PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers had gone 379 minutes without giving up a goal at Providence Park, but even before Los Angeles FC’s Christian Torres equalized in added time on Sunday night, the cracks in the dam had started to show.
In the game’s fifth minute, LAFC played their starting striker, Bradley Wright-Phillips, into space behind Portland’s defense only to see a heavy touch kill the chance on goal. In the second half, Kwadwo Opoku shot wide at an open net after Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark went to ground to stop Danny Musovski, while more Clark heroics were needed in the 85th minute to keep what was still, at that time, a clean sheet.
LAFC only had nine shots on the night, casting their good chances in contrast with the match’s broader flow. Portland ended the night with 16 shots. Ultimately, though, the Timbers made one mistake too many, with LAFC’s 93rd minute goal balancing Jeremy Ebobisse’s eighth goal of the season to leave the teams level, 1-1, at the final whistle.
“[It was a] disappointing result, because we deserved the win today ...,” Savarese said after the match. “The players did a fantastic job. A tremendous game, and we controlled most of the match, especially the entire second half.
“To leave this game with only one point is very disappointing because I think the players deserved a lot more because of the way we played, the opportunities we created, the chances that we had, the way we played, the way we moved the ball, how smart the guys were.”
Those opportunities began to come in earnest toward the end of the first half, when the period closed with two good chances for Felipe Mora. Early in the second half, the Timbers rekindled that momentum, crafting Ebobisse’s goal through Jorge Villafaña, Yimmi Chara and, in the end, Mora. The team nearly had a quick second, with Mora forcing LAFC defender Eddie Segura to foul him outside the penalty area in the 49th minute lest the Timbers get an open chance on goal.
“This is a result that we feel slipped out of our control because we did everything to make sure that we tried to get three points,” Savarese explained. “Unfortunately, we didn’t capitalize on some of the opportunities that we had, because if we were able to find the second goal, then the game finishes completely different …”
The Timbers had not conceded a goal at Providence Park in 46 days before Torres’ score, a span that crossed three home games, one “road” match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC (hosted at Providence Park), and the last minutes of their 3-2, Sept. 2 loss to LA Galaxy. In terms of Portland’s defending, many of those matches were like Sunday’s, where isolated chances were imperfections within a broader performance. In games against Seattle Sounders FC, the Whitecaps and the San Jose Earthquakes, the Timbers dodged bullets. No such luck on Sunday.
That may be part of the reason why Savarese’s defense of his team’s chance prevention was full-throated after the night’s draw, describing the match as, “One of our best performances defensively.”
“I believe the guys were very steady,” he said. “When you play LAFC, they’re always difficult. They always find a way to be able to create opportunities, and you have to give credit to them. Those two or three opportunities they created; we came up big with Steve [Clark] being able to make good saves. But overall, defensively the entire team did a fantastic job to make sure that we didn’t have that we didn’t give [LAFC] too many moments to create opportunities.”
Some context here is important. LAFC came into the game with Major League Soccer’s best attack, averaging 2.29 goals per game before Sunday’s kickoff. But Bob Bradley’s team was also without most of its most potent weapons, including last year’s Most Valuable Player (Carlos Vela), this season’s league-leading scorer (Diego Rossi) as well as another valuable Uruguayan international (Brian Rodriguez).
The potency of LAFC’s approach was still evident, though, particularly over the match’s final 25 minutes. Able to wrestle control from their hosts, LAFC started finding success switching play from one flank to the other, stretching Portland’s defense across the width of the field. Eventually, Bradley’s side was able to exploit the middle of the park, building through the midfield to create Torres’ tying score.
That it is was the 16-year-old Torres, making only his sixth MLS appearance, who made the difference underscores Portland’s opportunity loss. Same goes for Opoku, a 19-year-old Ghanian who recorded his first MLS assist on Torres’s goal. When LAFC is at full strength, those players probably don’t see the field. That they not only played but seized their moment highlighted the value in LAFC’s point, as well as the opportunity missed by Portland’s points dropped.
“We attacked really well,” Mora said, “but [there] are the little details that we need to fix to close the game and win. Those are the details that we need to [address] so we can be a perfect team.”
Thanks to results in San Jose, where the Sounders drew the Earthquakes, as well as yesterday in Chicago, where Sporting Kansas City tied the Fire, the top of the Western Conference standings is largely unchanged. Seattle and Portland are even at the top at 31 points, Sporting a point behind, with the Sounders possessing a game in hand. That state, though, may make Sunday’s dropped points sting even more.
Had Portland survived three more minutes without conceding, they would be two points clear of the Sounders at the top of the Western Conference. Instead, they’re left with what ifs, having given LAFC one too many chances to break through.