Match Preview

Onward into battle

3 things to watch as the Timbers face LAFC on Sunday

Here's what we know about Sunday: A win, or even a draw, against Western Conference–leading LAFC sets up several situations in which the Timbers can clinch a berth in the 2022 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, depending on other results. Portland has yet to miss out on the playoffs since coach Giovanni Savarese in 2017—and the continuation of that record could come as soon as Sunday evening.

And here's what we don't know: What type of opponent will we find in LAFC? The team looks a lot different now than it did earlier this spring when the Timbers played to a 1-1 draw in Los Angeles. Carlos Vela and Chicho Arango are still there, but so too now are Gareth Bale (formerly at Real Madrid) and Giorgio Chiellini (formerly at Juventus). LAFC has been struggling lately, especially on the road, but on the other hand, the Angelenos are on the cusp of the Supporters' Shield and a result in Portland is likely a pretty good motivator. The all-time series record between the two teams offers no further clarity or comfort: the teams are locked even at 5-5-5.

So, with that, here are three things to keep close watch on as Portland looks to take care of business ahead of Decision Day:

1. The Timbers look to get out on the front foot on national TV

While most teams claim they grow stronger as a game goes on, for the Timbers it’s statistically proven. 37 of their 51 goals this season have come in the second half, with 11 coming between the 61st and 75th minute. Those statistics feel more relevant after Santiago Moreno’s second half stoppage-time equalizer against the Columbus Crew on September 18, yet another second half goal.

“In the second half, we were a different team,” said Savarese. “Much better with the ball. We’d switch the ball, we’d get in behind, we created moments of 1v1, we put better crosses in.”

Even in defeat the Timbers seem to find an extra gear in the second half. In its 4-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City on August 21, Portland conceded three first half goals in quick succession as the game quickly slipped away.

As the postseason looms, Portland’s focus has been getting off to quicker starts. While important to score late, finding the first goal in an intense game could likely make the difference between a thrilling win or a season-ending defeat. On Sunday against LAFC, for example, scoring the first goal will be crucial.

“It’s something we’ve been working on and hopefully we can vindicate ourselves,” said Moreno through a translator. “In the playoffs we want to be able to put that pressure from the very beginning in the first half to score more goals.”

2. Portland hopes to keep its unbeaten streak alive against LAFC

The Timbers are heating up at the right time. After dropping two straight road games in mid-August by a combined margin of 7-2, Portland has picked up a quick 13 points thanks to a five-game unbeaten run.

Recent form has allowed Portland to not only stick around the playoff conversation, but also remain in position to fight for a home playoff game as Decision Day approaches. With 46 points, the Timbers sit one point behind Nashville SC, which currently possesses the third and final home playoff game in the opening round.

Portland simply doesn’t lose much. Outside of the two aforementioned road defeats, a disappointing result of late has been a draw. In fact, the Timbers’ eight losses this season are tied with LAFC and FC Dallas for the fewest amount of defeats in the Western Conference.

By no means does Portland have an easy schedule to end the season. It hosts LAFC before ending the season on the road against a Real Salt Lake team with, perhaps, one of the best home-field advantages in all of MLS fighting for its playoff life. The Timbers want to take care of business ahead of Decision Day and then put themselves in position to fight for a home playoff game; to do that, they’ll need to extend their unbeaten run to at least six games.

3. Could Mosquera make his Providence Park debut this weekend?

Shortly after arriving in Portland, under-22 initiative signing Juan Mosquera is already contributing on the field. The Colombian made his Timbers debut in Columbus, Ohio, playing just over 10 minutes after replacing Larrys Mabiala in the 82nd minute. Even with limited minutes, Mosquera impressed the Timbers’ coaching staff with his play on the field.

“It’s not easy to come into a league and adapt, especially when you’re younger,” said Savarese. “We have seen good things from him in practice, especially that he’s very calm on the ball, that he’s confident in the things that he does. When a player plays with confidence, he gives the coaching staff the confidence to be able to give him opportunities.”

Mosquera played as one of three centerbacks in Savarese’s 3-4-3 formation before eventually moving to his more natural outside back role when the Timbers switched to a back four.

On Sunday, Mosquera has an opportunity to introduce himself to his own fans at Providence Park. It certainly won’t be an easy afternoon should he see the field, especially up against Vela, Arango and potentially Gareth Bale, but it provides an excellent test as he works toward 90-minute fitness.

Western Rivals Pack

Western Rivals Pack

Welcome Western Conference foes FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids to Providence Park with this pack.

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Experience Providence Park

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