|Samuel Armenteros put up quite the celebration after his second half goal.|
Rivalry matches always have plenty of emotion and spite to them, and while many of the cast of characters were different from previous iterations, you could tell the Timbers were exhausted after dealing with them for 90 minutes. Expansion sides bring in their own level of difficulties when facing them for the first time, especially in terms of the unknown; expansion clubs bring in a mix of MLS veterans looking to continue their career in a new stop, unproven MLS talent who didn't establish themselves with their former team due to injuries or competition, talent acquired through draft or free agency, and bringing over other skilled players to build around. LAFC have an intriguing mix of speed throughout their roster, combined with long time veterans like Benny Feilhaber, Walker Zimmermann, Jordan Harvey, Laurent Ciman and Steven Beitashour filling key roles. LAFC found former USMNT manager Bob Bradley to coach their side, and Bradley added international coaching experience to his resume after being relieved of USMNT duties back in 2011 before Bradley coached several MLS sides in previous years. Like many expansion clubs (think Portland Timbers in 2011), when they are good, they are very good, and when it's bad, it's really, really bad; LAFC came into the match sitting in second place in the MLS Western Conference with 20 points on 6 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses with some impressive wins and even more entertaining failures. There is plenty to build around in LAFC with Carlos Vela, and the franchise itself has been very strong in getting a new stadium, solid TV and sponsorship deals and cultivating a burgeoning supporters' group.
|Diego Chara was very busy all afternoon dealing with challenges.|
With all of the distractions going on after the emotional match versus the Flounders, Savarese chose not to mess with success in using the same starting eleven that faced Seattle: Jeff Attinella in goal, Zarek Valentin, Liam Ridgewell, Larrys Mabiala and Alvas Powell on defense, Cristhian Paredes, Diego Chara and Andy Polo as the defensive midfielders, Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco as the attacking midfielders and Fanendo Adi as the lone striker. The approach would bring Polo and Paredes back to aid the defense when countered against, but otherwise, Polo would push forward to aid Valeri and Blanco to support Adi on offense. The approach has yielded some of the best offensive soccer for Portland this year, but there have been struggles at points when teams try and alter the pace with extreme physicality or packing the defensive line - Seattle played 10 men behind the ball at all points in an attempt to stall and frustrate the Timbers. Savarese couldn't have been very happy when 6 minutes into the match, Ridgewell was taken down on a hard tackle and had to leave because of injury, thus allowing Julio Cascante to make his home and MLS debut for the Timbers. Cascante didn't miss a beat, however, and his inclusion was seamless within the defensive approach for Portland.
|Welcome to Portland, Julio Cascante|
Tensions were still flowing as the second half started but the Timbers were able to jump out ahead in the 51st minute. Cascante had played a ball forward for Blanco, who was dropped for a hard tackle outside the box about 20 yards from goal, giving Valeri the green light to put in on frame. While LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller made the initial free kick save, he spilled the ball to the right where Paredes was waiting clear of defenders. The midfielder tapped it easily into goal to put the home side up to start the celebration. The happy thoughts were short lived when Kaye leveled Chara at midpitch after the restart, and Valentin received a caution for defending his teammate and getting in Kaye's face about the foul. While Kaye also got booked, the intensity was escalating the contact for both groups. The volleying continued as the substitutes started taking the pitch, and LAFC was able to take advantage of a slight lapse when Vela was played into space on the right in the 74th minute as the Timbers were trying to find marks. Vela has a history of making quality distance goals, and this one was no exception as he timed and placed it perfectly to slide past Attinella into the left corner of goal to level the score. Savarese made his last two moves to bring on Armenteros for Adi and Andres Flores for Polo to change up the attack, and the updates did pay off eventually in the 81st minute.
|Man Of The Match For Me. Well done, Cristhian|
For the first match between sides without much history, there was certainly a lot of venom displayed. To their credit, Portland played smart and measured football and took advantage of situations where they could. Even with the extremely physical play, the Timbers kept their heads and avoided being drawn into extra discipline or escalating actions, yet they also stepped up to aid their teammates when needed. Defensively, the team was very strong and organized, especially with the changeover due to Ridgewell's injury and Attinella is playing with such confidence and poise right now. If there is a bigger trap game in their future, however, it might be this weekend - as the Timbers travel to Colorado to play the Rapids on May 26. The Rapids are again struggling to find their purpose, but Portland traditionally struggles playing there for whatever reason, but at this point. there shouldn't be too many reasons why Portland can't extend the streak to 6. We'll see if they are able to pull this off, but right now, I wouldn't count against them.
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