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Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids: An Unfortunate History with Altitude

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The Portland Timbers have faced off against the Colorado Rapids five times in two years. Unfortunately, the meetings have often gone Colorado's way.

Doug Pensinger

On Saturday, the Portland Timbers will face off against the Colorado Rapids once again, for the sixth time in the history of their being an MLS club. I would like to say that history is on the Timbers' side in this case, but, unfortunately, nearly every game the two sides have played against each other has been overwhelmingly in favor of Colorado, especially when playing in Colorado.

Here are the results from the five encounters the two teams have had:

  • 3-1 loss (away) 3/19/2011
  • 0-1 loss (home) 6/11/2011
  • 3-0 loss (away) 6/30/2012
  • 1-0 win (home) 8/31/2012
  • 3-0 loss (away) 9/5/2012

As you can see the Timbers are currently sitting on a -8 goal differential when it comes to playing against Colorado, more than most other teams (FC Dallas). Additionally, taking just 3 points out of a possible 15 shows that the Timbers squad of the past was simply incapable of combating the team in 2011 and 2012.

While some of you might look at these numbers and believe that they don't mean much given that the Timbers are a radically different team, as is Colorado, I think they show a worrying trend regardless.

If you look at both of the Timbers' home games they were close, tight affairs. The Timbers lost 1-nil in 2011 and then won 1-nil in 2012. The 2011 loss only came in the 92nd minute when Colorado's Drew Moor managed to pull the winner.

However, if you look at all three away games a very different story is told. Through 2011 and 2012, the Timbers suffered 9 goals against them while playing in the Mile High City. That's a worrying amount of goals and one that shows the past Timbers inability to adapt to their surroundings.

Obviously it's not quite as simple as saying that Denver's altitude is the sole reason for the Timbers' history there. The Timbers of 2011 and 2012 had multiple compounding issues that lead to many, many road defeats (all but three across the two years). Still it's a far cry to say that altitude had nothing to do with those losses either. The effects of altitude on physical fitness is a well documented event.

Which brings me to my point of this article. According to the Timbers' the team will be flying out to Denver after training in Portland on Friday. Less than 24 hours after they arrive in a significantly different altitude, they'll be forced to play 90 minutes. And if they already trained Friday morning, the chances of them training again later that day under altitude seems fairly slim. In fact, we're looking at the possibility of the Timbers not training at all in Denver before playing a full match.

For a team that is known to struggle away from home, for a team that has continued to struggle in Colorado in the past, and for a team that has not been particularly well adapted to physical constraints in the past, the game on Saturday has a dark cloud hanging over it. That said, I do trust that Caleb Porter recognizes these issues. There's simply no way a domestic coach in the United States could ignore the altitude effect.

But what's being done about it and how will the Timbers deal with it? I can't say.

What do you think about the Timbers' history playing in Colorado and the affects of altitude on the game?