ORLANDO, Fla. – Group stage play came to a close in the MLS is Back tournament tonight. Los Angeles FC and the Portland Timbers renewed their budding rivalry, with the winner topping Group F. While a spot in the knockout round was secured for both teams, each had something to prove.
MiB Recap: LAFC Play Portland to Draw
LAFC started the match the same way it has started every match this tournament, badly. An innocent pass from Mark-Anthony Kaye to goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega nearly turned disastrous in the third minute. However, it wouldn’t take much longer for Portland to find their goal.
Niezgoda netted his first goal in a Timbers shirt, with an easy finish after a great run in the seventh minute.
That would serve as the wake-up call LAFC needed. After settling into a better shape, tightening up play in the midfield, and applying pressure, Los Angeles took control.
Bradley-Wright Phillips made it a third straight game with a goal, unloading a rocket from range to put the game back on level terms in the 36th minute. Mark-Anthony Kaye was able to find open space moments later in the 40th minute, putting in an easy header to take the lead before half.
LAFC’s Second-Half Slump
Typically in this tournament, the second-half has been were LAFC shine. Having scored a combined six second-half goals in their previous two matches, it was surprising to see the match come to a halt.
While there were few chances, Portland made the best of them, as Ebobisse headed in a corner in the 81st minute to tie the match at two. However, a draw was all Portland need to finish the group in first.
The biggest takeaway from group stage was the first-half play from LAFC. Each game started lethargic, sloppy, and heavy-legged at times. While Los Angeles was able to surge in the second-half to remain unbeaten, that surge never came tonight. The result was a draw, which was all Portland needed to finish first in the group. The 2019 Champs are next and if LAFC want revenge on Seattle, they’ll need to play their football in the first 45.
The biggest positive for Los Angeles during MLS is Back has undoubtedly been the breakout of BWP. The veteran striker has had a LeBron-like resurgence at age 35, scoring three goals in his first three matches with the Black and Gold. With Carlos Vela back home with family, and Adama Diomande back in LA recovering, BWP has put LAFC on his back, doing exactly what they brought him in to do. Score goals.
The Road Ahead
Finishing in second place means Los Angeles will have a chance for some revenge. The Round of 16 sees LAFC play the MLS Champions, Seattle Sounders, in what should be an exciting match. The several days of rest ahead should benefit the squad, as they will need to avoid starting slow against the Sounders. The good news, should they survive another elimination matchup with Seattle, they will have a stretch of more favorable opponents.