The race for the MLS playoffs won’t hit full sprint until after next month’s international break. But the jockeying for position has already begun and that’s a fight a wounded LAFC entered Wednesday with eight players sidelined by injury.
That left coach Bob Bradley to start a lineup featuring four players who weren’t even with the team at the start of August and the lack of familiarity showed in a 2-1 loss to the Portland Timbers.
The Portland goals, one in each half, came from Yimmi Chará and Darion Asprilla. Danny Musovski scored for LAFC.
Attendance, based on tickets distributed, was announced at 22,056 although the crowd appeared several thousand shy of a sellout.
The loss, LAFC’s third in a row — and its third 2-1 loss to Portland this season — dropped the team to ninth in the Western Conference, two places and four points out a playoff berth. But with seven games left in the regular season, six against teams LAFC (9-12-6) is either even with or trailing in the standings, the team is still well placed to begin that chase.
“We’re not giving up,” said Bradley, whose team faces the Galaxy in the crosstown El Tráfico rivalry Sunday. “We’ve got to pick ourselves up and be ready.”
Former English youth international Jamal Blackman, who made his MLS debut in goal Wednesday, said the team has no other option.
“We’ve all heard that quite loud and clear,” he said of Bradley’s message. “We know we’ve still got a lot of games left and we’ve still got an opportunity to make the playoffs. We know we need to stick together. And we know that we need to get wins.”
With forwards Brian Rodríguez and Carlos Vela out, midfielder Michee Ngalina of the Congo made his first MLS start behind Colombian forward Cristian Arango, whose MLS debut came last month.
Bradley also benched goalkeeper Tomas Romero in favor of Blackman, who gave up goals on the only two shots he faced in his first MLS game.
“It was unfortunate to give away the first goal,” he said. “Coming to the team and trying to catch up to speed I think I could have done better.”
LAFC also started players from Senegal, Ecuador, Nigeria, Uruguay and Canada and used players from the U.S. and South Korea off the bench. But none of the combinations clicked, allowing Portland (13-10-4) to go ahead on Chará’s goal in first-half stoppage time.
Asprilla controlled a loose ball that deflected off the foot of defender Sebastian Ibeagha, who was making his fifth LAFC start, and sent it forward to Chara, who had to slow and wait for the pass before turning and threading a left-footed shot through the legs of defender Jesús Murillo and inside the side netting at the far post.
The goal was the seventh game-tying or go-ahead score LAFC has conceded in the final three minutes of a half or in stoppage time this season.
Musovski pulled that back 10 minutes into the second half following a Timbers turnover deep in their own end. The goal was just the team’s second from open play in four games, both from Musovski.
But the tie lasted just four minutes, with Asprilla finishing a breakaway by banging home the game-winning goal off the rebound of a Felipe Mora shot that ricocheted hard off the right post.
LAFC had a shot at tying the score in the 73rd minute after Chará was called for a hand ball in the box. But with Arango standing at the spot preparing to take the penalty, referee Joseph Dickerson consulted a video replay and ruled the ball hit Chará in the face, not the arm, waving off the foul.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.