Match Preview: Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids
A point in Portland on Wednesday will be enough for the Colorado Rapids to reach the MLS playoffs for the first time since 2016, writes Richard Fleming.
Down the years, leaving the City of Roses with anything has proved tough, though the last time it was mentioned to head coach Robin Fraser that his team historically struggled at a particular venue, they subsequently went out and crushed Real Salt Lake 5-0.
The Timbers top the Western Conference standings, thanks to their 1-0 home win over tenants Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday and the Rapids’ 3-1 victory over Seattle Sounders.
But Giovanni Savarese’s side was dealt a blow on Monday when it was revealed that forward Jarosław Niezgoda had suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during Sunday’s win and will miss the remainder of the season. Niezgoda had scored seven goals in 17 games (seven starts) and had only been on the field for 11 minutes when the injury occurred.
There remains a doubt over joint-leading scorer Jeremy Ebobisse’s fitness. He left the field late on with a left leg injury during the 1-1 home draw with LAFC on October 18 and has not featured since. He, like Diego Valeri, has eight goals.
Valeri has been a consistent thorn in the side of the Rapids down the years. He has eight goals in 14 appearances against the burgundy boys, though he can create as well as convert. In 231 MLS appearances, he has a sizable 84 goals and 87 assists.
Even without Niezgoda or Ebobisse, veteran Valeri ought to be assisted by Chile international striker Felipe Mora. He has seven goals in 17 games, edging toward the end of his one-year loan spell from Mexican club Pumas UNAM.
Diego Chara is another familiar name still on the roster, and he has been joined this season by his younger brother Yimmi. Between them they have 14 assists and form a significant part of the midfield core.
Portland play on turf, and that adds an additional advantage to the home side but let us not forget how the Rapids dominated Seattle on Sunday, peppering Stefan Frei’s goal with a season-high 10 shots on target. This was the side which had conceded the fewest goals (18) in the Western Conference before their meeting with the Rapids.
And the Timbers boss, Savarese, is mindful of the threat this Rapids side will pose. He said: "When you are away so many days, and all the struggles they went through, now that they have the opportunity to play again they are very excited.
"It is always dangerous playing a team with players that are excited, full of energy, and now full of confidence after the result against Seattle."
Portland will present yet another tough test for Fraser’s men but the carrot dangled in front of the Rapids is enticing. They can qualify for the playoffs with a game to spare (they head to Houston on Sunday afternoon for their final game of the regular season).
And should they, as many expect, push their way into the postseason, then games against the likes of Sporting KC, Minnesota, Seattle, and Portland will have made them battle-hardened. Fresh legs, momentum, and competitive juices flowing make for an opposition few will fancy facing.
Coverage of Portland Timbers versus Colorado Rapids is on Altitude and AltitudeNOW this Wednesday from 7.30pm.