Updated: Mar 22, 2022
In a story of stats, it's important to note that not all numbers are what they seem. Yes, LAFC had a whopping percentage of possession, more than double the accurate passes, and a total of 25 shots to Portland's 10 in their matchup against the Timbers on Sunday, March 6, at the Banc of California Stadium. And yet the most telling figure in this tale could be seen at half time, when despite over a dozen shots, LAFC's xG was around 0.83; by full time, the home side had the same amount of "big chances" on goal as their northern visitors—one.
Being the second game of the season, it's understandable both sides are still finding their rhythm—LAFC has made a number of major changes in the past few months with the addition of midfielder Kellyn Acosta, goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau, a whole new manager (!), and the return of a healthy and seemingly happy Carlos Vela.
Coming off a 3-0 shut out against the Colorado Rapids, LAFC might have expected another positive result against a not-fully formed Timbers side. But like seasons past, the Black and Gold struggled to convert goals in the attacking third. With a total of 68% possession, LAFC looked comfortable on the ball but lacked a clear strategy for finishing. Their inability to get bodies in the box and put the Timbers' defensive line under pressure led to a handful of threatening counterattacks. In the 18th minute, Portland's Yimmi Chará picked up a deflected shot and surprised Crépeau with an acrobatic chilena that sailed over the keeper's reach, giving the Timbers a 1-0 lead.
Come second half, Vela was replaced with Kwadwo Opoku, a surprise move that LAFC manager Steve Cherundolo later explained was made as a precautionary measure against injury. "Carlos always feels something," he joked. Vela was not the only player to suffer a significant knock as Franco Escobar, Diego Palacios, Jose Cifuentes, and Acosta all showed signs of injury, with all but Acosta being subbed out as a result.
The match complexion changed slightly at 62 minutes when Timbers defender Claudio Bravo received his second yellow card, leaving his squad down to 10 men. The Timbers, however, had already been playing a low-block, fast counter game, and were all too happy to drop deeper to maintain the scoreline. After a few close calls (including a potential handball in the box by a Timbers' defender), LAFC finally got their break in stoppage time, thanks to an assist from Brian Rodriguez to 19-year-old centerback Mamadou Fall. Rodriguez blew past midfielder Marvin Loria to find Fall in point-blank finishing position, ending the game 1-1.
With Vela's contract up in June of this year, LAFC will be hoping to get all their old and new pieces clicking together as soon as possible. They failed to qualify for playoffs in 2021, and face a clear and urgent directive to do better this time around.
LAFC v Inter Miami: Sat., March 12, 10:30 a.m. @ Miami
Portland Timbers v Austin FC: Sat., March 12, 7 p.m. @ Portland