For the third time this season, the Portland Timbers square up to the Colorado Rapids as they return to JELD-WEN Field on Friday night (7:00 p.m. PT, NBC Sports Network, 750 The Game / La Pantera 940). Check out the full lowdown on the opposition.
What can the Timbers expect?
The one thing that is guaranteed from Colorado is movement. In fact, it is demanded from their coach Oscar Pareja and he sets his team up in a way and a formation (4-3-3) that caters for that. By encouraging his outside backs to make overlapping runs, telling his defensive midfielders to creep forward, and his forward players to make the most of the area in front of them, Pareja essentially gets his team to become dangerous by constantly moving around.
Of course, it is all about what a team does with the ball to ensure that their movement is not just a waste of time. So that is why Pareja has packed his team with players who are confident in their passing and link play well, which was highlighted in their 80 percent passing accuracy in the 2-1 win over FC Dallas last week. Colorado wants to incorporate speed and accuracy as much as possible into their play – both on and off the ball – and that makes them incredibly dangerous.
Where are they most vulnerable?
When a team puts as much effort into their movement around the pitch as Colorado does, it means that they are bound to get tired as the game wears on. That is something Timbers coach Caleb Porter will be aware of as he tells his players to let the ball do the work – meaning keeping possession of the ball and spreading it around the pitch makes the opposition work twice as hard in trying to intercept it.
Defensively, Colorado is a good team, but not impervious. Goalkeeper Clint Irwin has made 76 saves but he can be caught out and that should provide confidence to the likes of Jose Valencia and Ryan Johnson. While the regularity with which Colorado’s outside backs surge forward will highlight the gaps that they leave behind with Kalif Alhassan, Rodney Wallace and Darlington Nagbe able to take advantage.
Who are their main threats?
With seven goals scored already in his rookie season, Deshorn Brown is an obvious threat for Colorado and he fits well into their forward line as he can play centrally or out wide. That is the same for league veteran Edson Buddle, Designated Player Gabriel Torres and Atiba Harris, who all bring speed and physicality to the attack that is needed at set-pieces and holding up play.
The key for Colorado to click as an attacking unit is to get players bursting forward from deep. For example, Chris Klute has racked up seven assists by continually raiding down the left flank, while Hendry Thomas has unloaded 30 shots on from goal despite operating in defensive midfield. All players are told to seize the opportunity to get forward, so that means the likes of Dillon Powers, Nathan Sturgis, Marvell Wynne, Martin Rivero and Vicente Sanchez must be monitored closely.
Head coach: Oscar Pareja
Now into his second year, this Colombian tactician is beginning to make his mark after making big changes with Colorado. He knows MLS from his time playing with New England Revolution and FC Dallas, while he also served as an assistant coach for five years with the latter. Only 44, he is a young coach with fresh ideas and has adapted well to the league despite having to deal with a lot of injury problems to key personnel.
Star Player: Hendry Thomas
A Honduran international with World Cup experience, in the English Premier League and at an Olympic Games, Thomas really has been there and done that. Since arriving in Colorado, he has proved to be an important player with his knack of breaking up opposition attacks making him one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS. On top of that, he also chips in going forward with two goals already to his name this season.
One To Watch: Shane O’Neill
This Irish-born, American-raised defender has been phenomenal since breaking through from the Colorado academy. Not only has he played at the recent FIFA U-20 World Cup and racked up 21 games in MLS this season, he is now keeping experienced players out of the line-up. The 6'2" centerback is excellent at reacting to danger, making last-ditch tackles, and keeping up with lightning-quick forwards – and he’s only going to get better.
What happened when the teams last met?
In front of 20,674 supporters at JELD-WEN Field, the Timbers recorded a 3-0 victory over Colorado with Frederic Piquionne, Will Johnson and Ryan Johnson supplying the goals. It was a game where the running of Rodney Wallace caused panic in the opposition’s defense and he assisted on all three goals, while Donovan Ricketts had a relatively quiet game between the posts – only forced to make one save.
What did the Timbers learn from that game?
Despite winning comfortably in the end, the Timbers were made to sweat early on as Colorado started on a lively note and created a couple of notable chances inside the opening 10 minutes. If Colorado had showed more composure in the final third of the pitch, then they could have taken the lead and made Porter’s men chase the game, which would have invited them out and left them vulnerable to counter attacks.
Although it was the Timbers who showed better nerves as Piquionne fired them in front on 12 minutes before Will Johnson sent them in at halftime with a two-goal lead. Any sort of rhythm that Colorado tried to slip into was knocked off course by the Timbers’ hard tackling and defensive cover, which proved to be just as important as the goals that they scored.
What did the coaches have to say at the time?
Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter
“That was a very professional performance. We’re pleased, 17 games in, to be where we are at the top of the table, but we’re only halfway through. It feels great, but as I told the guys, we’ve got a long way to go.”
Colorado Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja
“I thought it was a very competitive match for us. We just played a team that was effective. I think that every time they stuck one in the box, they put one in the back of the net.”
How has Colorado fared since then?
Colorado has only lost once (away to Sporting Kansas City) since that 3-0 defeat to the Timbers as their league form has been excellent. Wins over Montreal Impact, New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy showed their potential of being a serious force in the postseason playoffs, while ties with Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake keep them in third place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Did You Know?
Colorado midfielder Nathan Sturgis has the sporting gene in his family as his younger brother, Caleb, is the starting placekicker for the Miami Dolphins in the NFL.