The Portland Timbers'
recent two-game slide isn’t the end of the world, but it has brought some urgency to the team’s hopes for the season. The Timbers' scoring struggles have been magnified through recent lapses on defense, dropping the team into seventh place in the Major League Soccer Western Conference standings.
Ahead of Saturday's match against defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids
, here’s a rundown of some keys to the team’s success tomorrow and beyond:
Possession and passing
: Total possession hasn’t been Portland’s strength this season—they held possession for a measly 39.3 percent in the May 14 tie at Seattle—but ball control in the attacking third of the field is crucial for a team struggling to produce goals.
Set pieces have often been an elixir for the Timbers, who haven’t scored in the run of play since April 30. They have been getting by with goals coming off corner kicks, free kicks and a penalty shot. While those goals have saved the Timbers in some games, the long run won’t be favorable to a team that can’t create scoring opportunities through its own offensive attack.
Portland needs to put pressure on the defense with well-timed crosses and longer stays in the attacking third of the field.
: The 20-year-old Ghanaian forward has been a spark plug for the Timbers this year, creating scoring opportunities to the tune of five assists, tying him for third in Major League Soccer. Portland is 4-0-0 when Alhassan logs an assist but just 1-5-2 when he doesn't. He only has one assist since the end of April and all of them have come at home.
Alhassan appears to slip in and out of involvement with the offense, at times seeming to control the game on offense while at other points floating out in space, disconnected from the action. If Alhassan spends the match possessing the ball and attacking the Rapids defense, it could mean good things for the Timbers.
Many times it’s not the shots themselves but the process of creating them that spells the real problem. Last Saturday Chivas USA
completed 78 percent of its passes, a high efficiency that led to 19 shots—seven on target, and another five that were blocked by players in front of the goal. Chivas also launched 23 crosses in that game.
Portland’s defense needs to be tighter in the defending third of the field to cut down on the opponent’s possession time and scoring opportunities.
Colorado, take two:
This is the second meeting of the season for the Rapids and Timbers, the first being a 3-1 loss in the season opener at Colorado. A lot has changed since then. Despite its recent troubles, Portland has gelled and become a playoff contender since they trotted out on the Rapid’s home field and played like an expansion team, falling behind 3-0 in the first half hour.
Colorado, meanwhile, has struggled with injuries throughout the season and is mired in an MLS-record streak of six straight ties. The play of this game will be much different from the last, which was played on the largest pitch in Major League Soccer—an advantage for a Rapids team acclimated to the elevation of their field. Jeld-Wen Field is at the league minimum dimensions, which will force Colorado out of their attacking element and let the Timbers compact their defense.