20210928 george fochive against lafc

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Amid the landslide goal rush of Saturday’s second half — the final 45 minutes of the Portland Timbers’ 6-1 victory over Real Salt Lake at Providence Park — it was easy to forget about the bigger picture. Even on Sunday and Monday, as the most lopsided win of the Timbers’ season continued fading into memory, it was tempting to stay in Saturday’s moment, when late goals by Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Cristhian Paredes pushed what was already a season-high in goals to a number that doubled the Timbers’ previous 2021 high. Who wants needs perspective when Saturday night was that much fun?

“The way the players executed, the way the players that came into the game came and understood exactly what we needed to do was, for me, very, very important,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said after the game. The victory moved the Timbers into fourth place in the Western Conference - a position which, if the season ended today, would give Portland a home game to start the playoffs.

With perspective, though, we see Portland also gained something that reinforces what we’d seen in the five games before. Over that time, the Timbers had rebounded from a low point at Austin FC, gone on a 4-0-1 run, and stabilized their season. Ahead of RSL’s visit, the question was as much whether Portland could continue their form as to how they could improve. The five-game unbeaten run had been reassuring. Come last Saturday, it was time to show another level.

That the Timbers delivered was a sign of progress. They leveled up. Now, as the team ventures to Southern California for a Wednesday night match at Los Angeles FC, they have a chance to level up, again. Can they take build on Saturday’s performance, and do so in a place where games have always been hard-fought?

“It's going to be a hard game,” Timbers captain Diego Chara offered to open his Tuesday media session. “They are fighting to be in a playoff spot, and we had the opportunity to play against them last week.” Portland won that game at Providence Park, 2-1. “This is going be a different game,” Chara said. “I think we are ready [for] it.”

Ahead of that LAFC visit, we talked about the history between the teams. LAFC entered Major League Soccer recently, in 2018, but they’ve already played the Timbers 12 times. After September 19, each side has a 4-4-4 record against the other across all competitions.

In line with that all-time record, the teams’ September 19 meeting was a close one. George Fochive’s goal in the 68th minute was the only thing separating the sides. This time, though, LAFC will have the benefit of their home field, and while both teams are on short rest after weekend games, within that short turnaround, Portland had to travel.

“We know it's going to be a little bit different, because they are at home,” Chara said. “When we played against them, they created good opportunities on us to score. We need to be ready for that, try to not make mistakes at the back, then try to do the same in the attack - try to be effective. That made the difference against them the last game.”

LAFC’s form — or better yet, where they are in their playoff pursuit — is another reason why they could be tougher this time around. Ahead of their game in Portland, head coach Bob Bradley’s team had won three games in a row, using a change in formation to start a climb up the Western Conference. That climb was stalled in Portland and started to regress this weekend, when LAFC lost at the San Jose Earthquakes.

Ahead of tomorrow’s game, LAFC is in eighth in the West. They’re three points out of a playoff spot, but they have eight games to play. There’s still plenty of time for them to secure a place in the postseason, but for a team that was expected to compete closer to the top of the conference, expectations are higher than merely making the playoffs.

Not too long ago, the Timbers were in a similar situation. Since their August 21 loss in Austin, Portland has claimed 16 of a possible 18 points and moved to fourth in the Western Conference. Urgency helped get the Timbers back on course.

Los Angeles will be the team with that urgency on Wednesday. They’re 17th out of 27 in MLS, and they’re coming off a wakeup call. They know they’re better than their record and like Portland six games ago, they’re looking to level up.

For the Timbers, Wednesday will be about maintaining what we saw – taking what contributed to Saturday’s lopsided performance and applying it on the road. For LA, though, the game will be about something simpler. LA will be trying to show who they really are.