BEAVERTON, Ore. – As the Colorado Rapids and new head coach Pablo Mastroeni figure out the best look for their side in 2014, it leaves their opponents with the unenviable job of game planning for what few can predict.
That task falls to the Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter ahead of a Saturday matchup with the Rapids in their home opener at Dicks Sporting Goods Park (6 pm ET; MLS Live).
Portland are also faced with another wrinkle as they hit the road for the first time this season, heading to a place that hasn’t always been kind to them – Portland have never won in the Mile High City in four tries, with their first and only result being a 2-2 tie there last year.
“We do make some tweaks depending on the opponent,” Porter told reporters earlier this week. “But we try not to deviate a ton when we’re away and how we play and the rhythm we follow. The thing that changes is typically the opponent believes they’re going to push the game more and attack more. So we have to be aware of that, and that will mean at times we’re defending a little bit deeper.”
Timbers center back Pa Modou Kah, who is expected to play and trained fully this week after sitting out Portland’s 1-1 draw against the Chicago Fire over the weekend, noted that the absence of former Rapids strongman Hendry Thomas, who followed coach Oscar Pareja to FC Dallas, provides a different look. But Kah said their attacking front still is a handful, with reigning rookie of the year Dillon Powers now back healthy and running the show in the midfield, no different from last year’s form that saw the Rapids make a surprise run to the MLS Cup playoffs.
“For me, the most important thing is what we do,” Kah said following Friday’s session at the team’s training facility before they made the trip to Colorado.
Timbers captain Will Johnson, whose eight-year MLS career has put him on the same pitch as Mastroeni the player, said he expects the Rapids to take on the hard-nosed mentality the former US international was known for during his playing days.
“I’m sure he’s going to have no problem getting his message across to his guys,” Johnson said. “He was tough to play against, and I’m sure that his team, he’ll want them to be tough as well, especially defensively and winning balls in the middle.”
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The Timbers will likely have to shake up the backline for a second consecutive week as center back Norberto Paparatto has yet to fully train this week after suffering a groin injury against Chicago. He was working with trainers before Friday’s training session was closed to the media and Porter said Thursday it was unclear yet whether he would make the trip to Colorado.
That means Mamadou Danso, who made his first start of 2014 last week in place of Kah, would once again make the XI alongside his Gambian counterpart.
“The whole team has good chemistry,” Kah said. “It’s not just about me and Futty. It’s about the team because when we perform we perform as a team not individuals. The chemistry from the team is still there. We’ve been unlucky not scoring goals, but I believe it will come.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.