PORTLAND, Ore. – Eight games, more than 4,200 miles of travel to four different cities, all in a month’s time.
Yes, the Portland Timbers are in the midst of their toughest stretch of the 2013 season. But starting with Sunday’s game at JELD-WEN Field against the Colorado Rapids (7 pm ET; NBCSN, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com), the end is within sight.
“I think the team feels good,” defender/midfielder Jack Jewsbury said. “The staff has done a good job of rotating guys in and out, and guys have stepped up when they’ve been called on. … The guys know it’s an important game against a Western Conference opponent, and these are six-point swings so it’s a huge one for us.”
Thanks to the end of the international break, they’ll have some reinforcements against Colorado. Rodney Wallace, who has missed the last three league games while away with Costa Rica, returns to the Timbers well rested, having not played in any of the Ticos’ three World Cup qualifiers.
“I’m actually in some ways glad he didn’t play as many games,” head coach Caleb Porter said. “He’s been training a lot, but he’s not chewed up from playing in a bunch of games.”
Porter said having an option like Wallace for the Colorado game fits right into the subtle tweaks he’s made throughout the month, which has served to give players breaks when needed but also to adjust tactics depending on the opponent. And against Colorado, Porter said he expects his side to be on the front foot throughout, whereas in Wednesday’s scoreless draw at the LA Galaxy he wanted a bit more of a possession game.
“In this type of game at home, the priority is penetration,” Porter said. “So he gives us a bit more penetration on the flanks.”
And if Portland can come away with three points, they’ll have successfully navigated the MLS portion of the scheduling gauntlet in a position where not many expected them to be – at or near the top of the Western Conference at the season’s midway point.
“In a lot of ways, this might be the most important game in the stretch, from the standpoint of we’re in a position where we can go for the top, but also we don’t let a team like Colorado get in the playoff picture,” Porter said. “There are a lot of teams that are tight in this race, and we don’t want to be helping teams get points to creep into the playoff picture.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.