The Portland Timbers' road woes have finally caught up to them. Four days after failing to win on the road for the fifteenth consecutive time this MLS season, the Timbers were caught and passed for the Western Conference's sixth and final playoff spot by the Seattle Sounders.
That's not to say that last week was all bad for the Timbers. The team did win on Tuesday in El Salvador, coming from behind to beat CD Dragon 2-1 on a last-gasp free-kick from Darlington Nagbe to save their CONCACAF Champions League campaign.
But as the focus shifts back to league play, the Timbers have their backs to the wall. With just three games remaining in the 2016 season — and only one of those games at home — Portland is in serious danger of becoming just the third ever club to win MLS Cup and miss the postseason the following year.
Saturday's game in Colorado — where the Rapids haven't lost all year — is one of the Timbers' most important of the season (6:00 PM, TV on KPDX).
The game against the Rapids will be the Timbers' third road game in a span of seven days, with stops in Houston and Central America along the way. This is the first game of a home-and-home with the Rapids, who will play at Providence Park next Saturday.
The only meeting between the two teams so far this year came in Commerce City on the fourth of July, when Tim Howard made his Rapids debut in front of a sellout crowd at Dicks' Sporting Goods Park. The game finish 0-0, and stands as one of the Timbers' better road performances of the year. It was also the last time Jermaine Jones saw the field for Colorado.
Portland has had a mixed record at the Rapids over the years, but they've only lost in Colorado one time under Caleb Porter — whose road record in October is an outstanding 5-0-1. The last man to score for the Timbers at Colorado? Jack Jewsbury, who nabbed a stoppage-time winner in May of 2015.
The Timbers, healthy for just a brief moment in the middle of September, have been hit by injury again. The hamstring problem that Darren Mattocks picked up in Houston seems especially cruel, seeing as Mattocks' had just begun to make himself an integral part of the Timbers' attack.
Without Mattocks, and with Lucas Melano questionable with a groin injury, the Timbers could be down to Jack Barmby and Ned Grabavoy as wing and pseudo-wing options on Saturday. Expect Grabavoy to get the start, and play inverted — much as Darlington Nagbe does.
Portland also has injury problems in defense, where Vytas' status for the game is uncertain after he broke a rib against Philadelphia and missed the trip to Houston and El Salvador. Jermaine Taylor is supposed to available, despite himself coming off injured in Houston, while Zarek Valentin is also an option to start at left back if Vytas can't play.
The Timbers' lack of width was a major problem midweek against Dragon, with both of the team's goals coming after they'd switched to 4-3-3 late on. But at this level, Porter doesn't have the personnel to start in that alignment. It'll most likely be the 4-2-3-1.
An early goal, if the Timbers could get it, would be massive. Although the Rapids have the best defense in the league, they did concede three in Vancouver last weekend. The longer the game goes 0-0, the better Colorado will feel. They've done most of their damage this year at home after the 75th minute.
90 - Gleeson
2 - Powell
24 - Ridgewell (C)
27 - S. Taylor
16 - Valentin
13 - Jewsbury
21 - Chara
6 - Nagbe
10 - Grabavoy
8 - Valeri
9 - Adi
The Rapids haven't lost a home game all year, and the Timbers haven't won a road game all year — so, by MLS logic, it'd be no surprise if Portland, perhaps buoyed by the result midweek, wins on Saturday night. The most likely result, though, is 1-0 Colorado.