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Timbers have kinks to iron out before Decision Day

Portland aren’t dead in the water by any means, but they have an uphill battle going into their regular season finale.

Colorado Rapids v Portland Timbers Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Last night it felt like two separate 45-minute matches were played in Providence Park, and somehow the Portland Timbers lost both of them. In a game where they rotated heavily against the Colorado Rapids, the first half wasn’t particularly close, even if the scoreline was 0-0. Portland played sloppy soccer, getting dispossessed often and making questionable passes in the counter-attack.

The second half was a lot better. Diego Valeri and Yimmi Chara both checked in, and Valeri specifically was able to direct the offense in a way that Eryk Williamson was not doing. Even though Valeri seemingly created a million chances (it was actually five, which is still a ridiculously high number for a sub), however, it didn’t matter because they couldn’t finish any of them. Portland let an opponent break through in the last 15 minutes once again and it was over.

“I think it was more that we didn’t find the spaces that we should’ve found,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “Nothing to take away from Colorado, because I think they worked very hard to get the result that they got. They sacrificed and they understood the importance of winning this game, but I think it’s more about what we didn’t do and we didn’t show them the best side of us.”

Colorado seems capable of doing that to teams. Despite all the issues they have dealt with — specifically the COVID-19 infections and the cancellation of numerous games — they’ve clinched a playoff spot and consistently punched above their weight class. They took down the Seattle Sounders on Sunday to help catapult the Timbers into first place, and then immediately dropped Portland out of first with last night’s match. In a game where Portland didn’t start the usual suspects, Savarese noted that they had to adjust at halftime.

“When we came back into the locker room, the most important thing that we spoke about was that we needed to be sharper, quicker; we needed to want it a little bit more, because we created chances,” Savarese said. “We had our moments, but mostly we have to give credit to Colorado because they really wanted to get this result.”

And get the result they did. Now the Rapids have a playoff spot clinched while Portland are down to second in the Western Conference. The Timbers aren’t dead in the water by any means; they’re still one of the three best teams in the West and have a good chance to retake the top spot. It’s still possible, even if it just got a little harder.

But Decision Day won’t be an easy matchup for them, and not just because of the opponent. Portland will face off against LAFC on Sunday without the player that is arguably the glue that holds them together: Diego Chara will not be able to play on Sunday due to yellow card accumulation after earning his eighth one of the season on Wednesday. It’s a huge blow — even if he was the player that had the giveaway that sunk Portland on Wednesday — in a highly important match with seeding implications.

“Always it’s difficult for me to watch the game from outside of the field,” Chara said. “But I believe in my teammates. I think we have a lot of talent, and I feel players are waiting for the opportunity and again, I feel Sunday is going to be a great match for us.”

Only time will tell if the match on Sunday will be as great as Chara thinks it will be. Portland will have to put together something greater than last night if they want to have a chance against a dangerous LAFC squad. Right now, the Timbers will analyze what they learned against the Rapids before preparing for a tough regular season finale, because they’re going to need all hands on deck for Sunday.

“It’s also good for some players to get minutes, because we’re going to need everybody,” Savarese said. “And now we will prepare for LAFC, which is our final match and another difficult game that we have to try to give everything we have in order to get three points.”