Both clubs have experienced their struggles this season, but they've found improved form in recent weeks as the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs near. Before Week 26 gets underway, Portland are fifth in the West and LAFC hold the No. 7 seed – both above the red line.
So, are they legitimate forces to be reckoned with or is this stretch just a mirage? Extratime co-hosts Andrew Wiebe and Charlie Davies debated as much on the latest episode, with Davies saying Portland are the more viable contender of the two.
"I'm going to go with the Portland Timbers are for real right now. More for real, because of how they've had to change and adapt through the injuries, trades and you're getting Sebastian Blanco – who's arguably one of the best midfielders in this league – back healthy and fit and in form," Davies said. "And you still have players who can come off the bench, Diego Valeri, and change the game."
"So I think when you're looking at the complete package I'm going to trust in Portland because of how they're built, defensively as well, over LAFC," Davies added. "There's just too many question marks with LAFC."
Wiebe said he falls on the same side of the argument, highlighting the difficulty of Portland's recent schedule as evidence that their results are indicative of a true turnaround. Starting with an impressive 2-0 road victory over the Seattle Sounders on August 29, the Timbers are 3-0-1 over their last four matches, including a 2-2 draw against the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday that saw them twice claw back from a goal down while down a man.
"If we're talking about the comparison between these two teams, coming back to draw Colorado down a man is a more impressive result right now than going to Austin and winning," Wiebe said, referencing LAFC's 2-1 victory at Austin FC midweek. Bob Bradley's team has also won three straight and is getting key contributions from new striker Cristian Arango.
"Portland, they're coming into their own," Davies said. "And we always see Portland come September start playing some proper football and the shape, the organization, you can't give them enough credit."
Only one point separates Portland and LAFC in the standings, making Sunday's tilt a true six-pointer. This time of year, conversations around the Audi MLS Cup Playoff places can shift quickly.
"They're right there with each other in the Western Conference and the Western Conference bubble is pretty significant," Wiebe said. " ... That entire area could get shaken up over the last two months of the season or so."
For more Extratime analysis, check out the latest episode here.