PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers and LAFC played out a rugged and riveting slugfest at the revamped Providence Park on Saturday night, a pulsating 3-2 win for the visitors that ended with angry confrontations between the teams.
Did it signal a new rivalry taking root between two Western Conference heavyweights?
The idea got mixed reviews among the protagonists. Both sides already have regional enemies; the Timbers with the Seattle Sounders, a clash that stretches back to the old North American Soccer League, and LAFC via crosstown rivals the LA Galaxy, a brand-new matchup nonetheless punctuated by some incredible moments and deep dislike in its first year.
While many rivalries are formed by geography, others are defined by their intensity on the field and the moments surrounding it, which is why after five meetings, including a testy U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal battle last season, its safe to say there’s something extra between the Timbers and LAFC.
“What makes a good rivalry is when you play a good team, there is good competition,” said Timbers manager Giovanni Savarese. “Last year we played back-to-back matches and both were heated because both teams want to win. We want to win against them because they have raised the bar to a good level.”
On Saturday night a hard-tackling Portland side came out and attacked the league leaders, and while the first half featured some open, entertaining play, the physicality of the match slowed the game down in the second half, with several injury stoppages.
The frustration boiled over in stoppage time, when an incident between the two teams near the LAFC bench resulted in some pushing and shoving and yellow cards being issued to Brian Fernandez and Adama Diomande. The two head coaches exchanged words as well, though Savarese said he and Bob Bradley – who lamented the Timbers' repeated fouling of LAFC captain Carlos Vela – talked it out post-match.
“We understand that the rivalry has become this way, there is mutual respect and at the end of the day he’s done a great job with his team,” said Savarese. “We just had a good talk about what we saw in the game.”
Following on from their 4-1 win at Banc of California Stadium on March 10, Saturday’s win sweeps the season series for LAFC, who expect there will be a little bit extra on the line when they next take the field with the Timbers.
“It’s a great match, they’re a great team and we knew it was going to be an exciting venue, and we’re happy we got the result,” said defender Tristan Blackmon. “It’s a great Western Conference rivalry for sure.”
With ensuing chapters still to be written between the two clubs, Vela isn’t quite ready to allow it to displace the battle for Los Angeles known as El Trafico, though.
“Of course they [Portland] have a good rivalry with the best team in the league, but the important game is Galaxy,” he said. “The rest are good games, but I wait for Galaxy.”