PORTLAND, Ore. — On the night the Portland Timbers broke into MLS, they stood and watched as the Colorado Rapids carried the MLS Cup into Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and trotted it around the pitch so fans could get a closer look.
In retrospect, with that sort of a celebratory energy around the Rapids, it may have been nearly impossible for the newcomers to pull out a result back on March 19.
“First game as champions of MLS for them, first game for us as a new team in the league,” Timbers coach John Spencer said. “On the night, they were more ready and prepared because that group has been together for a good couple of years. They capitalized on a couple of individual errors and we dug a hole so deep, we couldn’t get out of it.”
The Rapids went on to a 3-1 victory in the season opener, but 12 weeks later, the Timbers finally have their chance at a counterpunch.
These are not exactly the same teams who played in the season opener. The Rapids have been bruised by injuries since the opener and are currently mired in a MLS-record streak of six consecutive draws.
The Timbers are healthier and better now than they were then, with Troy Perkins at goalkeeper instead of opening-night starter Adin Brown, the addition of Diego Chará to the midfield, and with Mamadou “Futty” Danso in the starting lineup.
More importantly, the team has had time to coalesce since they chased the game in Colorado back in March.
“The biggest thing is understand how each other plays,” captain Jack Jewsbury said. “At that point, for me, I was very early. As a group, defensively, we’ve been more organized [since then]. Early on, we were leaking a few too many [goals] and giving them chances.”
Portland are trying to snap out of a two-game losing streak (including their first loss this season at JELD-WEN Field, where they’ll host the Rapids on Saturday night), but the players are in a better place than they were on March 19.
“In 12 weeks, we’ve gotten closer together,” defender Jeremy Hall said. “Everybody’s more comfortable. We’ve seen each other every day for a long time now. We’re starting to understand our relationships on the field.”
Spencer said the team has more confidence and belief then it did on opening night, but Saturday’s match against Colorado (10:30 pm ET, Galavisión) will certainly serve as a litmus test of how far the team has come.
“Colorado has a good squad of players," said Spencer. "They deserved the championship last year. We’re expecting to see the MLS champions, so we need to be ready for that and be up for the game.”