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Timbers-Los Angeles FC Preview
The Portland Timbers should at least be a bit more comfortable in the second stop of an epic road trip, though their next task likely won't be any less challenging.
As Portland seeks to shake off a missed opportunity in its opener, Los Angeles FC looks to build off a strong start to its second MLS season when it hosts the 2018 MLS Cup participants Sunday night.
As if beginning the season with a league-record 12 consecutive road games wasn't daunting enough, the Timbers started that stretch by taking part in the coldest game in MLS history with last Saturday's visit to Colorado. They very nearly left a snow-covered Dick's Sporting Goods Park with three points, but the Rapids' Andre Shinyashiki scored four minutes into second-half injury time to forge a 3-3 draw despite Colorado playing a man down.
"Even though we had a good game and did a lot of good things, I think we wasted two points that we could have gotten here," Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese remarked. "It's not good enough to allow this team to score with 10 men."
The result exposed Portland's back line as one that's still a work in progress following the club's decision to move on from former captain Liam Ridgewell in the offseason. The Timbers have conceded 29 goals over their last 12 road games including last year's playoff run.
It's a weakness LAFC is fully capable of exploiting. After ranking second in the league with 68 goals during last year's record-setting debut, the Black and Gold scored two in the second half to rally for a 2-1 victory over defending Western Conference regular-season champion Sporting Kansas City in last Sunday's opener.
Diego Rossi drew LAFC even shortly after halftime and Adama Diomande came off the bench to blast home the game-winner just seconds before the final whistle, capitalizing on a second yellow card to Sporting's Roger Espinoza in the 84th minute.
"It's just the start," forward Carlos Vela said. "We have a lot of things to improve, we have a little work to do, but to win games like that is always positive."
The Timbers also will be out to avenge a 3-2 quarterfinal loss at LAFC that eliminated them from the U.S. Open Cup on July 18, three days after the sides played to a scoreless draw in league play at Banc of California Stadium. Vela, who topped the Black and Gold with 14 goals and 14 assists while earning MLS Best XI honors in 2018, has scored in two of the teams' three overall meetings.
Portland got goals from its top two offensive threats, Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco, in last week's draw. Valeri, the 2017 league MVP, keyed the Timbers' march to last year's MLS Cup final with four goals and two assists in five playoff matches.
Updated March 8, 2019