On the verge of clinching their second MLS playoff berth, the Portland Timbers can’t afford to relax against a Colorado Rapids team that’s taking the spoiler role seriously.
The Timbers need at least a draw to secure a postseason spot but they also can finish as high as second in the Western Conference with a win in Sunday night’s finale at Providence Park.
Portland responded with back-to-back road victories after a 1-0 home loss to Sporting Kansas City on Oct. 3 that coach Caleb Porter called "devastating" to the team’s playoff hopes.
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Fanendo Adi has keyed the turnaround, scoring the lone tally in a 1-0 win at Real Salt Lake on Oct. 14 and sending home the first two scores in last Sunday’s 5-2 win at Los Angeles.
"We had played good games and couldn’t get the result (earlier) and this time of year, we needed the results," defender Jorge Villafana said. "Everybody put in the hard work and (we’re) just happy that we got the result that put us in better position on the table."
Now the Timbers can finish anywhere from second to sixth in the West depending on whether they win or draw and other results. They also could secure their second playoff berth since joining the MLS in 2011 with a loss or tie by either Seattle, San Jose or Kansas City on Decision Day.
With a loss, Portland (14-11-8) could miss out on the postseason if some of the other results do not fall its way. Adi would certainly prefer that the Timbers take care of business at home.
"I’m just focused on us winning," said Adi, tied for eighth in the MLS with 15 goals.
That isn’t likely to be easy against the last-place Rapids, who snapped a four-game losing streak and put a dent in Kansas City’s playoff chances with Wednesday’s 2-0 road win.
"To go to a place like KC – probably one of the most difficult places to play – and get the result that we wanted in the way that we did, I think validates all the hard work that everyone has put forth," said Colorado coach Pablo Mastroeni, whose club was eliminated from the playoffs on Oct. 4.
The Rapids (9-14-10) also gave the Timbers everything they could handle in the first meeting before Portland’s Jack Jewsbury scored in the third minute of extra time for a 2-1 road win May 30. The Timbers, however, have won the past four meetings at Providence Park by a combined 7-1.
"This game is going to be completely different," Mastroeni said. "I think what we’re more focused on the concentration, the effort, the commitment that we had in Kansas City and how that’s going to parlay into getting a good result in Portland."
Mastroeni’s squad will be short-handed without one of its top scorers and defenders. Dillon Serna (three goals) and Drew Moor are sidelined with a hamstring and foot injuries, respectively.
Portland, which seeks a club record for victories in a MLS season, has recorded eight of its league-best 13 shutouts at home. The Timbers are 7-3-6 at Providence Park but hope to avoid a franchise-worst three-game home losing streak after going 0-2-2 there since Aug. 7.