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Portland Timbers
After playing their first game of the 2019 MLS season in a whiteout snowstorm last weekend in Colorado, the Portland Timbers' second match of the year, Sunday afternoon in the heart of Los Angeles, offered them a chance to begin the campaign for real.

It wasn't pretty.

In what might have been a heavyweight clash with second-year side LAFC, the Timbers were outplayed from start to finish — losing the game 4-1, and losing Diego Chara to an entirely avoidable red card in the process.

LAFC away was always going to be a tough ask for the Timbers. And while Chara's red card might in itself be more damaging than the fact of the defeat they suffered, it was impossible not to be struck by the gulf in class between the two clubs on Sunday.

LAFC played superb, cultured soccer, sliding more than 640 passes across the Banc of California Stadium grass, and pulling the Timbers' defense apart. Portland had a few typically standout moments in transition, but were nowhere near as polished on the ball or balanced off of it.

Against one of the league's top teams, it was a fairly damning indication of where the Timbers — who represented the Western Conference in MLS Cup just a few months ago — currently stand.

Portland barely touched the ball during the first ten minutes of the game, but they were solid enough defensively in their two banks of four, with Diego Valeri and Jeremy Ebobisse tracking back to help out on LAFC's central midfielders.

But the one-way traffic was telling, and, sure enough, after 13 minutes, the home team carved out a big chance.

In a move that started from a cleared Timbers corner, LAFC swung the ball from the left side of the field to the right, where Steven Beitashour hammered in a low cross that Diego Rossi broke into the middle of the box to meet — only for Jeff Attinella to turn away his fired shot with a spectacular sprawling save.

But Attinella's good work would be for naught. On the ensuring corner, Mark-Anthony Kaye outmuscled David Guzman and flicked a header into the far side netting to give LAFC the lead.

It was the young Canadian's first goal since returning from the ankle injury that ended his 2018 season, and an embarrassment for Guzman — who might well have been whistled for a penalty had Kaye not managed to score.

But then, just before the half hour mark, the Timbers struck on a set piece of their own: Valeri's delivery from the deep left wing hit an onrushing Ebobisse, who ran straight down the middle of the LAFC box and planted his header past Tyler Miller to level the score.

That goal provided a reset of sorts, and, in the minutes immediately following it, the Timbers looked as positively engaged as they had all afternoon. Had Portland scored again, or even managed to get to halftime at 1-1, the rest of the encounter might have proceeded very differently than it ultimately did.

Instead, on the stroke of the 45 minute mark, LAFC retook the lead. A terrific, jinking run from Carlos Vela set up a crossing opportunity for Jordan Harvey, whose dangerous skidding ball a combination of Christian Ramirez and Julio Cascante redirected it past a lunging Attinella and into the net.

That put the Timbers in a serious predicament. Ebobisse had a pair of decent looks in the opening stages of the second half, but couldn't convert, and LAFC was soon enough reasserting their hold over the game, with Portland struggling to get pressure on the ball in central midfield and to rotate on their defensive flanks.

Then, five minutes after the hour mark, the hosts doubled their lead — again patiently moving the ball from side-to-side, probing gaps in the Timbers' midfield and backline, and, ultimately, after 13 straight passes, setting up a tap-in for substitute Adama Diomande on the backend of a cross from Vela.

It was a glorious goal, and it was quickly followed up another: this time Vela, sitting on a pair of assists, scoring himself on a quick break after a Timbers turnover.

Then, as if the back-to-back concessions and three-goal deficit weren't enough, things got markedly worse for the Timbers when Chara, trailing an LAFC attack, flicked Rossi in the early and was shown a second yellow card.

The nature of the offense was completely bizarre, but that Chara lashed out was not even remotely surprising. The Colombian has had his share of damaging, selfish, frustration-born red cards over the years, and it may very well cost the Timbers significantly in Ohio next Sunday.

From there, Giovani Savarese lifted Diego Valeri, Attinella made a few fine saves, and the game finished at 4-1. It wasn't quite the 4-0 mauling the Timbers suffered at Red Bull Arena in their second game of last season, but it wasn't so far away either.

Individual losses on this marathon road swing won't kill the Timbers. But blowout losses can take their toll, especially when their consequences, like Chara's dismissal, bleed over into subsequent weeks.

Savarese is dealing with both micro and macro problems right now. On a micro scale, a couple of players, the likes of Jorge Villafaña and David Guzman are very clearly struggling. Because of that, and because they've regressed at center back, this team's defense is in a rough state.

More broadly, Savarese knows that the Timbers need, at some point, to develop their ability to pass the ball and break teams down with sustained possession. He tried to move last year's team in that direction in the in August, but lost several games in a row and abandoned the mission.

LAFC, on the other hand, are there. They're not a finished product, by any means, but they are miles ahead of the Timbers in their development as a team that can cleanly and consistently dictate games.

The return meeting between these two clubs will arrive, with the grand re-opening of Providence Park, on June 1. If the Timbers don't improve in the intervening weeks, they're going to be under all kinds of pressure by then.