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Downstream Playoffs Edition: Home vs. Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Semifinals

MLS: Portland Timbers at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Timbers Stats

2021 Record: 17-13-4 WLT, 55 points for 1.62 PPG

Goals: 56 for, 52 allowed, +4 differential (59/53/+6 counting playoffs)

Power Rankings: POR #7 (+5), Rapids #2 (+2)

Playoff Result: 3-1 victory against Minnesota United in Round One

The stage is all set as the Colorado Rapids begin their push for the MLS Cup in the 2021 playoffs. After securing first in the Western Conference after one of the most memorable games of all time, the Burgundy Boys earned a bye through the first round of the postseason. With Portland handily dispatching Minnesota 3-1 at Providence Park, they’ve earned the honor of being the first team that we’ll be smacking down on the quest for hardware. How do the first of our opponents look as we are set to make history?

I have followed the Timbers throughout their 2021 season, and calling them inconsistent is still somehow underselling the up-and-down rollercoaster of a season they had. Despite having the lowest xG in the league (even worse than perennial basement dwellers FC Cincinnati) and having the second-worst goals allowed for a playoff team, they managed to cruise to a relatively comfortable fourth-place finish. They had injuries galore, they had some absolute eggs laid, but also had games where they looked like the best team in the league. No clue as to what will show up on Thursday, but we had better prepare for the worst.

From a roster standpoint, they’re looking pretty good as well. They sold Jeremy Ebobisse, fringe USMNT player and consistent goalscorer, to the San Jose Earthquakes for a truckload of money to bring in U22 Initiative player Santiago Moreno. Overall, no major difference for the team compared to what they’ve been all season… with one exception. Their DP, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, tore his ACL around this time last year and is starting to make some appearances. Another big gun added to the Timbers’ threatening offense just in time for the playoffs. With no other big injuries on the team they should be bringing out the best starting XI they can — even if they won’t be on much rest, having just played on Sunday.

The big thing that Colorado need to be aware of is that too much of the Timbers’ success comes down to the success of their Argentinian midfielder and Designated Player, Sebastian Blanco. While Blanco might not be the most consistent goalscorer, he is the key to the Timbers’ entire game. With him on the field, they went 14-6-4 with a +12 goal differential. Without, a much more crushing 3-7-0 and -8 goal differential. That lone stat can basically summarize why he is so important. He scored two against Minnesota and basically locked up the win in doing so. The narrative around the team recently is that Blanco is putting the team on his back, and the numbers back that up.

Despite the likelihood of facing an angry Blanco, put simply, the Rapids have the capability to beat the Timbers. It certainly won’t be easy — now that we’re in the playoffs, by definition we’re dealing with the best teams in the league. Yet, I just don’t quite see the Timbers amongst the elite in the league this year. They seem to rely on too many individual players to have absolute superstar games and those players, well… they aren’t getting any younger. There’s no reason to really expect them to put up a solid defense, as they clearly rely on their offensive line to win games. Which, hey, that just so happens to mean they will probably let a ton of goals in. Probably off of set pieces. Probably off of Jack Price-supplied set pieces, too!

If the Rapids can contain Blanco and prevent him from going supernova, they can stem Portland’s entire flow. Focus on what the Rapids do well at the same time, and we should have a repeat of the regular-season game we had against the Timbers not too long ago.

With playoffs, there is no tie. It’s win or go home. The Rapids have defended their home turf very well this year, and have a winning record against the Timbers. We’ve had more rest, we’re at altitude, and we’ll be setting history for the first-ever MLS game on Thanksgiving. Personally, I am extremely excited about spending #Pidsgiving with my family in burgundy and blue, and even more excited for us to knock our way into the conference finals with style.