The Portland Timbers defeated LAFC 2-1 in Banc of California Stadium on Wednesday night. Yimmi Chara and Dairon Asprilla scored to give the Timbers their first victory in Banc of California Stadium and their third straight win, extending their unbeaten streak to seven.
LAFC attempted to impose their will on the game as the first half unfolded, as they have been inclined to do. LAFC spent most of the opening stages seeking to retain possession and dictate play with their main tool being their patented high press. Their speedy and dangerous forward line would seek to apply pressure on Portland’s backline, trying to force the Timbers into dangerous turnovers.
Portland initially had trouble dealing with the pressure. In the opening stage of the match, Portland’s attackers were being forced to play the ball backward or sideways and when a midfielder would find a bit of purchase on the field, an LAFC player would quickly be there to force them into a rushed or misplayed pass. The Timbers could only muster one shot on target through the 34th minute.
While the offense sputtered to start the match, the defense was resolute. LAFC controlled the lion’s share of possession but the Timbers were able to limit the dangerous opportunities for the most part. While LAFC mustered eight shots in the first half, and two on target, Portland was able to limit their expected goals value to just 0.4.
That is not to say the first forty-five minutes were bereft of chances. Both teams found attacking opportunities toward the end of the half as the game started to open up. Portland were able to find more space and opportunities as they slowly and steadily worked their way into the game.
In the 23rd minute, Sebastian Blanco found space for the first time in the match and fizzed a cross across an open goal. The pass just missed a Portland attacker. Dairon Asprilla had a golden chance to give the Timbers the lead with a one-on-one scoring chance but he couldn’t keep his chip attempt on target.
On the other end, LAFC found themselves with a breakaway opportunity in the 40th minute. Some fantastic chase down defending from Cristhian Paredes prevented Portland from giving up the opening goal.
As the first half wound to a close, it looked destined to be scoreless at the break. But as the game entered first half stoppage time, Portland would have one last chance that came out of nothing and it would result in something big: the opening goal.
Steve Clark launched a goal kick all the way up the field to find an open Blanco, who collected and flicked the ball in the direction of Asprilla. After settling the ball, Asprilla drove inside and laid the ball off to Yimmi Chara. The pass was behind him but Yimmi did well to adjust and get off a first time shot. It skimmed past the outstretched arm of Blackman and snuck into the far post to give the Timbers a 1-0 lead.
Right at the death of the first half, the Timbers got a goal to take control of the game. They were going to need it.
LAFC started the second half at lightning speed. They made a triple sub to try to jumpstart their attack and it paid off. The first five minutes of the second half were defined by LAFC swarming the Portland box, creating some decent chances and sending in some dangerous crosses.
The first mark of misfortune, and perhaps the biggest, came in the 51st minute. Blanco, who had gone down earlier in the game with what appeared to be a right leg problem, went down to the turf after the play, gingerly holding his left knee. He signaled to the bench and he could not continue. He walked off tentatively, putting weight on his left leg.
The misfortune would continue, as LAFC would breach the Timbers' defense and equalize in the 56th minute. Paredes lost the ball in transition in Portland’s own end and LAFC quickly capitalized by playing in substitute Danny Musovski. From a tight angle, he skimmed a shot past Clark into the far corner of the goal, to make it one-all.
The Timbers wouldn’t wait long to restore their goal advantage. In the 60th minute, substitute Diego Valeri played a ball through for Mora. LAFC defender Jesus Murillo misread the pass and Felipe Mora slipped by him to get onto the end of the pass. Streaking in, he pinged his shot off the near post. The chance seemed lost but the ball fell right to the onrushing Asprilla. Asprilla absolutely smashed the ball into the net. By virtue of a Dairon rocket, Portland took the lead 2-1.
The rest of the second half would be marked by LAFC huffing and puffing and trying to blow Portland’s defense down once again. And through the second period, the Timbers’ defensive house held strong. The Timbers did a commendable job of keeping their lines tight, being smart on the break, and forcing the hosts into chippy fouls that helped slow the play down in Portland’s favor.
Despite LAFC’s edge in possession, Portland held them to just five shots in the second half, and only one on target (LAFC’s equalizer). The final whistle blew, and Portland had beaten LAFC 2-1, for the third time this season by the same scoreline.
It was another solid win for Portland, who now haven’t lost on the road since August 21. It stretches the unbeaten run to seven and kept Portland in fourth place in the Western Conference standings with a four-point cushion. Portland will have a chance to add to that cushion when they face Inter Miami for the first time in Portland on Sunday.
But the injury to Sebastian Blanco looms large over the victory. The impact of Blanco on this team since his return simply cannot be overstated - he’s been immense. The severity of his injury and his anticipated timeline of return, which are unknown at the moment, could turn this victory into a pyrrhic one. And it could have huge implications for the rest of the season.