There's just no beating the Portland Timbers right now.
No matter their opponent, their formation, or their personnel, the Timbers over the last three months have been impervious. They show up with a plan, they work hard, they defend in numbers, they get chances on the counter, and they get results.
On Sunday, in Los Angeles for the first of two straight games at LAFC's brand new Banc of California Stadium, Giovani Savarese's team used that formula to shut the highest scoring team in the Western Conference down in a 0-0 draw that extends their unbeaten streak to 12 games in league play.
It's the kind of result that goes a long way in establishing the Timbers as one of MLS's top teams — a result that would have been unthinkable at the start of the season, and one that now, to Savarese and Co.'s great credit, feels very much routine.
But even for this team, in this run of form, this was an effort to be proud of.
Savarese, affording LAFC the same kind of respect that he gave Atlanta three weeks ago, set the Timbers up for just the second time all year in a 5-3-2 — and watched his team execute it like they'd never played anything else.
In fact, despite LAFC's attacking intent, Portland had by some distance the game's best early chances. Diego Valeri should have capitalized after pickpocketing a ponderous Benny Feilhaber on top of LAFC's penalty area after just four minutes, but his shot was well-saved by goalkeeper Tyler Miller.
The Timbers continued to generate offense down their righthand side, with Alvas Powell typically charged by his higher positioning in the five-man backline, and through Diego Chara and Sebastian Blanco's ball-seeking tenacity in the middle of the field.
There wouldn't be a better look than Valeri's, though, and LAFC gradually sharpened and began to keep the ball in midfield.
Their best chance of the opening period when come when the red hot Adama Diomande, otherwise smothered by the Timbers' three center backs, ran onto an overhead chip from Joao Moutinho and fired a shot that Jeff Attinella reacted in time to push it out of play via the crossbar.
As the game advanced into the second half, with LAFC seeking a path through the Timbers' well-drilled and populated defensive blocks and the Timbers seeking opportunities to spring forward, the game became increasingly bound in individual matchups.
Walker Zimmerman locked horns with Samuel Armenteros, determined to shut the Swede down after his failure to do so in the game in Portland cost LAFC dearly. Armenteros hit the post early in the second half and later got Zimmerman booked, but was ultimately held scoreless for the first time in three weeks.
It was a good, clean battle. The best clash of the afternoon, however, might have been Diego Chara against Carlos Vela, with the Mexican star making his first start since returning Stateside from Russia two weeks ago and the Colombian destroyer dead set on giving him a rude welcome home.
Chara won the outstanding moment of the first half, running a step behind Vela as he flew down the right wing before recovering with a sensational sliding challenge that knocked the ball away and sent Vela flying, so incensing Feilhaber that his old foe ended up booked for dissent.
Chara would get Vela again in the second half, albeit illegally, earning a yellow card that will see him — gulp — suspended for next weekend's home tilt with the resurgent Montreal Impact.
But the Colombian's presence in the middle of the field, along with the Timbers' numbers at center back, forced Vela wider and wider as the game progressed and limited his impact.
There would be no repeat of the fabulous curling goal he scored at Providence Park in May, and, in the end for LAFC, there would be no goal at all. Vela did get the home team's best chance of the second half in stoppage time, but he planted a free header from Steven Beitashour's cross into the arms of Jeff Attinella.
This wasn't the rollocking affair that these teams produced when last they met, but it wasn't a dud either: both goalkeepers were forced into action six times, both sides hit the post, and there was even disciplinary drama when Lee Nguyen, perhaps LA's standout performer, was dismissed after 84 minutes for a high, late challenge on Blanco.
If that Nguyen's offense was born of frustration or desperation, or a combination of both, it was a red card that the Timbers very much earned. Their commitment, both mental and physical, on a scorching afternoon that required water breaks in each half, was superb.
Their organization was just as important, especially in the backline, and their reward was a clean sheet against one of the league's best attacking teams — the first time LAFC has been blanked at home in their young history.
Both teams will now turn their attention to the Open Cup game on Wednesday night, with Chara and Nguyen, now facing suspensions next weekend, more likely than ever to take part.
Savarese and Bob Bradley will have to make those calculations for their teams, but it's Bradley, heading into Wednesday night, who has the tougher job. In 180 minutes so far this year, his fabulous team has yet to solve the Timbers' defense and had enough experience with it to be mighty weary of their threat in transition.
The Timbers might not be dominating games against top quality opposition, but they're miserable to play against right now — and they've got an unbeaten streak longer than any since in MLS for nearly two years to prove it.