After the ten-men Timbers came from behind to secure a gutsy 2-2 draw midweek against the Colorado Rapids, all eyes turned to another difficult in-conference home clash against an LAFC team just one point behind them in the standings.
And for the second time this season, the Portland Timbers ran out 2-1 winners of a fiercely-contested match against LAFC at Providence Park.
It was almost the best possible start for the Timbers when Yimmi Chara stole the ball from Raheem Edwards in the second minute, before skipping past the latter and sending a cross to Dairon Asprilla who headed wide. The chance was a microcosm of the opening 10 minutes: fast-paced and furious pressing from the Timbers which forced several LAFC turnovers.
LAFC responded to the Timbers’ early pressure by nearly opening the scoring with an absurd goal in the 14th minute after Brian Rodriguez skipped past a Sebastian Blanco challenge and played a one-two with Jose Cifuentes to get into the box. A goal-mouth scramble ensued but the Portland defense was able to get bodies in front of three shots before the ball went out for a corner.
The Timbers' defense continued the recent trend of bending but not breaking in the 20th minute when a wide open Brian Rodriguez blasted a shot over the bar from 10 yards out.
It would be the Timbers who struck first in the match just one minute later when a Sebastian Blanco header crashed off the crossbar and directly into the path of Dairon Asprilla, who calmly headed in his sixth goal of what has been a resurgent season from the forward.
In the immediate aftermath of the goal, Larrys Mabiala committed a foul right outside the Timbers 18-yard-box, earning him a yellow card that sees him suspended for Portland’s next match. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the resulting free kick was deemed to have hit Blanco’s arm in the penalty area, resulting in a penalty for LAFC. Cristian Arango converted the spot kick to tie the game at 1-1.
(FWIW, it looked like the ball might have hit Blanco’s chest instead of his arm, and even then his arm wasn’t really in an unnatural position, but I’m probably looking at the incident through Green and Gold-tinted glasses.)
After Portland and LAFC scored both teams relentlessly pressured each other and created several dangerous chances apiece. But the teams would go into the locker rooms level, both in score and statistics, after the first 45 minutes.
The half was, as Bob Bradley so eloquently described in his half-time interview, “intense.”
Two minutes into the second half, Jose Cifuentes absolutely cannoned a strike off the post from about 40 yards out (fortunately for Steve Clark, who was quite far off his line). Just as the Timbers dominated the opening 10 minutes of the first half, LAFC asserted their authority on the opening 10 minutes of the second half.
Asprilla continued his impressive start to the game by sending in a great cross to Felipe Mora in the 59th minute but Mora’s acrobatic attempt was caught by LAFC goalkeeper Tomas Romero.
Super-sub Diego Valeri entered the match with George Fochive in the 61st minute in an attempt to regain control of the match. Cifuentes missed a golden opportunity to put LAFC 2-1 up in the 64th minute, missing an absolute sitter in front of an open Timbers net.
George Fochive was the player that scored the game’s third goal, nodding a deflected Blanco cross into the back of the net at the far post. Had Fochive not scored, a penalty would have likely been called back for a handball from an LAFC defender in the box. A massive goal from the more unlikely of the two aforementioned Timbers substitutions.
Portland thought they had a third goal in the 85th minute after Mora put the ball in the back of the net, but the goal was called back for an offside call during the buildup of the attack.
It was “hearts in mouths” time for Timbers supporters in the third of the four minutes added for stoppage time. LAFC won a dangerous corner in the dying moments but Bryce Duke’s corner couldn’t beat the first man and Diego Chara’s clearance was met with referee Chris Penso’s full-time whistle.
The win moved the Timbers up to fifth-place in the Western Conference and four points ahead of LAFC going into the final nine matches of the season.
The Timbers will close out a three-match home stand when Real Salt Lake come to town on Saturday, Sept. 25. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. (Pacific).