That's a pretty big part of it, specifically the fact that both of Colorado's starting center back pairing (Drew Moor and Shane O'Neill) are out. Without those two, the defense has been in shambles approximately 3000% of the time, and the team has been exposed as having exactly zero good depth at the position. Past that, the losing streak has been fueled by some of Colorado's patent pending misfiring offense (except for the 4-3 shootout against LA, goals have been at a premium) and some rookie moves by a rookie head coach. It's essentially the perfect storm of everything that could go wrong going wrong all at the same time.
I would assume that Brown is the de facto starter regardless of his Jamaican appearance. He might not be able to play the full 90 minutes, but he's got enough energy to get two matches out of the way in the same week. Gabriel Torres will miss the match because of Panamanian duty, so Brown's really the only other good option to pair up top alongside Edson Buddle.
There will be no real drop-off. Most of us were confused as to why Nasco was getting a start or two in the first place, with Pablo Mastroeni in full 'throw shit at the wall until something sticks' mode. Irwin has been the team's starter since the early stages of last season and is still very good. He deserves almost no blame for the losing streak the team is currently mired in, which made us shake our heads a little bit when Pablo seemed to imply that it was by pulling him for Nasco. The fastest red card in MLS history later, and Pablo might not make that mistake again.
Clint Irwin; Thomas Piermayr, Marvell Wynne, Grant van de Casteele, Chris Klute; Vicente Sanchez, Nick LaBrocca, Marlon Hairston, Dillon Serna; Edson Buddle, Deshorn Brown
1. What is the biggest thing the Timbers need to do to make that fifth playoff place theirs?
By far the biggest thing the Timbers need to do is shore up the defense. I'll address that more specifically to answer the next question but basically the attacking group has been doing its job and the defense has been letting the team down for the majority of the season. There have been a few complete performances but for the most part, it's been the Diego Valeri show up front and the shit show at the back. After twenty-seven games, this issue is clearly not going away so Caleb Porter is going to have to figure out a way to manage it if the Timbers are going to make it to the playoffs. Over the past month or so, Portland has really relied on and benefitted from the Vancouver Whitecaps failing to score or win games. Now that they've jumped back clear of Portland, something's going to change in the Timbers' defense or it could be an outside-looking in situation the rest of the way.
2. We last met the Timbers when they were fresh off a few new DP signings. How are those guys doing since then? Worth the money so far?
Liam Ridgewell had his home debut against the Rapids in the July game and did quite well in that particular games. Overall he's the Timbers' best central defender. He's had some very good games and even scored two non-header goals, and he's had some terrible moments (like most of the last Seattle Sounders game). So overall his arrival has been a big help to a team that started Danny O'Rourke and Rauwshan McKenzie for more than a month. But as we've seen over the past two months, just adding one good player in defense is not enough to raise the level of the whole group. Donovan Ricketts has not had the best season and the rotating of Pa Modou Kah (who is mostly a disaster this year) and the inconsistent and frequently injured Norberto Paparatto has simply not yielded the performances necessary to truly clean up the mess at the back. As for Fanendo Adi, he went through a long dry spell after his scoring four goals in his first three games with Portland. Yet he scored in the Champions League and twice more a few days later against Seattle, and he's settled into his role now. At times he can be a dominant player but Porter is more inclined to use Adi and Maximiliano Urruti (the team's leading scorer) as a balancing act, starting one and then inserting the other to dramatically change the pace of attack late in games. That has worked very well so far with both Adi and Urruti scoring many of their goals in substitute roles.
3. How has Porter been shuffling the line-up to keep everyone fresh with CCL matches going along?
The return to health of many players and the emergence of a few youngsters has given Porter a lot of flexibility with Champions League finally arriving this summer. Right back Alvas Powell used his performance in Guyana to springboard into a starting role and has now scored in his past three games over both competitions. Elsewhere, Porter can rely on familiar faces like Ben Zemanski, Michael Nanchoff and Steve Zakuani to put in very credible work with the second group while resting Diego Chara, Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe. If the Timbers suddenly need points in CCL we could see some regulars getting minutes but with the opportunity to take control of Group 5 with a game on Tuesday at home against Olimpia, Porter should be able to keep the majority of his favored starters focused solely on the playoff push and use his second group to try to get the Timbers into the quarterfinals.
Donovan Ricketts; Jorge Villafana, Liam Ridgewell, Norberto Paparatto, Alvas Powell; Diego Chara, Will Johnson; Rodney Wallace, Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe; Maximiliano Urruti