MLS

LAFC v Portland Timbers: Hosts belatedly begin MLS Cup defence

By Sports Desk March 03, 2023

Los Angeles FC's title defence has not yet got started after their derby with LA Galaxy was called off due to adverse weather last week, but they will be looking for another win against the Portland Timbers on Saturday.

The Timbers' opening game was also rearranged due to the elements, although they were later able to beat Sporting Kansas City to get their season up and running.

This particular match-up included a memorable game for LAFC last year en route to their Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup double.

The sides met in the penultimate game of the regular season, with LAFC winning 2-1 in Oregon to take the Shield.

Their victory came in dramatic fashion – Denis Bouanga netting in the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time after Dairon Asprilla had cancelled out Carlos Vela’s opener.

That was a second straight win against the Timbers in all competitions for LAFC, although prior to those fixtures the Timbers were unbeaten in six straight matches against this weekend's opponents, dating back to October 2020 (W3 D3).

With the Galaxy match postponed, LAFC will hope to maintain their sublime record in season openers in this encounter.

They have triumphed in all five of their such matches in MLS. In league history, only FC Dallas, between 2012 and 2017, have won their first match for six seasons on the bounce.

However, the reigning MLS Cup champions have opened their title defence with a win just once in the last six seasons (D1 L4).

This will be the second time the reigning champions open their season against the Timbers, with the Colorado Rapids recording a 3-1 victory over Portland. That match back in 2011 was Portland's first in MLS.

The 1-0 Sporting KC win gives Portland a little momentum heading into this game, and they have now scored in each of their last 21 MLS outings, their longest such run in the competition since a streak of 21 between June 2017 and October 2017.

 

Players to Watch

LAFC – Carlos Vela

Vela scored 12 MLS goals last season and provided as many assists, with only four other players in the league playing a direct part in more goals.

The Mexican outperformed his non-penalty xG by 1.7, while the former Arsenal forward created 87 chances, ranking him joint-fourth in the MLS standings alongside Lucas Zelarayan.

His 12 assists came from an expected assists (xA) total of 9.8, suggesting his team-mates did well to finish the job, yet the 33-year-old's influence on LAFC's attack was enormous – Vela was involved in 159 open play shot-ending sequences in league play in 2022, more than any of his team-mates.

Last season was the first campaign since 2019 – when he scored 36 goals – that he managed over 30 appearances in the league, and he is still one of the competition's best players on his day.

Portland Timbers – Evander

Off-season acquisition Evander, who joined from Danish club Midtjylland and is formerly of Brazilian Serie A side Vasco da Gama, wasted no time in getting involved on his Timbers debut against SKC.

The Brazilian had 59 touches and led the Timbers for crosses (four), dribbles (eight), successful dribbles (five) and duels (19), though he only won six. He did lose possession 21 times, two more occasions than any team-mate, and conceded the most fouls (four) in the game, yet his nine recoveries were a joint-high.

 

Playing in an advanced midfield role, Evander’s next task will be to wield more influence from a creative standpoint. He failed to have a shot or craft a chance, but there were positive signs to build on for the 24-year-old.

With striker Felipe Mora still recovering from a knee injury, the Timbers need scorers elsewhere in their team, and Evander will be one they hope hits the ground running in the United States.

Predicting LAFC v Timbers

LAFC have won six of their 16 meetings with their Western Conference rivals the Timbers in all competitions, with Portland winning five times.

Opta’s supercomputer has LAFC as big favourites for this game, though, ranking their chances of victory at 57.5 per cent.

Portland are at 18.7 per cent, with the draw ranked at 23.8 per cent.

Expect this to be tight, though, with only one of the last eight games between these teams having been settled by a margin of over one goal – that came in LAFC’s 2-0 US Open Cup win in May last year.

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