The Portland Timbers take on the Colorado Rapids tomorrow in the historically inhospitable Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado for their first Western Conference match up of the season. With snow expected tomorrow at DSG Park, the Timbers could be in for a tough match at altitude.
Burgundy Wave give us the low-down on the Rapids
SB Nation's Colorado Rapids blog Burgundy Wave gives us an update on the Rapids and how Saturday's game is shaping up from Colorado's perspective.
Coming off their second straight slow start, the Timbers will be looking to take this game by the reigns early on, get a goal, and control the game from there. With the sluggishness often caused by altitude in teams not acclimated to its effects, however, it will take serious effort and hard mentality to get out of the gate quickly.
As the team presses forward to get the first goal, there are several questions about the line up that Caleb Porter will run out for tomorrow's match. At the back, Norberto Paparatto could miss his first playing time of the young season after picking up a groin strain in last weekend's match against the Chicago Fire. Despite being cleared to train on Wednesday, Paparatto has been sidelined for the last two days thanks to some lingering soreness.
If Paparatto cannot travel, the Timbers will likely turn to the centerback pairing known as the "Great Wall of Gambia", Pa Modou Kah and Futty Danso. Although Kah missed the match against the first thanks to a hamstring injury, he has been back in practice this week and was dubbed "one hundred percent" by Porter at the start of the week.
Up front the starting foursome of Maximiliano Urruti, Gaston Fernandez, Diego Valeri, and Darlington Nagbe could potentially be disrupted by the increasing fitness of Steve Zakuani, who has made appearances as a second half substitute in the Timbers' first two matches. Although it seems unlikely that Zakuani will be ready to take a starting spot today, if he does crack the starting line up it would be on the left wing, replacing Urruti and pushing Fernandez up top in the Timbers' attacking diamond.
Under the guidance of new head coach, and former player, Pablo Mastroeni, this year's incarnation of the Rapids looks very much like a refinement of the system that Oscar Pareja had started to put into place before his move to his old team FC Dallas in the offseason. The 2013 Rapids were a young, dangerous team that were let down by some weak performances early in the season and an inability to close out the year on a strong note.
The nucleus of young players that made the Rapids a playoff team last year are back with the team, as they boast one of the youngest lineups in MLS. Of the Rapids' starters from last weekend's game against the New York Red Bulls only one, team captain Drew Moor, is in his 30's. Contrast that to the Timbers, who started the year with a starting XI that featured Donovan Ricketts, Jack Jewsbury, Kah, Paparatto, and Fernandez, who represent 161 years on earth between them.
For the match against the Timbers, however, the Rapids will be without two of the best defensive pieces. Chris Klute, the team's all-star left back, went down with a hamstring strain against the Red Bulls and will be replaced by MLS journeyman and former Sounder Marc Burch. Clint Irwin, who greatly impressed in his first season between the sticks for the Rapids, has been battling a quad strain and will also likely miss the game. His replacement for the Rapid's first match of the season was rookie John Berner, whose only concession of the match came when he was nutmegged by a Thierry Henry header.
The Rapids' attacking core is largely unbitten by injuries, but thanks to a liberal squad rotation policy from Mastroeni, who the Timbers will be facing off against in the Rapid's front four players is still in question. Deshorn Brown, a nominee for 2013's Rookie of the Year award alongside fellow Rapid and winner of the award Dillon Powers, has been one of the team's best scoring threats over the last year and his physical playing style could give the Timbers' defense fits.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is designated player Vincente Sanchez, a wily veteran of the Uruguayan national team. Although Sanchez came off the bench in last week's match, he is a pure goal scorer and the Timbers will need to be aware of his presence whenever he enters the game.
Timbers Keys to the Match
- Start the game strong. The Timbers will feel the altitude most in the first half of the match so it will be doubly important for the Timbers to press the game from the start as they get through that barrier.
- Keep the crosses low and accurate. The center of the pitch will be clogged up again today with Colorado playing a 4-3-3, so good crosses will be essential to getting quality chances on goal for the Timbers.
- Maintain concentration at the back. The Timbers have looked strong defensively so far, but have been bitten by brief lapses on both goals conceded.
Going to Colorado is always going to be difficult and with the threat of playing in snow it could be doubly so. The Timbers were still only inches away from getting their first win against Chicago, so three points are a real possibility tomorrow, but a tie is looking a lot more likely.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
Kick off: 3:00 pm at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado
Portland Timbers: 0-0-2
Colorado Rapids: 0-0-1