The Portland Timbers can make up some important ground in the MLS playoff race with a favorable result against the Colorado Rapids in tomorrow's clash of Western Conference contenders. Despite the Timbers outscoring the Rapids 3-0 in the last meeting of the two teams, also in Portland, both the Timbers and Rapids have seen some significant changes in months since their last meeting.
Here is what you need to know about the two teams:
As Caleb Porter said at today's practice session, the Timbers are faced with more choices to make than at any point this season. With players not only getting healthy, but fit as well, the Timbers have options from front to back thanks to the returns of Jack Jewsbury, Diego Valeri, Alvas Powell, and Ryan Johnson, as well as the integration of Maximiliano Urruti and Brad Ring.
After playing 20' against Toronto FC and 45' against Chivas USA, and sparking the attack in both instances, Diego Valeri seems likely to start this match as the Timbers look to come out strong against Colorado. Immediately after the final whistle in Saturday's match against Chivas, Caleb Porter was emphasizing the need for the Timbers to come out strong against their opponents, a line that he has not wavered on since then. Valeri, who has seven goals and twelve assists so far this season, could be the Timbers' key to getting on top of the Rapids from the start.
The Timbers have only scored 14 of their 44 goals this season in the first half, and only two of those have been in the first fifteen minutes of a match, but those early goals have proved crucial to the Timbers, as they are 8-0-5 when scoring the first goal.
To that end, it looks likely that Alvas Powell will be reinserted into the lineup for this one. Although Jack Jewsbury's defensive positioning could prove useful against the Rapids' attack, the ability of Powell to get down the field and really keep pressure on the defense is something that the Timbers have been missing in recent games.
Our expected Timbers line-up: Donovan Ricketts; Michael Harrington, Pa Modou Kah, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Alvas Powell; Will Johnson, Diego Chara; Rodney Wallace, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe; Ryan Johnson
The Rapids are a remarkably young team, getting major minutes from rookies Deshorn Brown, Chris Klute, and Dillon Powers, a trio who, not coincidentally, are the top three assist providers on the Rapids. Brown, named number 20 on this year's "24 Under 24" list from MLSsoccer.com, leads the Rapids in scoring with seven goals to go along with his five assists. Brown could prove a serious that to the Timbers back line as he has supplemented his already ridiculous speed with runs and movement that have grown in intelligence as the season has progressed.
It is not just the team's rookies that the Timbers will need to look out for as the Rapids have recently brought in some dangerous n players to add to their pool of talent. The biggest impact from one of the Rapids' late season signings has come from Vincente Sanchez, a Uruguayan forward who has a goal and two assists in his six games with the Rapids so far.
Watch it on: NBC Sports
Kick off: 7:00 pm at Jeld-Wen Field
Portland Timbers: 43 points, 5th in the Western Conference.
Colorado Rapids: 45 points, 3rd in the Western Conference.