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Decision Day: Vela's Back! and the Timbers Spoil LAFC's Playoff Standings

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

It took no less than five minutes for returning MLS MVP Carlos Vela to find the back of the net, in his first start for LAFC since a costly MCL injury sidelined him for the majority of the 2020 season. The action began at home base for the Black & Gold, as they faced the Portland Timbers on the jam-packed MLS Decision Day.

Decision Day sees all 26 teams from both conferences play on the same day, and while some matches are far more consequential than others, LAFC would want a win in order to move up the standings for playoff seeding. Also up for grabs was the MLS Golden Boot award, which was all but guaranteed for LAFC's 22-year-old Uruguayan phenom Diego Rossi. Rossi went into the season's last match ahead by 3 goals from the next runners-up.

Vela's return to the pitch proved to have immediate impact, as the first portion of the match was emphatically dominated by a front-footed LAFC. In the first half, LAFC posted 9 shots to Timbers' solo look at goal. As LAFC pressed Timbers' backline, their efforts were eventually rewarded when Timbers centerback Larrys Mabiala tried to play out of the back to Eryk Williamson, who fumbled the ball and was immediately pounced on by a trio of LAFC attackers, eventually leading to a blocked shot on goal from Latif Blessing, and a perfectly placed rebound from Vela.

LAFC continued their high-press into the second half, with not one but two shots from Rossi that hit the woodwork (one left and one right post, in each half), followed by another crossbar hit from Vela. Fortunately for Rossi, he would still secure the Golden Boot, making history for LAFC as the first team to have back-to-back Golden Boot winners.

LAFC looked in good form even while missing several of their key starters, including Bradley Wright-Philipps, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Danny Musovski, and Pablo Sisniega, from a combination of injury, personal leave, and COVID. In their stead, 16-year-old Christian Torres played a promising 75 minutes, combining well with Rossi and Vela, while former Ajax keeper Kenneth Vermeer had a handful of major save, making his case for more playoff time.

On the Timbers' side, "the godfather" Diego Chara was out due to yellow card suspension, while Jeremy Ebobisse was still on the mend after suffering from a leg injury and concussion the last time the two sides met. Dairon Asprilla saw some minutes after a remarkable return from a season-ending knee injury in May.

But it would be the veteran Diego Valeri who would help the Timbers equalize in a 90th minute spoiler goal that plummeted LAFC's West Coast standings from 5th to 7th. After a blocked volley from Brian Rodriguez, the Timbers countered with their trademark speed, with Valeri crossing the ball to Jorge Villafaña who was completely unmarked on the backpost. Villafaña has enjoyed outstanding form as of late, and the Timbers will go into playoffs with a home field advantage in third place against FC Dallas.

LAFC play Seattle Sounders in the first round of playoffs away from home on Nov. 24.

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