We don't often get Friday matches around here, but it's a quick turnaround after the game at Dallas as the Rapids head out to Portland to face the Timbers. You may recall that it wasn't the best of times last time the Rapids trotted out that way. This is a far more in-form Rapids team though, one that has only suffered defeat once in its last 12 games. That streak started right after, you guessed it, the 3-0 defeat to the Timbers.
Ahead of the match, I tossed a few questions out to Micheal Orr from our fabulous Timbers blog, Stumptown Footy. You can see his answers to my questions about the Timbers below, and you can head over to their site to see what I said about our Rapids to them.
BW: Like the Rapids, the difference defensively has been very notable for the Timbers this year compared to last year. What was the biggest key for this new defensive cohesion?
SF: The Timbers essentially have new defenders at every position this year. Though Andrew Jean-Baptiste certainly contributed in 2012, he has appeared in 26 of the team's 28 games at center back in 2013. Everywhere else, the players are new. Michael Harrington has turned into quite a good left back and has missed just one game so far this season. Pa Kah, while often reckless and in danger of receiving a card at any moment, has been a reasonably good partner for Jean-Baptiste after the early season injuries to David Horst and Mikael Silvestre. Right back has been more of a revolving door but has more recently seen young Alvas Powell emerge as a regular starter, despite being just 19 years old.
To be fair, though, the real key to the Timbers' defensive success has been a combination of good goalkeeping by Donovan Ricketts and an offense that routinely holds the ball for 55-60% of the game. Portland's opponents simply have fewer chances to score as the Timbers pressure high up field with attacking players and usually sitting two holding midfielders (Diego Chara and Will Johnson) in front of the back four. For all the talk of Caleb Porter's revolutionary offense, it has been a mostly conservative defensive game plan that has succeeded so far.
BW: How has Diego Valeri's injury been coming along? Do you think he starts against the Rapids?
SF: It would take a major setback for Diego Valeri to start Friday's game on the bench. He could easily have played 90 minutes against Chivas on the weekend and probably would have been fine to do the same against Toronto the weekend before. Porter has chosen to bring him back slowly, knowing that the next five games (v Rapids, v Galaxy, @ Vancouver, v Seattle and v Salt Lake) are so crucial to his team's chances of reaching the playoffs and finding a nice seed within them. Valeri is the key to the Timbers' attack and should start not only against Colorado but the rest of the way, barring another injury.
BW: Portland is a team filled with attacking options. I know about the Johnsons, the Valeris and the Nagbes. Who's a lesser-known guy that we should keep our eyes on?
BW: And a prospective starting XI from you, as well.