View from the Booth: Key element missing as Rapids locked out by Timbers
Things just got a little more interesting.
The Rapids' loss in Portland on Friday night, coupled with wins for both Vancouver and San Jose, confirms what many of us feared these past few weeks.
This painstaking, high-pressure playoff pursuit is going to go right down to the wire.
The Rapids are without a game until October 5, when Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders return to Dick's Sporting Goods Park, kick-off 8pm MDT (TICKETS).
By that stage, only one point could separate them from sixth and seventh in the standings, with Vancouver home to Real Salt Lake next Saturday, before the Quakes go to Chivas USA on Sunday evening.
Full Match Highlights
It was always going to be an uncomfortable evening on Friday, against an awkward opponent, on a more awkward playing surface.
The ask got even tougher 90 minutes before kick-off, when an email dropped with news that Vicente Sánchez would not feature. His presence may not have produced a more positive outcome in Oregon, but one can't help feeling that his ability to unlock a defence with craft and guile may just have been a game-changer.
The saying, 'necessity is the mother of invention' didn't apply to the Rapids on Friday night.
Where was the spark?
There was plenty of industry, plenty of forward momentum. The Rapids enjoyed a steady stream of set pieces, and it soon became clear that this would be their best chance of success, as opportunities from open play were limited.
Effort could not be questioned, but what appeared to be lacking was creativity. Even many of the set pieces were too similar, and were so often stifled by the Timbers. There will be times when you keep knocking on the same door and it'll eventually open. That wasn't the case on Friday.
A number of the Rapids' nine corners came about from wild clearance attempts off the cleats of a rather dubious Timbers back line. They were wobbly, that's for sure. And I'm not a huge fan of Donovan Ricketts. He's big and imposing, but prone to the occasional clanger. He wasn't tested nearly as much as one had hoped and - save for the occasional punch - had a pretty quiet night.
Fair’s fair … the Timbers didn’t create a whole lot more at the other end. Irwin could do little about the goal, which was well taken by Valeri. He then denied Maximiliano Urruti, who had stopped complaining for a split second to fire off a decent chance. Aside from that, the Rapids keeper also had little to keep him occupied.
But it was offensively where the problem clearly lay. The free-flowing, expansive soccer – seen just six days earlier in a pulsating second half against FC Dallas – was missing. And it was too easy for the Timbers to restrict the Rapids, who - try as they might - had a job unlocking a rather average defence.
That's not to say the Rapids didn't deserve something out of the game. I think a point would've been about right, on persistence and pressure alone. They certainly spent big chunks of the second half in Timbers territory, chasing the equalizer after Diego Valeri's 13th minute goal, but the final ball in the final third was somehow lacking.
It was a struggle for the Rapids to find space out wide, a source of goals on so many occasions this season. It was then a bit of a bun fight trying to force their way through the middle. The Timbers packed center field, and sat deep, defending their advantage and making for a frustrating night.
There were similarities with the 2-1 reversal at Sporting Kansas City. The attacking flow down the flanks was stemmed, forcing the Rapids to play compact in a crowded midfield. Was Sanchez the answer? We’ll never know for sure.
Few teams have taken points from JELD-WEN Field this season. But the Rapids, on their two visits, didn't manage to score a goal. On Friday, for all their possession and pressure, just one shot on target is scant reward for the shift put in.
There were a couple of side stories to Friday’s encounter. Both Oscar Pareja and Caleb Porter are contenders for MLS Coach of the Year. Both are worthy candidates.
And then there’s Newcomer of the Year, with Diego Valeri and Clint Irwin in the running. Valeri got the upper hand on Friday, but I say ‘hold your horses’ to those suggesting the Argentine has it wrapped up. Valeri has performed superbly, no doubt about that, but his DP tag would suggest expectations were high. Irwin had never experienced MLS before March 16, and began the year as third choice at the club.
So, before the experts make their call, consider where the two started from and look at where they are now.