Forgive the cliché metaphor, but it feels we’ve been riding a rollercoaster of emotions these past few days. Obviously, if you live in the United States there’s a whole election that’s causing nothing but anguish and anxiety, but if you’re a fan of the Portland Timbers you probably have an extra sense of unease after Jaroslaw Niezgoda was officially confirmed to have a torn ACL on Monday. He is out for the rest of the regular season, and the Timbers are officially without another attacking player.
The injury gods have not been kind to Portland, with Sebastian Blanco tearing his ACL earlier this year, Jeremy Ebobisse missing these past few matches with a concussion, and many more. But despite these troubles, the Timbers still sit at the top of the table in the Western Conference, coming together to fight through a year filled with adversity.
“Having this situation is very difficult, but it shows also the character of the team,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “We have seen that through so many difficulties, the group keeps coming back and coming strong.”
They’ve certainly come back strong recently. After a disappointing three-game stretch, the Timbers have earned wins in their past two matches, and while the dominant victory over the LA Galaxy might seem the most impressive, their win on Sunday against the Vancouver Whitecaps might be more important. They won that 1-0, and that’s big because it shows they still know how to hold on for tight victories. Too many matches have gone from three points to one because of extra time goals, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday.
And now they have to do it again against the Colorado Rapids tonight. Colorado is a strange team to account for. They had numerous matches cancelled due to a coronavirus outbreak back in October, with tonight’s game even being one that was supposed to be played last month. They’re the main reason that the playoffs will be determined by points per game this season. But they’re also a team that just beat the Seattle Sounders 3-1. They might have helped Portland on Sunday, but they could hurt them tonight.
“I think Robin [Fraser] has done a great job to mange the team, and we need to be prepared,” Savarese noted about the Rapids and their head coach. “We have seen some things already from the team. We see that there’s some interesting things that they do that we need to be aware of.”
Colorado is currently seventh in the standings, and with the team currently below them — the San Jose Earthquakes — playing a tough match against LAFC late tonight, earning some points would be huge. But Portland has their own reasons to fight for three more points. They might technically be in first and may have already clinched a playoff spot, but they only hold a 0.01 ppg lead over Sporting Kansas City and a 0.06 ppg lead over Seattle. A win tonight would go a long way to ensuring they get homefield advantage in the playoffs.
“It’s home,” Savarese said about the importance of homefield advantage. “It’s where we feel comfortable, so if we have the chance to be able to play here the playoff matches with the hope that we can go far, it’s something we’re definitely looking forward for.”
There’s been a lot of emotional turnover these past few days. After the Vancouver win, it was mixed emotions all around the locker room, the team balancing celebrating victory with worrying about the status of their teammate. But at training on Monday, Savarese said that everyone was clear on what the goal is moving forward.
“Everybody’s calm,” Savarese said. “We still have two more matches, players still have to play, and we have to stay very focused on our direction.”