The Portland Timbers have outscored the Colorado Rapids 5-2 in two previous meetings this season, first in a 2-2 draw in Commerce City in March and more recently, a 3-0 win at Jeld-Wen Field in June. Now the clubs meet for the third and final time with quite a lot riding on the outcome. To get more in depth from a Rapids perspective, we reached out to SB Nation's Colorado blog, Burgundy Wave, with a few questions. Chris White answered the call and gives us an update on Edson Buddle, the Rapids' incredible success since their last Timbers game and the strong defensive record that has made Colorado among the most difficult teams to break down.
Since losing in Portland, 3-0 on June 23, the Rapids have lost just once in twelve games. What happened to shift what had been a middling start to a playoff contending team?
Three or four of the young players on the team all turned it up to 11 at the same time. Shane O'Neill took over a center back spot around that time, and the Rapids have only lost that single game with him in the lineup. Chris Klute suddenly turned into one of the best backs in MLS. Deshorn Brown finally started to find a bit of better finishing. As those young guys got more and more minutes, they were bound to start getting it together. More recently, you can turn your head toward Vicente Sanchez, who has been absolutely vital for the Rapids in every single game he has appeared. (Already, he has a goal, two assists and a fake assist on an opponent's own goal on his resume, and his career with the team is only five games old!)
Really, the slow start at the beginning of the season had more to do with chemistry and injuries than anything, as far as we can tell. Now that the team has been healthy and playing together for a few months, the talent that we always knew they had is starting to show through.
Deshorn Brown has been highlighted throughout the year but recently it's been Edson Buddle scoring goals. How do the Rapids use Buddle and do you expect his run of form to continue on Friday?
Though he started against Dallas, that's not been the norm over the past month or so and I don't know if he starts against Portland. Oscar Pareja has been careful with Buddle's fitness this season, as he was carrying a knock for several months and seemed to reinjure himself every time he was given more than a few starts in a row. Recently, he's been beastly coming off the bench, and that may be where you see him start the game against the Timbers. When he's on the field, he plays the usual deepish lying target man role that you're used to from him, sitting a few yards back from the box to get service, so he can either take it in himself or serve it to one of the wing-strikers in Pareja's 4-2-3-1 formation. (This has worked wonderfully recently since the man he's been able to play off of has been Vicente Sanchez instead of Atiba Harris.)
If I were to take a guess, I would expect to see Buddle get 30 minutes or so of time against the Timbers, perhaps more if the Rapids are chasing a goal in the second half. On the other hand, Pareja has surprised us lately with some defensive-minded starting line-ups on the road, so he may go with the 'wrecking ball' crew up top that will include Buddle.
The Rapids have the second best goals against average in the Western Conference. How much of that success is due to Clint Irwin and how much can be attributed to the back line?
Little from column A, little from column B, but I would put the majority of the weight on the much improved defense. Last season, Matt Pickens was forced into making gobs of saves every game because of the incredibly leaky defense. The reason why he was the MVP of the team was because they ONLY allowed 50 goals. Compare that to this year, where Irwin is being awesome, but the defense is as well. There have been big changes in the back line though since last year, and you can easily tell.
The calmness of Shane O'Neill was not present last year on the back line. Chris Klute is 10 times the player Luis Zapata was, both offensively and defensively. Marvell Wynne's return to right back has kept his speed on the back line with less onus on the actual defensive duties, which killed him when he was at CB last year. Drew Moor is the only constant, and he's always been awesome. Depth-wise, it's been great as well. Diego Calderon would have been an MVP candidate on last season's defense, and he's a first-man-off-the-bench on this one. Remember when Scott Palguta was getting minutes for the Rapids defense? Good times.
Don't get me wrong, Clint Irwin is really, really good. If he was playing behind last season's defense though, he'd probably have gone on an axe rampage by this point.
Bonus - Significant injuries/suspensions and expected starting XI
The only major name that will be missing from the match from our side will be Nathan Sturgis, who will sit out because of yellow card accumulation. It's hard to say who will take his spot. I'll go on the assumption that Pareja will slide Vicente Sanchez into the midfield, push Dillon Powers back into Sturgis' spot, and give Gaby Torres a start up top.
4-2-3-1: Clint Irwin; Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor, Shane O'Neill, Chris Klute; Hendry Thomas, Dillon Powers, Vicente Sanchez; Atiba Harris, Deshorn Brown, Gabriel Torres