In the close quarters of the Western Conference, all but a few matches from here on out will be six-pointers, starting with tonight's match up against the Colorado Rapids. Currently standing in fourth place in the West, Colorado are only six points ahead of the Timbers and certainly still within reach before the end of the season if the Timbers can turn things around.
Following on the heels of last week's second half collapse against the Seattle Sounders, the Timbers will be looking to turn their luck around against the Rapids today. Unfortunately, this is far from the first time that the Timbers have needed to recover from a bad result this season. So far it has been far from a winning proposition for the Timbers this year as the team are 1-1-3 after their losses, but the team's average of 1.2 points per game after losses is better than their 1.11 PPG overall.
Of course, the Timbers are marginally less riddled with injuries this week; after suffering through the better part of a month with little to no flexibility on the defensive line or at the forward spot, the Timbers have several players returning to active duty.
Diego Chara is the only slam-dunk to see the field of the Timbers' returning players; he will, without a doubt, reclaim his spot in the center of the midfield from Jack Jewsbury. Playing alongside Will Johnson, Chara will be more well rested than most of the roster following his one game suspension for yellow card accumulation.
Elsewhere on the roster, Maximiliano Urruti and Norberto Paparatto have been cleared to play and have been working their way back to full fitness after each missed three weeks due to injury.
Urruti rejoins a Timbers forward corps that of late has exclusively featured Fanendo Adi at the top of the formation. Given the very different look to the Timbers's attack that Urruti brings when he is featured in the No. 9 spot, his return will give the Timbers a very different option in their lineup. However, given the recentness of his return and the relatively short time that he has been back in full training, Urruti seems unlikely to take the starting spot back today. Rather, he will almost certainly start the game on the bench and give the Timbers a late game option.
Paparatto returns to a somewhat more confused situation in the Timbers defense. With fourth string centerback Rauwshan McKenzie and utility-man Danny O'Rourke holding down the center of the defense over the last four matches, the Timbers have not been disastrous at the back, but have not won the trust of the fans either, giving up an average of two goals per match.
Although he has had his own struggles with both his level of play and a string of injuries, Paparatto could step in a play for either McKenzie or O'Rourke, but the fact that he may not be fully fit yet could hold him back. Having gotten injured early in each of the last three games that the he has played, Paparatto presents a significant risk of not being ready or able to play a full 90', which would reduce Caleb Porter's ability to make late game changes, something that the Timbers have needed to do regularly this season.
Paparatto is not alone as a perhaps-not-quite-fit centerback option; new designated player defender Liam Ridgewell has now been with the Timbers for just over a week and has been working on getting back to full fitness after his two and a half month offseason. Although Porter told the press this week that Ridgewell is a "game-time decision", inserting him into the Timbers lineup this soon after he joined the team seems like a big risk to take with a player that the team needs to be healthy long-term.
Still, Paparatto and Ridgewell are, collectively, about a foot taller than the pairing of O'Rourke and McKenzie (not according to their official heights, but it definitely looks like it in person) and would provide an instant aerial upgrade at the back for the Timbers.
The Timbers have not faced the Rapids since early this year in a match where the Timbers conceded two penalty kicks a Donovan Ricketts infamously earned a red card for putting his boot into Deshorn Brown. The first match up was one of the Timbers' uglier games of the season as the two teams delt with the cold weather in Colorado.
This time the Rapids will be coming into the match missing several key players; Timbers fans will be happy to not see forward Vicente Sanchez, who earned the second Colorado penalty kick in the two teams'e last meeting, while the loss off Shane O'Neil and Nick Labrocca will leave gaps in the normally solid Colorado defense.
Sanchez has missed the majority of this season for the Rapids so far, but has scored six goals in the seven games that he has managed to be on the pitch for, so the Timbers will certainly not mind him missing tonight's match as he serves the second of a two game suspension. Although his absence leaves Colorado without a big threat in the attack, they have managed well without him for most of the season, instead leaning on some of their talented youngsters like the speedy Brown or midfield thread Dillon Powers to get the job done.
Brown, in particular, should be a concern to the Timbers defense who were tortured by his excessive pace when the teams last met. Having scored six goals in seventeen games this season, Brown has not been tearing up the league exactly, but his speed and runs have made him a threat even when he is not putting the ball on goal by stretching out defenses and letting others chip in a goal here and there.
Watch it on: NBC Sports
Kick off: 8:00 PM PT at Providence Park
Portland Timbers: 4-6-9, 8th place in the Western Conference
Seattle Sounders: 7-5-6, 4th place in the Western Conference