Portland Timbers
After an eighteen-month renovation project, more than six months away, and a season-opening 12 game road trip, Providence Park re-opened on Saturday night in grand fashion as the Timbers returned home to face league-leading LAFC.

It was a spectacular setting. The evening was immaculate, the new stand was imposing, and the more than 25,000 fans who gathered to usher in this newest, greatest era of Providence Park's great history were electric.

For nearly 100 minutes, in a game that the Timbers trailed for 84 minutes and trailed by two goals for 42 of those, the old stadium, made new again, roared — and, as has so often happened throughout the years in Portland, the game on the field rose to meet the intensity of the crowd surrounding it.

The Timbers and LAFC got after each other. And while Portland certainly gave it plenty against the runaway Supporters' Shield leaders, they couldn't overcome a slow start and a pair of costly concessions in what finished as a 3-2 defeat to mark the beginning of a new era for soccer in the Rose City.

The first of those costly concessions came almost immediately.

In the sixth minute, under no pressure whatsoever, goalkeeper Jeff Attinella decided to play a pass wide left to Jorge Villafaña — a pass that, both telegraphed and under-hit, was picked off by Carlos Vela, who walked into the box and slipped in the simplest of his league-leading sixteen goals to give LAFC the lead.

It was an absolutely brutal mistake, and it left Attinella — starting for just the second time in the club's last six games — slamming the turf in agony. Whether his error was due in part to rust, or in part to the anxiety that accompanies the kind of job insecurity he has faced this year, it was difficult not to feel for him.

The Timbers' response to their goalkeeper's calamitous error was, in some ways, very positive: they picked Attinella up, and went about the game just as they had started to before the goal, running hard, tackling hard, and generally playing progressively.

But though the Timbers were playing industriously, they weren't playing particularly well. They were incredibly loose with the ball in midfield, turning it over more frequently than at any point since the season's miserable opening weeks, and somewhat shapeless up top.

Diego Valeri ranged all over the field trying to find space, but was pretty well smothered. Brian Fernandez, fairly isolated up top against two much bigger center backs in Eddie Segura and Walker Zimmerman, completed just three passes in the entire half and was held without a shot. The Timbers were struggling.

LAFC was not. Their spacing was excellent, their movement was crisp, and, just after the half hour mark, their left back Triston Blackmon sent a low cross spinning across the face of goal that Diego Rossi, having sped past an unaware Jorge Moreira, tucked into the side netting to double their advantage.

For Rossi, who had missed a sitter just moments earlier and scored only once in his last nine starts, it was a tonic. It was also indicative of the gulf in class between the two teams — LAFC had now outscored the Timbers 6-1 in just under three halves of play on the season — and it appeared to shake the Timbers in a way that the first goal did not.

The halftime whistle, when it arrived, was welcome. Even more welcome was how the Timbers began the second half: with renewed focus, and a near-instantaneous goal.

Not a minute into the period, after exchanging passes with Valeri, Sebastian Blanco cross found Fernandez — who powered a header goalwards. Tyler Miller spilled it, and Cristhian Paredes was on hand to volley home the rebound. The Timbers were alive.

But just seven minutes later, LAFC restored its two-goal margin. After working the ball from the right to the left wing, Jordan Havery had all day to pick out a cross — and he used the time and spaced afforded him by picking out an unmarked Latif Blessing who had a simple second-man run and finish to make it 3-1.

Portland Timbers
As bad as the first goal was to concede, this one was the real killer: having worked so tenaciously throughout the entire evening, having pulled themselves to within a goal, the Timbers took a play off defensively and were punished for it predictably.

No one tracked Blessing's run, no one stepped out to pressure Harvey, and no one made more than a token attempt to contest the three passes that proceeded his cross. As many as Timbers six players were culpable for its eventual conversion.

Portland didn't go away — the energy in the building and the competitiveness of their top players made that an impossibility — so that ultimately their moment's lapse proved even costlier than it might have.

Fernandez had another glorious opportunity to notch his first Providence Park goal not a minute after the restart when he found a seam between LAFC's center backs and was picked out superbly by Moreira, but he sent his header straight at Miller who parried it away.

Several minutes after that, Miller came up with his very best stop of the night — laying out to tip wide a low Valeri shot that was whistling towards the far corner.

But the Timbers were coming. With Valeri consistently higher up the field, Fernandez, crafty with his movement in the box and ferocious with his running outside of it, was beginning to find the game. When Savarese finally brought on Jeremy Ebobisse with 15 minutes to go, they looked even better.

Again it was a cross: this time a long, towering effort from Villafaña that Ebobisse rose highest to head back into the middle where Fernandez, keeping himself active, met it with an overhead kicked that glanced off of Miller's finger tips and into the back of the net.

It was a thing of beauty — the knockdown from Ebobisse, the finish from Fernandez, and the crowd reacted to it all in ear-splitting style. For a moment, it seemed like the Timbers might just nab a point.

Unfortunately, the rest of the game deteriorated quickly and completely into a series of fouls, injury stoppages, and acrimonious confrontations, the biggest of which, in front of the LAFC bench, saw Fernandez, Adama Diomande, and members of the club's coaching staffs clash bitterly.

Both sides were, at various points, irate with referee Robert Sibiga — LAFC out of concern for Vela, who was fouled eight times, the Timbers with Sibiga's inability or unwillingness to keep the game moving. Eight minutes were added to the end of the second half, but the ball wasn't in play for more than three of them.

Savarese and Bob Bradley spoke animatedly for several minutes on the touchline after the final whistle, hashing out the finer points of what had been a frenetic, fraught, full-blooded spectacle of a contest more suited to November than the first day of June.

LAFC was as good as advertised, and Bradley, not given to hyperbole, called the character of their performance "pretty awesome."

Savarese, for his part, found reason to be pleased as well. The Timbers brought it in the second half, and the result was that they out-shot, out-possessed, and out-tackled what is by a country mile the league's best team. They lost, and deserved to, but not many sides have done anything similar so far this season.

That said, Savarese will have plenty to chew on over the coming three-week break. If he was fit, Ebobisse should have started. Perhaps Steve Clark should have too, though it's the policy of rotating goalkeepers week after week that currently looks most suspect.

But beyond LAFC, or Fernandez, or the immaculate Diego Chara, the evening served first and foremost to enhance Providence Park's status as American's soccer's foremost cathedral — a place capable seemingly in itself of producing some of its fiercest, most entertaining games.

The Timbers are going to win plenty of games there, both in the coming months and the coming years. After a loss like this one, that's more than solace enough.

Portland Timbers