PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Latif Blessing gave a simple “yes” when asked if he considers Los Angeles FC and Portland a rivalry.
Saturday’s matchup had all the makings.
Carlos Vela had a goal and an assist in the first half to lead LAFC past the Timbers 3-2.
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Vela, Major League Soccer’s goals and assists leader, helped LAFC (11-1-4) fend off Portland’s late rally to end the Timbers’ 15-game win streak in home openers.
LAFC withstood a run that included an 85th minute goal by Portland’s Brian Fernandez to pull within one, and shoving in the final minutes that resulted in yellows to Fernandez and LAFC’s Adama Diomande.
“We’re not naive, we understand teams are going to have a hard way to play against us, try to make it hard,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. “When’s the last time you saw Messi get mauled the way Carlos (Vela) got mauled tonight?”
Vela scored in the 6th minute after intercepting a pass from Portland goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. He found Diego Rossi on a cross for a goal that made it 2-0 in the 34th minute.
Portland didn’t go away. Christhian Paredes scored less than two minutes into the second half on a goalkeeper deflection as the Timbers pulled within a goal. LAFC’s Blessing countered in the 54th minute with a wide-open volley off of a cross.
“Great cross, great finish, so I’m happy,” Blessing said.
Fernandez scored on a bicycle kick inside the six-yard box to pull Portland within 3-2 in the 85th minute. It was Fernandez’s fourth goal in three appearances with the Timbers since he was acquired as a designated player on May 6.
“We knew that if we had a good start to the second half, the game was there,” Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri said. “And obviously, the crowd lifted us.
“It was a good game, and a good performance, but not the result we wanted, so we have to keep going.”
It was the first home game of the season for the Timbers (4-7-2) and the debut of the remodeled Providence Park. According to the club, the expansion added 4,137 seats in a grandstand on the stadium’s east side to push capacity over 25,000. MLS commissioner Don Garber was in attendance among the sellout crowd of 25,218.
“The place is rocking as it always does, it’s just a little bit louder,” Garber said at halftime. “More people sort of showing their passion for the team. … The Timbers are such an important part of the history of soccer in America have been reflected in the addition.”
Vela has 16 goals and 10 assists this season, six goals ahead of the next-highest scorer.
LAFC has scored a league-high 39 goals.
LAFC is in first place in the Western Conference and boasts one of the best records in the league. The Timbers, who made the MLS Cup final last season, went 4-6-2 in its first 12 games on the road.