The Colorado Rapids begin their quest for MLS Cup glory on Thursday, as they entertain the Portland Timbers at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (4.30pm ET; TV: Live on Fox). After finishing first in the Western Conference, the hosts have had the luxury of a longer rest, though the visitors have had a chance to warm up, coming through the play-in round.
This Rapids vs Timbers preview and predictions article kicks off with a look at their respective recent form, followed by a full analysis of the influencing factors in this MLS playoff game before concluding with our betting picks.
Unlike in recent seasons, where they have struggled to get going and have had little chance of featuring in the postseason, the Colorado Rapids played with confidence right from the word go this time around, so much so that their position in the playoff was never really in doubt. Thursday’s hosts were so strong during the regular campaign that they topped the Western Conference, finishing above typical big dogs such as the Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City. The Rapids come here in good form too, having signed off the regular season with back-to-back wins, scoring five en route to victory against LAFC on the final day.
Thanks to some strong end-of-season form, the Timbers, though not as convincing as the Rapids, made the postseason without much of a fuss in the end, and they began their play-off journey in the right fashion on Sunday evening, beating the Vancouver Whitecaps by three goals to one. That victory made it four wins on the spin for Giovanni Savarese’s men, who despite facing the top team in the west, should be feeling confident.
Hard to beat at home
It is certainly not unusual for an MLS team to be stronger at home, though it is slightly out of the ordinary for a side to be as tough to beat as the Rapids have been in front of their own fans. No team lost fewer home games than Colorado in the Western Conference. Robin Fraser’s men were beaten just once in their own backyard, while they conceded only 14 goals, shipping an average of 0.82. Only two MLS teams, both of which hail from the Eastern Conference, conceded fewer home goals than the Rapids, who kept a pleasing seven clean sheets at home, conceding more than once in just three out of 17.
Timbers capable on the road
As they finished the regular season as the fifth-highest away point scorers in the west, the Timbers are by no means the worst travelers in MLS, though they are far from specialists in picking up wins. Portland won only six out of 17 on their travels during the regular campaign. However, Thursday’s visitors did make a bit of a habit of winning away against the better teams in the division, emerging victorious from away games at Vancouver, Real Salt Lake and Seattle, all of whom finished in the top six in the west.
One thing that is a bit worrying ahead of this fixture is a general lack of creativity. Only two teams produced less expected goals away from home in the west, which meant that the Timbers also had the third-worst expected goal difference.
Rapids on top in this fixture
There should be no secrets between the Rapids and the Timbers when they meet at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Thursday. This will be the third time that the two teams have gone head-to-head, having faced off twice during the regular season. The first of those two games produced a 2-2 tie at Providence Park, where the visitors were very dominant, despite failing to come out on top. In that fixture, Robin Fraser’s men had more than double the shots that their hosts registered, while they also came out comfortably on top in terms of possession, shots on target and expected goals.
When the pair last met, thanks to goals from Dominique Badji and Diego Rubio, Colorado won by two goals to nil at this venue, and the victory was somewhat simple for Thursday’s hosts, who scored twice, conceded none, as well as delivering 1.7 expected goals compared to Portland’s 0.3. Moreover, the Timbers haven’t emerged victorious from a game against the Colorado Rapids since 2018, despite having had six bites of the cherry.
Visitors can be restrained
Saverese’s men have picked up some pleasing results on the road this season, even in recent weeks, though they have not done anything that would match winning at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, while they struggled no end at this venue earlier in the campaign.
A lack of creativity on their travels point towards a struggle against one of the best defensive units in all of MLS. At the prices, the bet that stands out is ‘Colorado Rapids to win to nil’.
Fraser’s troops are no strangers to shutting teams out, keeping a clean sheet in two of their last three fixtures, as well as in three of their last five at home. In addition, the visitors were unable to score when losing at this venue just one month ago, producing a very poor 0.3 expected goals. So the conclusion of our predictions for this MLS playoff game preview is the following betting pick: