After an off-beat midweek U.S. Open Cup loss to Seattle, the Portland Timbers return to regularly scheduled MLS programming with their first contest of the year against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night in Commerce City (6:30 pm, TV on ROOT Sports).
The Timbers, welcoming Darlington Nagbe back to the lineup from U.S. national team duty, will look to win their third straight game — and, depending on results elsewhere, retake first place in the Western Conference.
This is the first of two meetings between the Timbers and Rapids this year, with the reverse fixture coming in late August at Providence Park.
Over the course of three games last season, the clubs combined for just two goals. After playing out a drab 0-0 draw on July 4th in Tim Howard's Colorado debut, the Rapids beat the Timbers 1-0 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park before the Timbers returned the favor with a 1-0 win of their own in their home finale.
The last time Portland won in Colorado was in the late spring of 2015, when Jack Jewsbury scored a game-winner in stoppage time off of a lunging assist from Ishmael Yartey — a player who would never appear again for the Timbers and now plies his trade from FC Scion of the Swiss first division.
It's been a miserable season to date for the Rapids, who have come crashing back down to earth after a stunningly successful 2016 which saw them reach the Western Conference final. Pablo Mastroeni's team is currently bottom of the West, averaging less than a goal scored per game.
The Timbers got a big win over FC Dallas last weekend, but they lost both of their starting center backs to injury in the process. Roy Miller trained late this week and could be available for Sunday, but Liam Ridgewell is out.
If Miller can't go as well, the players who finished the Dallas game at center back — natural midfielders Lawrence Olum and Amobi Okugo — will start in defense against the Rapids.The ripple effect from those moves would be a hole in central midfield, where David Guzman is suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
Ben Zemanski, who went 90 minutes in the Open Cup on Tuesday, is one option to move into that role; another is Nagbe, if Porter is feeling adventuresome, with Dairon Asprilla continuing out wide. If Miller passes fit, Okugo will likely start in Guzman's midfield place.
The Timbers are somewhat short of attacking depth, with Darren Mattocks and Jack Barmby still struggling with injuries of their own. Porter did not made a single tactical substitution during the team's recently completed two-game homestand.
Colorado, off from MLS play last weekend and coming off of a Tuesday Open Cup victory over the Oklahoma City Energy, will get Howard back from international duty but could without Albanian star Shkëlzen Gashi. The Rapids are abysmal offensively — they haven't scored multiple goals in a game against the Timbers since 2014.
90 - Gleeson
5 - Vytas
7 - Miller
13 - Olum
16 - Valentin
18 - Okugo
21 - Chara
6 - Nagbe
8 - Valeri (C)
10 - Blanco
9 - Adi
No team in MLS is more poorly positioned to take advantage of the Timbers' defensive frailties than Colorado is. Portland gets a 1-1 draw.