Success in any season, so say athletes these days, comes to those who never get too high or too low, who take it one game at a time, and have a short memory.
Following a disappointing performance versus their hated rivals last Sunday, the Timbers would be wise to pay heed to their own advice. Caleb Porter has indicated as such, saying in so many words that dwelling on a loss is an unproductive use of time and effort.
The match itself was full of all of the emotions and boiling tempers associated with a Cascadia Cup derby, but the score line did not follow the goal-fest script from the corresponding game at Providence Park in April. In fact, the Timbers were held scoreless for only the fourth time in 19 matches. A big reason why the match wasn’t a one-sided romp was the outstanding play of Donovan Ricketts, who set a Timbers MLS record with eight saves.
What did fit right in with the 2014 Timbers story was conceding two late goals. The 74’ opener from “you-know-who” materialized out of a wild scramble in the box off of—you guessed it—poor set piece defending. Marco Pappa added an insurance tally 15 minutes later, as the Timbers were stretched defensively while trying to find an equalizer at the other end.
Portland now sits in eighth place (do you remember when a win could have put them in fourth?), but still only four points behind the elusive final playoff spot, with fifteen matches to go.
Enter the Colorado Rapids.
The Maroon XI sit in the lofty perch of third place, and possess one of the better defensive records in MLS. Of the five clubs who have conceded fewer goals, only D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City have played as many games, and they both live in the weaker Eastern Conference.
The Rapids, who beat Portland 2-0 in Denver on March 22, are not the strongest road team, having won only twice on their travels, with a -3 goal differential.
To compound, head coach Pablo Mastroeni must deal with the absence of defender Shane O’Neill and midfielders Vicente Sanchez and Nick LaBrocca, all of whom are suspended. Midfielder Jose Mari is dealing with an ankle injury and is likely to be unavailable as well. O’Neill and LaBrocca are among the team leaders in minutes played, while Mari and Sanchez have scored a combined nine goals.
So here we are again: a match at home against a depleted opponent, with points at a premium and the playoffs on the line, is nothing short of a “must win”. Even Caleb Porter, who has shied away from attaching the “must-win” moniker to any match, used the phrase twice in a recent interview, citing not only this Friday as a must-win, but each of the seven remaining home matches as such.
Fortunately for the Timbers, the roster is on the verge of being the deepest and healthiest it has been all season.
Three of Portland’s four walking wounded have resumed full training; Maxi Urruti and Norberto Paparatto are medically cleared to play, and Ben Zemanski is back training with the first team. Defender Pa Modou Kah is (as of this post) still questionable, as he deals with a season-long bout of Achilles tendonitis.
The biggest (literally and figuratively) potential addition to the starting XI is Liam Ridgewell. The big English defender has been a Timber for barely over a week, and training since July 11, but he made the bench last weekend, and according to Caleb Porter, the only factor standing between “Ridgy” and the starting lineup is whether he’s fit enough to play the full 90.
So here we are again. With fifteen games to go—seven at home, three long road trips (Montreal, New England, and Toronto), five tough Western road games (LAG, Vancouver, Colorado, San Jose, and Dallas), two Vancouver derbies, and one more visit from you-know-who—another big home game with massive playoff implications looms large, against another opponent saddled with injuries. It’s another chance for the Timbers to salvage a difficult season.
Please, stop us if this sounds like a broken record.