The Portland Timbers have been one of MLS’s more consistent postseason teams in recent years. Since 2015, they have an MLS Cup, a trio of MLS Cup appearances and have won playoff matches at Kansas City, Seattle and Colorado. Three places those in the know within the league consider among the toughest to play.

That’s Playoff Portland. In the regular season, they’re a beast more easy to tame. They deal with whatever injuries they may have, they sneak into a good playoff position, they often have performances that leave you scratching your head.

It’s still June, and we just had the longest day of the year earlier this week. We’re far, far away from the leaves falling, a chill in the air and the sun sinking below the horizon at 5 o’clock. Something about that weather draws out the best in the Timbers. They live for the moment, and then live up to the moment.

If you haven’t seen the most recent Western Conference standings, no worries, we’re not even halfway through the season so a lot can, and will, change. But the Timbers sit second-to-last, a point above San Jose and a 2-2-3 record at their home, vaunted Providence Park. What? That’s right. They’re 13th; they have 16 points; they’re not dominant at home. They’ve conceded 26 goals; eight more than the Rapids’ 18. Who are these guys?

Watch out, they might just turn into Playoff Portland in midsummer if they realize it’s who they need to be to make the playoffs. They’re still a team of savvy veterans who know how to win in this league. I won’t bet against them because of their DNA. Pedigree isn’t everything, but it is worth something.

On May 14th, they dismantled Sporting Kansas City and turned the Wiz into spare parts with a 7-2 thrashing at Providence Park. And the game wasn’t as close as the scoreline. Since then, they’re 0-3-1. And in the four matches prior to that, they were 0-1-3. What an inexplicable and impossible to define spate of games for the club that hosted MLS Cup last December. Who are they? No idea. So here’s my best guess on how to get a positive result at Providence Park Saturday night in downtown Portland.

Midfield Madness

In the past few games, midfielder Bryan Acosta has cemented himself as a key piece of the puzzle in Robin Fraser’s XI. But now he’s out due to yellow card accumulation. If the captain Jack Price is also unable to go, the Rapids have some decisions to make in the midfield. We may see more of Collen Warner, more of Nico Mezquida. We may even see Mark-Anthony Kaye in multiple roles throughout the 90 minutes. In the first meeting between these two teams, the Rapids dominated all the important stats. Shots, shots on goals, passes, passing accuracy, possession. It was 2-0 Rapids after 90 minutes, because they won the midfield and that led to them winning the rest of the game. If they do it again, it’ll be because somebody like Warner steps up and has a great game in the middle of the park.

Attack the Back

One reason the Timbers have been so successful in MLS — of many, many reasons — is because they are good at home. They have a fantastic fanbase that starts making noise during pregame warmups, they play on turf which may or may not provide them an advantage––even if it’s only psychological, and they execute their style. The Rapids need to disrupt this style by pummeling the goal with shots. Portland will let Colorado have the ball in the middle third as long as it doesn’t pose a threat to their goal. The trick to beating them is keeping possession in their third, staying composed against a physical team and burying the chances you do get.

Bottle Blanco

Sebastian Blanco is the Timbers’ most exciting and influential soccer player. He leads the squad with five assists, and has two goals on top of that. What's crazier is that he’s only started six games in 2022. When healthy, which hasn’t been a given recently, he’s an honest-to-God MVP candidate who can take a team apart at the seams. It’s difficult to deny him the ball, so instead, deny him his favorite passing lanes. Corral him away from attacking opportunities. The Timbers haven’t been an offensive powerhouse in 2022, and if you can remove Blanco from the ingredient list, it’s even less likely they cook up a crooked letter on the scoreboard.