment of quality goalkeeping from Galaxy keeper Jonathan Bond, much to their consternation. Yimmi Chara delivered a free kick in the 20th minute. Dairo Zuparic rose up at the back post and fired a snap header at goal - only to see it be expertly pushed away by Bond.
Offensive opportunities for the Timbers would be hard to come by in the first half. Portland only managed two shots on goal in the first frame and no shots after the 21st minute.
The Galaxy turned up the pressure as the half wore on. They dominated the first half statistical categories, totaling 70% possession and firing off eleven shots, three of them on target. With about ten minutes remaining in the first half, the Timbers would have to weather a storm of close calls, including a ping-pong, bouncing ball off a corner kick and a Galaxy attacking sequence that thankfully ended with a shot being put wide.
The field seemed to tilt in the direction of Portland’s goal as the half wound to a close, as LA kept pushing higher and put more pressure on the Timbers. Portland’s defense would remain just stout enough through the first half, maintaining the clean sheet by virtue of some fortunate bounces and subpar Galaxy finishing.
The Timbers had the ball in the net at the end of the half via Jaroslaw Niezgoda, only for the flag to go up for offside on a pass during the buildup.
With the teams knotted at 0-0 at halftime, the Timbers went into the locker room looking to jump-start their counter attack, while continuing to keep the Galaxy offense at bay.
They almost fumbled the latter in the opening stages of the second half, if not for some more goalkeeper heroics. Clark did amazingly well to get down and make an excellent double-save on Kevin Cabral after the Galaxy attacker got free behind makeshift left back Pablo Bonilla. Not eight minutes later, Clark would keep up his Man of the Match performance to save a Chicharito shot from close range.
On the offensive end, Portland would find a few more dangerous opportunities in the opening fifteen minutes of the second half. They put more shots on the Galaxy goal and seemed to have found the opener in the 59th minute after Yimmi Chara tapped a rebound home but the offside flag ruled it out yet again.
That good work on both sides of the ball was undone in the 62nd minute, courtesy of an inexplicable mistake. Larrys Mabiala shifted over to try to block an entry ball into the box but misjudged his timing and saw the ball skip right between his legs... to Chicharito at the back post. The Galaxy forward was thankful for the gift and roofed the ball into the net to capitalize on the mistake and give the Galaxy the lead.
The Timbers were behind the curve, despite some improved play at the beginning of the second half. Misfortunate or not, they would have to find a way to dust themselves off if they wanted to get back into the game.
And dust themselves off they did - thanks to a touch of good fortune of their own. In the 72nd minute, Sebastian Blanco collected the ball on the far side, just outside the box. He chipped a ball towards the back post and the ball sailed past Bond, kissed off the far post, and nestled into the back of the net. Whether he meant it or not, Blanco had skillfully grabbed the equalizer for the Timbers.
With the game level again, the Galaxy would do their best to try to chase the winner. The hosts seemed shell-shocked after Blanco’s stunner. Portland on the other hand shifted right back into their resolute defense, holding LA at bay without a shot on target in the second half. Keeping the Galaxy honest with the threat of speedy counter-attacks via Santiago Moreno and Felipe Mora, Portland was able to keep their lines compact.
However, it would all be for naught as the match entered second-half stoppage time. In the 91st minute, Efrain Alvarez cut inside in the Timbers box past Josecarlos Van Rankin. The Timbers’ right back stuck his right foot out to try to win the ball. But the challenge was late and he knocked over the Galaxy attacker. The referee pointed to the spot and MLS veteran Kljestan stepped up. Despite Clark diving the right way, his heroics could not save the Timbers any longer, as the ball rolled just past him and into the corner.
The final whistle blew a few minutes later and the Portland Timbers had lost a heartbreaker on the road.
Losing is a new feeling for the Timbers. They had yet to lose since their August 21 match against Austin FC. Despite more resolute defending and opportunistic attacking on the road, Portland wasted a golden opportunity to gain ground in the Western Conference playoff race.
There will not be much time for the Timbers to wallow. Portland need to regroup quickly to face the tricky Vancouver Whitecaps at Providence Park next Wednesday. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. PST.
The mood of the past two months had been defined by the Timbers being world-beaters. Now, they have been beaten themselves. The final few weeks of the season and beyond will be defined by how the Timbers respond to this loss and how well they are able to regroup and refocus for the final playoff push.