With a full week off after their draw at New England last weekend, the Portland Timbers should be a rejuvenated team when they return to Providence Park on Saturday night to take on the Colorado Rapids in what should be one of the easiest games remaining on their 2018 schedule (7:30 p.m., TV on KPDX).
The Rapids changed coaches in the offseason, bringing in former New Zealand boss Anthony Hudson, and have struggled in the exact same way they struggled under Pablo Mastroeni: the big singings have underperformed, the soccer has been bad, and Dicks' Sporting Goods Park has been mostly empty.
The nadir came early, when Colorado went on an eight game losing streak between late April and early June and also dropped a U.S. Open Cup game in Nashville. Hudson's tactical approach at that time, encapsulated in the highly regressive 5-4-1 formation he was deploying, was as dispiriting as the results.
It felt like a team going nowhere. In the past month and change, however, that feeling has dissipated somewhat. The Rapids traded forward Dominic Badji to Dallas for U.S. national team midfielder Kellyn Acosta at the end of July, and began to play more progressively — winning back-to-back games for the first time all year to open August.
The good vibes took a hit two weekends ago, however, when Colorado had two players sent off in the first half and lost the season's final installment of the Rocky Mountain Cup 6-0 at home to Real Salt Lake.
The team hasn't had a league game since then, but did travel to Memphis for a friendly last weekend. Hudson talked this week about building on the progress made before the meltdown against RSL, and with the playoffs far out of sight, that's Colorado's main motivation heading into Saturday.
After faring well enough in a rugged, knock-down-drag-out contest last weekend, the Timbers on Saturday will likely face a familiar problem: a visiting team that eager to pack players behind the ball and make the game difficult.
The Rapids have played more progressively in recent weeks than they did to start the year, but they're not going to come to Portland and try to dictate play going forward. They're more than likely going to sit back, and wait for their chances to spring forward.
The hope is that the Timbers, with all of its attacking weapons fit and well-rested, can break an inferior opponent down. That's what they did in the second half against Toronto FC when last they played at home, and what they have to do much more of down the stretch if they want to finish in the West's top four.
The other hope is that the Rapids — who have conceded 48 goals this year — simply won't be able to sustain the same kind of defensive effort that Seattle or Vancouver did in their wins here.
Colorado has Niki Jackson and Bismark Boateng, the two players sent off against RSL, suspended. With Acosta gone on national team duty, they'll be dipping fairly deep into their bench. Back five or not, this will likely resemble the pre-August team more than the one we've seen since the trade.
12 - Clark
4 - Villafaña
24 - Ridgewell
33 - Mabiala
16 - Valentin
13 - Olum
21 - Chara
11 - Polo
10 - Blanco
8 - Valeri (C)
99 - Armenteros
— Jeff Attinella, who exited the game in New England with a hamstring injury, is out and will be for the next several weeks. Steve Clark will start, Kendall McIntosh will be on the bench.
— Alvas Powell and David Guzmán, called up to their respective national teams, will also miss this game. That means Zarek Valentin at right back, with Jorge Villafaña on the left, and a
— With Samuel Armenteros returning to the starting lineup, we should get an idea this weekend of whether Lucas Melano has passed Dairon Asprilla as an attacking option off the bench.
The Timbers have owned the Rapids at Providence Park, beating them here in seven straight seasons. Last year's matchup featured one of the goals of the season: Darlington Nagbe's chip over Tim Howard.
Should be a straightforward evening. Timbers 2, Rapids 0.