The Portland Timbers are back at it already, taking on the Colorado Rapids tonight at elevation for the first time this year. Fresh off taking all three points on Wednesday, the Timbers will be looking to put together their first back to back wins of the season today and head into June on a roll.
In the wake of Wednesday's win over D.C. United, the Timbers find themselves with another quick turnaround and even more players missing.
Following his successful return to the side, Will Johnson will not be ready to play again until next weekend as he deals with soreness from his broken leg. Johnson's midfield partner against D.C., Diego Chara, will also be out against Colorado after succumbing to his annual ritual of yellow card accumulation.
Replacing Johnson and Chara in the Timbers' usual two holding midfield positions will almost certainly be Jack Jewsbury, returning to the lineup after being a regular starter in Johnson's absence, and George Fochive who was a passable, even good, stand in during his several appearances earlier in the season. The pair's dynamic will be fairly similar to that of Jewsbury and Chara, with Jewsbury remaining central and Fochive being given some latitude to roam the pitch, win balls, and even get into the attack, so long as he remains balanced with his partner.
The Timbers' attacking group also seems likely to experience some changes, although theirs will not be forced from the midweek match, but rather the product of tired legs or strong performances against D.C.
At forward, Fanendo Adi could reclaim his starting spot from Maximiliano Urruti, getting another chance to prove his ability to work with the rest of the Timbers' attack. Adi, despite being the Timbers' leading scorer, has struggled recently, both in terms of making the most of the chances provided for him and in facilitating those chances for others. With recent suggestions that the Timbers could be looking to sign another designated player over the summer transfer window, Adi needs to show that he can be a valuable part of this Timbers side.
Also still looking to prove his worth is Gaston Fernandez. After setting up Maximiliano Urruti's game winning goal at the start of Wednesday's match, Fernandez put in a solid but unspectacular 60 minute shift, most predicated on linking up with other players -- primarily Darlington Nagbe -- from an attacking midfield role. It is hard to label Fernandez's season to date anything other than disappointing, but La Gata's chances have been limited at best, so he will need to be ready to take advantage of the temporary hole created in the Timbers' attack with the absence of Diego Valeri.
For his part, Valeri remains out of the lineup as he continues to recover from the sprained ankle that he suffered against Toronto FC a week and a half ago.
In the defense, the Timbers will likely see a return to normalcy, with Nat Borchers reclaiming his starting spot from Norberto Paparatto, despite the Argentine's good showing against D.C. in his first appearance of the year. The Timbers could see either Jorge Villafana or Alvas Powell given a rest in favor of Jeanderson if the Timbers look to continue their squad rotation. Of the two, Powell seems like the more likely candidate as he seems to still be suffering from soreness, a malady that kept him out of practice before the Toronto game.
Finally, the Timbers could give a shot to Ishmael Yartey after playing Dairon Asprilla 90 minutes against D.C. A versatile attacker, Yartey could slot in all throughout the Timbers' forward group, including for Asprilla on the right or Wallace on the left. Of all the possible changes that the Timbers could make, however, this seems to be the least likely.
Despite being one of the most formidable defensive units in Major League Soccer, the Rapids have seen very little in terms of points from their strong back line. A sputtering offense that has shown potential and promise, but very little in terms of actual goalscoring has held the Rapids back in the ultra-competitive West, so it will be up to the Timbers to break through the Rapid's back line in this one while avoiding giving the Rapids any chances to punish them for foolish defensive errors.
The Rapids do have several potent weapons in the attack that have simply failed to round into form so far this year. With four goals and two assists, Gabriel Torres is certainly the Rapid's go-to attacking player. In fact, the Panamanian is the only multiple goal scorer on the Rapids so far in 2015.
If Torres is the scorer, the Dillon Powers is the provider for the Rapids. Although Timbers fans will remember him for his long range lightning bolt at the start of the 2013 season, Powers has been racking up the assists instead this year, being credited with five so far in 2015. The Rapids as a whole have only scored ten goals in eleven games, so the fact that Powers has assisted half of them -- and chipped one in himself -- makes his importance to the Rapids' attacking play clear.
Coming off a midweek match, a 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders, the Rapids do not appear to have take the same squad rotation tact that the Timbers and D.C. have done, instead playing most of their key personnel in both of their matches earlier this week. The Rapids did get some rest of Torres, taking him off at the half, and also made one key change to their lineup in the midweek game, introducing new designated player Kevin Doyle, formerly of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Doyle brings quick, short passes to the attacking midfield for the Rapids and, once he gets settled in, could be a very dangerous player in MLS, particularly if some of the other Rapids can take the scoring burden off of Torres. Once Doyle, Torres, and Powers get on the same page, this Rapids team could actually be quite scary. To prevent that from happening, the Timbers will need to be quite proactive, using a player like George Fochive to shadow and shut down Doyle who will be at the center of the Rapids' attacks.
Watch it on: KPDX
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. pacific at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO
Portland Timbers: 4-5-4, 9th place in the Western Conference
Colorado Rapids: 2-3-7, 10th place in the Western Conference