The Portland Timbers harbor no illusions about the task in front of them.
After dispatching Minnesota United FC by a 3-1 scoreline in Round One of the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs at Providence Park on Sunday, Portland now travel to take on the No. 1 seed Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in the first-ever MLS match on Thanksgiving Day (4:30 pm ET | ABC, ESPN Deportes). It promises to be a hard-fought Western Conference Semifinal matchup.
It's a clash between teams with contrasting playing styles, but also at least one notable similarity Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese pointed to. Both have a strong sense of belief strengthened by strong regular-season finishes, viewing themselves as serious contenders to raise MLS Cup on Dec. 11.
"We know it's going to be a tough game, a tough match. Colorado's done very well this season," Savarese said. "They have a very good team, they have good selections in players and the entire staff has done a phenomenal job to be able to have a good season. So we expect them to be very good, but we are also preparing very well to make sure we are competitive. So, I know that [Rapids head coach] Robin [Fraser] will be prepared, he knows that we will be ready. We're very excited to be playing an intense game and we're excited to play the match against Colorado and we've been working hard to get everybody ready for this game.
"They have a belief right now, a unity, similar to us. We're very united right now, we feel very good about ourselves and we know that they're feeling the same things."
At the center of Portland's quest will be midfielder Sebastian Blanco, who's enjoyed remarkable form since making a midseason return from a torn ACL. The electric Argentine was at his best against Minnesota, striking for two of Portland's three goals, including a spectacular golazo that ultimately put the match out of reach.
Blanco emerged from that match banged up, but Savarese said it should be all systems go for the 33-year-old come Thursday.
"He's recovering very well," Savarese said. "He's going to be part of the game. He's doing everything he needs to do with the performance staff, the medical team, to make sure that he gets the treatment that he needs, but he'll be fully ready to be able to play in this match."
Meanwhile, Fraser noted on Tuesday that minimizing Blanco's impact as much as possible will be paramount from Colorado's perspective.
"It has to be a complete team effort in terms of awareness and communication," Fraser said. "He floats around the field and finds good pockets of space, and through good communication we need to minimize the amount of times he can receive balls in dangerous spots and have the opportunity to hurt us. It really is about a collective awareness and communication just to always know where he is."
As the top seed, Colorado have the benefit of a Round One bye, while Portland will be competing on a short turn-around.
That's inherent to life in the playoffs, Savarese said, adding that he believes his team has enough experience with playing on short rest to be at full strength when the match kicks off.
"It's not easy to be able to bounce back and recover in a short amount of time, but the conditions are what we have in front of us and we have to manage it very well," Savarese said. "So right now in everybody's mind here, we're working very hard so that everybody can arrive to the match as fresh as possible."