PORTLAND, Ore. — Wednesday’s game may have been the most exciting in Goose Hollow since Giovanni Savarese’s arrival. Between Diego Valeri’s historic second-minute opener and Felipe Mora’s stoppage time game-winner, the Portland Timbers and Los Angeles FC played at the type of frenetic pace that’s become symptomatic of the team’s four years competing against each other. That the night ended with only three goals scored spoke to the ability of each team’s defense to keep that pace from impacting the scoreboard.
“It’s one of the best ones, for sure,” Savarese, in his fourth year as Timbers head coach, said of the quality of the game after his team’s 2-1 victory. “Because of the way things happened tonight, the way we played, against who we played, and the crowd – how much passion they put into this match, today.
“So many special moments. Valeri scoring his 100th goal. Players that are coming back. Seba[stain Blanco] being able to play a second match, consecutive, still upping his minutes. So, all around, a lot of positives. A special night, definitely ranks very high.”
One way you can measure the activity in a game is by counting the passes. The more passes attempted, the more the ball is moving, the more action there has to be in response. It’s not a foolproof measure, but as a quick-and-dirty metric, it’s a decent start.
Sporting Kansas City leads Major League Soccer in passes per game. They average 452. On Wednesday at Providence Park, Portland and LAFC combined for 1054. The ball was in constant motion.
This is the type of game we’ve come to expect between these two. The teams have met 10 times since LAFC’s 2018 debut ,and on five occasions, they’ve combined for at least four goals. Only twice has a game been decided by more than two goals. Whether it be in regular-season play, U.S. Open Cup or at least year’s MLS Is Back tournament, there’s no trepidation from either side when it comes to challenging the other.
“There’s tension because there are two teams that are very competitive,” Savarese explained, when asked about the dynamic between the clubs. “[These are] two teams that want to win, two teams that have quality, and two teams that raise the level of the game in MLS. These matches are great to watch because they don’t disappoint.”
For much of Wednesday night, it felt like Los Angeles FC was pressing the action. They had the advantage in the first half after Portland’s early opener, and in the middle of the second half, their diagonal runs through midfield, across the face of the Timbers’ defense, sustained pressure on Portland goalkeeper Steve Clark. But aside from Carlos Vela’s close-range score in the first half, LAFC get a final ball past Clark.
By Vela’s goal, Portland was already in front, scoring what felt like it would be the night’s defining moment. In some ways, it still is. There are few players capable of scoring 100 all-competition goals for a club; fewer still with longevity to do so. Since 2013, Valeri has been a constant source of offense for his adopted home, and when he beat Tomás Romero far post 80 seconds into Wednesday’s game, he ascended to a level worthy of his legacy in Portland.
“Always, when you score a goal, it’s a different feeling,” Valeri said afterward, “but this is really special for me, here with these colors. It’s not easy. I’ve very happy about it, and obviously, I’m happy about the win tonight.”
Valeri’s wasn’t the night’s only memorable goal. In time, those at Providence Park may remember his and Mora’s in equal measure. If somebody mentions Valeri’s milestone, an attendee might reply, “but that wasn’t the only amazing goal.” They’ll say the same in response to memories of Mora’s.
Mora’s, though, had the virtue of anticipation. Only 80 seconds into the match, Valeri’s didn’t have a buildup. But over Wednesday’s second half, as the tension from the field fueled congested stands, you imagined what the release might be like should Portland score; what the buildup of close call after close call had done to the night’s emotions; and, what those emotions would sound like if somebody delivered a payoff.
The moment Mora started his 93rd-minute run, the goal felt inevitable. As Blanco released his cross, Mora chose a looping run, taking him out of range of defender Eddie Segura and allowing him to, as the ball arrived, take a steep route toward goal. By the time the cross arrived, Mora had created two or three feet’s space on his mark, as well as given himself two open posts to choose from. With a glancing flick, Mora steered his shot just out of Romaro’s reach, burying the ball into the far side netting and triggering an eruption the crowd had primed for hours. It’s been years since Providence Park could be as loud.
“To win here, in front of our fans, at the last minute, really, it’s very satisfying,” Mora said afterward. “It happened fast. I made the run past the defender, to the near post. When I got a good pass right in the middle [of the area], and we had our goal.”
Mora had another huge late goal at home earlier this year, so we’ve seen Wednesday’s celebrations before. When he converted his 97th-minute penalty kick against Club América and the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals, Mora had his first taste of a Providence Park explosion. Only tonight, there wasn’t a limited-capacity crowd, his goal didn’t merely tie the score, and there wasn’t a second leg to play before an ultimate result.
Instead, Wednesday was a culmination, on multiple levels. With Mora’s goal, we saw the culmination of a night’s mounting tension, one that deserved that type of payoff. With Valeri’s, it was the culmination of greatness, a legacy, and a level of production that’s been unparalleled in the history of Portland soccer. And for the two teams, it was the culmination of four years of swinging from the heels, going mano-a-mano in a pie-a-pie world – of waging each match with no regard for tomorrow.
It was the culmination, at least, until the next time they face each other. With Portland and LAFC, the next chapter always feels like the best one.