PORTLAND, Ore. – A good way to make Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter bristle is to ask him if a game is a “must win.”
But even if Friday night’s Western Conference matchup against the Colorado Rapids at Providence Park (11 pm ET, NBCSN, live stream on NBCSports.com) isn’t literally “must-win” for the Timbers, it is about as close as it gets.
On a four-game winless streak and having lost two of their last three, the Timbers are sitting in eighth place with three teams and five points between them and the proverbial thin red line, with the Rapids six points clear. And Porter certainly understands the gravity of the situation.
“One of the things I said to them today is I think it’s important that we, more than anything, we have the mindset of winning the next game,” Porter said following Thursday’s training session at the stadium. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Pundits, supporters, they want to speculate what you need to do, and we can’t get caught up in that trap of wondering.
“We’re not going to be focused on winning the next 15 games, we’re going to be focused on winning the next game.”
The good news for Porter is Friday’s game is all he’s had to focus on this week, more or less, with the Timbers having been eliminated from the US Open Cup with a quarterfinals loss to the Seattle Sounders. USOC scheduling led to five games across all competitions in a span of less than three weeks for Portland, but that stretch ended Sunday with a 2-0 league loss to the Sounders.
“I think for me more than anything, it gave us a little bit of time to breathe and get prepared and reflect a little bit,” Porter said. “Because we were going back and forth between Open Cup and league and shifting gears and having to compartmentalize. And it’s nice to have four or five games to breathe, get focused, and now all our efforts go into the next game.”
Even though the Rapids come into the game riding a three-game unbeaten streak, they have lost in their last three outings in the Rose City, failing to score a single goal in those games.
“It hasn’t been easy, but we still have a good group of players and we still believe in ourselves,” Timbers captain Will Johnson said of Portland’s up-and-down season.
Another potential boost for the Timbers could be the inclusion of newly-signed Designated Player Liam Ridgewell. The former English Premier League defender has had a full week of training with the Timbers and could potentially see his first MLS action, although Porter wouldn’t indicate one way or another.
Portland will definitely have the services of forward Maximiliano Urruti and center back Norberto Paparatto, following their injury absences for several weeks, but not center back Pa Modou Kah, who remains out with Achilles tendonitis.
“Like I’ve been saying all week, we brought him here to play,” Porter said of Ridgewell, one of just a few defensive DPs currently in the league. “And as soon as he’s ready to play he’ll be in there, trust me, because he gives us the best chance to win games. But it doesn’t do any good as well to throw a guy in when he’s not ready.”
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Johnson said in the time he’s spent on the training pitch with Ridgewell, he’s seen an experienced player who will bring a calming influence to a defense that’s allowed 32 goals in 19 games, third-worst in the league.
“He’ll help us, big-time,” Johnson said. “He’s been in a lot of these situations; he’s been fighting relegation in the most pressure-filled league in the world for a number of years – not every year but he’s been in some relegation battles, and that’s what it’s all about.
“When the pressure is the biggest, he rises to the occasion.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.