The Portland Timbers are back on the road this weekend as they look to take on the bottom dwellers of the Western Conference, the Colorado Rapids. Fresh off a pair of 2-0 home wins — and willfully ignoring the side’s mid-week US Open Cup loss to the Seattle Sounders — the Timbers should be riding high coming into this match, having snapped a five game winless streak and returned to the upper echelons of the West.
If the Timbers want to keep up their momentum, however, they will need to overcome a significant number of injuries and absences in tomorrow evening’s match at altitude.
The Timbers are hardest hit along the back line, where injuries suffered last week by Roy Miller and Liam Ridgewell, in addition to the preseason loss of Gbenga Arokoyo, have left the Timbers with only Lawrence Olum, Amobi Okugo, and Rennico Clarke at center back. Compounding this issue is the current loss of David Guzman at the No. 6 to yellow card accumulation, leaving the Timbers with only Olum, Okugo, and Ben Zemanski — who played 90 minutes on Tuesday — to partner with Diego Chara.
Given the amount of positional overlap in the Timbers’ defensive corps, and the struggles of the T2 defense with Clarke at its heart, it seems likely that the side will be forced to go with Olum and Okugo at center back and Zemanski at holding midfield.
Or the Timbers could get creative.
On the back line, Alvas Powell could step in at center back, a spot that he has played with the Jamaican Men’s National Team, allowing Okugo to step up and into the No. 6. Or Powell could play right back and utility defender Zarek Valentin could slide over to the center back spot. Or the Timbers could turn to Darlington Nagbe to reprise his role as a No. 8, a gambit that the Timbers have turned to only rarely since the start of the 2016 season.
That third possibility holds some real intrigue for the Timbers and would go a long way toward solving another one of the team’s lineup issues: what to do with Dairon Asprilla.
Asprilla, after several significant rough patches in the first half of the season, has been in excellent form over the last two matches against the San Jose Earthquakes and FC Dallas, filling in on the right wing while Nagbe was away with the United States Men’s National Team. Nagbe’s return leaves the Timbers with five players for their four attacking slots and while Asprilla could certainly be a factor off the bench, his pace, strength, and occasional trickery on the end line seem like potentially important factors against the Rapids.
As for the Timbers’ opposition, the Rapids enter this match on the back of two home wins of their own, having knocked off visiting sides Sporting Kansas City and the Columbus Crew. In both matches the Rapids were content to cede possession to their opponents and pack defenders into the box in a return to the ultra-defensive efforts that were so effective for the side last season.
After spending the opening weeks of the season flirting with a more attacking style of play, and trading away defensive stalwarts Sam Cronin and Mark Burch to facilitate that shift, the Rapids have returned to Pablo Mastroeni’s trademark style of hunkering down and looking to sneak a goal. Against Sporting and the Crew, this approach was certainly effective with entry passes into the Colorado box rarely successful and blocks aplenty coming from the Rapids’ committed defense.
Breaking down the Rapids’ defensive block will not be easy, especially with the return of USMNT net-minder Tim Howard to the side. To make that happen the Timbers will need a rock-solid defensive performance of their own to shut down the Rapids’ rare forays forward, and they will need to find a way to draw the home side out of their shell, working the ball around the pitch and pulling the disciplined Colorado midfield out of position so that they can find space in which to work around the box.
Watch it on: ROOT Sports
When: Saturday, June 17th at 6:30 p.m. PT
Where: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO
Portland Timbers: 7-5-3, 2nd place in the Western Conference, 2-0 win vs. FC Dallas
Colorado Rapids: 4-8-1, 11th place in the Western Conference, 2-1 win vs. Columbus Crew