|My new vantage point from press row. It's going to take some getting used to.|
It was hard to avoid the news of the stadium reopening as it was being covered world wide by various outlets, and the end results were very evident with the expanded East deck adding over 4,000 new seats, new jumbotrons on the South and West deck, a new playing surface, updated sound system and other decorative touches throughout the park. The visuals were indeed stunning from being able to see a visible Mount Hood or Mount St. Helen's in the distance from the new deck, and as the evening moved on, the night sky gave the fans quite a sight. The opening wasn't without various technical difficulties, however, as the sound system alternated between nothing and deafening for most of the match, social media reported varying issues with the concessions and the crowded concourses, and for the first time in the MLS era, the Timbers Army did not lead the singing of the anthem before the kick. Days before the opener, the 107ist announced new fan conduct rules that prohibited certain imagery from being displayed during the match in conjunction with MLS parameters that applies to all matches at the park, which led to plenty of supporter discord. Some supporters had to remove messages of support for the Iron Front upon entering the park, yet before the match had started, a group of fans were displaying a Trump 2020 flag in one of the sections of the park before the flag was removed. Tensions were still on alert hours after the match on the topic, and it will be interesting to see what happens over the coming weeks regarding this issue.
|Diego Chara was his very usual Chara-like self the whole match.|
Within the context of opening the refurbished stadium and the traffic challenges brought on by the Starlight Parade happening on the same night in downtown Portland, it would have been easy to overlook the matchup between LAFC and Portland, two clubs that are fast developing a very contentious rivalry. LAFC dismantled the Timbers earlier this year in game 2 of the 12 game road string, and tensions had boiled over in several matches last year during LAFC's inaugural season, but Bob Bradley's crew are setting the pace so far in 2019 with an undefeated home record so far in 8 matches and earning points from 7 of 8 matches away from home. LAFC has a plus 26 goal differential - only Philadelphia has a double digit goal differential so far - which indicates a strong offense, but LAFC is also second to last on goals allowed with 13 conceded, so they have a solid companion defense as well. Carlos Vela makes the team run, but this group has Christian Ramirez, Diego Rossi, Adama Diomande, Latif Blessing and Mark-Anthony Kaye who provide scoring and passing support, so the Timbers were going to have their hands full in all aspects. Brian Fernandez has been a wonderful addition to the Timbers for his offensive expertise, but the key in this match would be how well Diego Chara and Cristian Paredes, the duo selected for defensive midfield duty among the starters, would patrol the middle and hold the tempo.
|Paredes add to MLS Timbers history as 1st goal scorer in updated park|
Portland mistakes effectively created the three goals that LAFC tallied on the night, and their hundred of traveling supporters enjoyed every moment of it bellowing songs as loudly as the Timbers Army for most of the night. Vela tallied his 16th goal of 2019 in probably the easiest fashion of the year in the 6th minute when Attinella passed a goal kick directly to him and Vela slotted the ball past him before he or the defense could recover. Attinella was intending to put the ball in play to Villafana, but the pass went directly to Vela instead as a rather egregious unforced error. Rossi tallied his eighth goal of 2019 in the 34th minute when Vela found LAFC fullback Tristan Blackmon wide right, and Blackmon put a cross into the box intended for Rossi to the spot. Moreira was slow to react to the play and was steps behind Rossi when the ball arrived, and Attinella had no chance to stop the shot into goal. This pattern was pretty much the story for the Timbers in the first 45 minutes, as Portland really was unable to find any cohesion on either side of the ball. Of the shots created, Mabiala's header from a Valeri corner kick in the 8th minute was the only credible effort on target, and Larrys pulled the shot wide right. Defensively, the Timbers left several marks open at key moments, but LAFC were unable to take more advantage more often. The Timbers' midfield tried their best to set up some tempo for the group, but with the litany of unforced errors on passing or slow reaction, the Timbers just looked out of sorts.
|Jeff Attinella made several good saves, but had a few horrible gaffes.|
After a first half where the team seemed very tentative and unsure of their approach, the Timbers showed more determination and tenacity in the second half as they pressured LAFC from all quadrants, trusting that Mabiala and Tuiloma could handle the LAFC counter. When Tuiloma left in the 58th minute due to a head injury, Julio Cascante came on board and he held up well to the challenges late. To their credit, LAFC used every technique in the book to run down the clock, including several time wasting counters. Vela is an absolute handful, though, and the Timbers' defense really struggled to account for his whereabouts most of the night. While much was made in support of Center Official Robert Sibiga's work on the night in an emotionally charged atmosphere, I felt that Sibiga wasn't as consistent in many of his calls when it came to contact and fouls. As much as the Timbers didn't adjust to the physical, frenetic approach that LAFC brought to the table, LAFC also did an exceptional job of accentuating and exaggerating contact leading to many calls. The tensions between the teams boiled over in stoppage time when Cascante, Fernandez and Diomande, brought on as a late substitute, tangled in front of the LAFC bench and the teams had to be separated. Even Bradley and Savarese had a rather animated post-match discussion for several minutes where some of the assistants had to be separated.
|Brian Fernandez is as good as advertised. His 84th minute goal was awesome.|