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Post-Slab Pint: Rapids 0-1 Timbers

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In the first-ever MLS Thanksgiving Day match, the Timbers stunned the #1 seed Colorado Rapids with a 90th-minute winner from Larrys Mabiala to advance to the Western Conference Finals. What was good and what was bad about the result?

MLS: Playoffs- Semifinals-Portland Timbers at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the Post-Slab Pint: Playoff Edition, where I break down (pint in hand) the good and the bad from each Portland Timbers’ result.

After advancing past Minnesota United in the opening round of the playoffs, the Portland Timbers traveled to Colorado and stunned MLS with a 1-0 win against the conference-topping Rapids.

So, I’ll start with what I didn’t like about the game:

Sebastian Blanco left the game in the 50th minute with a potential hamstring injury. After making a prolonged sprint onto a long through-ball and getting a left-footed shot away, Sebastian Blanco fell to the ground clutching the back of his leg and immediately calling to the bench for a substitute. If you were wondering what the worst-case scenario was for this Timbers’ playoff run, that was it. Sure, Blanco is the team’s best player and every team is worse without their best player. But he’s also the fire in the Timbers’ belly, the guy that everyone in green, from the pitch to the stands, looks to when their backs are against the wall. Just a devastating injury for, in my eyes, the best player in MLS since his return last summer. It will be interesting to see how the Timbers perform without Blanco in the Western Conference Final. The Timbers haven’t released an official diagnosis of the injury but head coach Giovanni Savarese was far from optimistic about it post-match.

Dairon Asprilla was sent off in the fourth minute of stoppage time. At the risk of upsetting a lot of my fellow Timbers’ fans, I thought that the red given to Asprilla, albeit soft, was a deserved one. I know that Braian Galvan initiated it and I know that he goes down more-than-easily, but Asprilla has to be more level-headed in that situation. Making contact with another player’s head/face is always going to produce a red, no matter how faint the contact was. It’s the fourth and final minute of stoppage time and the team, who have already lost Blanco, are on the verge of advancing to the Western Conference Final. Why even try holding onto the ball out of bounds there? If time-wasting was the objective just blast the ball into the stands, take the yellow, and get back into your defensive position. But to blindly wrap your arm around the other player’s head in an attempt to grab the ball back was extremely short-sided from the man who has been the feel-good story of the Timbers’ season. After the match, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson said that the team would be appealing the red card.

Now, what did I like about the result?

Larrys Mabiala continued his post-season magic. Just four days after Mabiala scored his first goal of 2021 (The Timbers’ opening goal in their 3-1 win over Minnesota), the Timbers’ center back doubled his season tally with a 90th-minute scissor-kick goal to send the best team in the West packing on their own field. If you would have told me going into the post-season that Mabiala would be tied with Blanco for the most Timbers’ playoff goals I would have smacked you. But that’s exactly what he is and if Portland goes on to win MLS Cup it will be in large part due to the heroics of Larrys. Long may it continue.

After Blanco’s forced exit, his teammates responded by putting together one of their most impressive halves of soccer this season. I’ll finish by saying just how impressed I was by the Timbers’ performance after losing Blanco at the start of the second half. The Rapids put the Timbers under all sorts of pressure in the first half and out-shot the Timbers 7-2 at halftime. But for Steve Clark being one of the best keepers in MLS, the score would have been a lot different at the break. So it was nothing short of remarkable that the Timbers finished the match by outshooting the Rapids 12-10, especially considering they had a shot cleared off the line before Mabiala’s 90th-minute winner. The Chara Brothers, Asprilla, Santiago Moreno and Felipe Mora were all relentless in their pressing and had seemingly endless stamina when breaking on the counter. And despite a rough start to the game for Claudio Bravo and Josecarlos Van Rankin, the defense, led by Dario Zuparic and Mabiala, threw in challenge after challenge to keep the Rapids off the scoresheet.

The Timbers will face the winner of Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference final. The date, location and time are all TBD.