Squad rotation may be the order of the day Thursday night when the Portland Timbers and Los Angeles FC – already through to the knockout round of the MLS Is Back tournament, wrap up group play in Orlando.
The Timbers (3-1-0) need only a draw to guarantee a first-place finish in Group F after wins over Los Angeles and Houston. LAFC would claim group honors with a victory and have a virtually unassailable goal difference over the Dynamo for second.
Diego Valeri helped power Portland to a 2-1 victory over Houston on Saturday, with his goal just after the hour providing a two-goal cushion. The Argentine midfielder has recorded a goal or an assist in all four of Portland’s matches, and his next goal will put him in exclusive company in MLS history – he would join Landon Donovan and Jaime Moreno as the only players with 80 goals and 80 assists in regular-season play.
«We had a lot more clarity today, we generated a lot of chances,» Valeri told the team’s official website via translator. «We played a good role with and without the ball, and we have improved a lot. The first goal, Jebo’s [Jeremy Ebobisse], gave us ease and then even without the ball we tried to control. The second goal gave us even more time and better pacing.»
With little at stake, Timbers manager Giovanni Savarese could opt to bring Valeri and Jeremy Ebobisse off the bench for this contest. Savarese, though, sounded like a coach who wanted the maximum nine points from group play, telling the Oregonian, «I can guarantee you that the Portland Timbers are going to go for the three points,» Savarese said. «We want a win. We don’t want a tie.»
One area for Portland to improve on is late-match defensive situations. Both goals they have conceded in Orlando have come in the 85th minute or later, though the one the Galaxy scored came with Portland down a man.
That defense will be challenged, even with Los Angeles FC missing the services of reigning league MVP Carlos Vela. LAFC (2-0-2) are coming off a wild 6-2 derby victory over the Galaxy on Sunday, riding a four-goal performance by Diego Rossi, who twice erased deficits in the first half.
Bradley Wright-Phillips, signed to help ease the sting of Vela’s absence, scored the go-ahead goal in the second half, and Francisco Ginella assisted on a pair of second-half goals. Rossi and Wright-Phillips have accounted for seven of Los Angeles FC’s nine goals in Orlando.
«I’m happy with my game. But I’m just as happy about the result,» Rossi told the Los Angeles Times. «We’d like to continue like this.»
«He’s in excellent form. He worked very hard in the period we couldn’t train and you could see that when we returned,» LAFC coach Bob Bradley said of Rossi to The Associated Press. «You can see his maturity grow and his finishing gets better.»
The reigning Supporters Shield holders have totaled 12 goals in their last three matches, but they also have shipped eight in that span. LAFC have not recorded a clean sheet since opening the season with a 1-0 victory over Inter Miami CF.
LAFC swept last year’s two regular-season contests, with Vela factoring in four of the seven goals with two goals and two assists. Rossi scored in the second meeting, a 3-2 win in Portland, along with Vela and Latif Blessing.
The Timbers did gain a measure of revenge with a 1-0 victory at Banc of California in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals as Ebobisse scored on 84 minutes.