3 Keys To The Game – Portland Timbers Open 2024 Regular Season Against Colorado Rapids

Mo Damtew| Oregon Sports News

126 days. One hour. 30 minutes.

That’s the amount of time that will have elapsed since the Portland Timbers’ last heartbreak when they encounter their next adventure.

Providence Park will be packed with 25,218 passionate supporters this Saturday night, a sight that has not been beheld by anyone in quite some time, to spectate the new-look Portland Timbers play their first regular season match of 2024 against the Colorado Rapids.

There are already countless storylines exploring the sheer magnitude of this game, from the debut of fresh faces on both teams to fervent score predictions to a myriad of other captivating narratives.

The Timbers are 7-2-4 all-time in MLS home openers and are hungry to improve that record as they kick off their quest to right last season’s wrongs and turn the tide. With that in mind, let’s break down some factors that will determine if the Green and Gold emerge victorious this weekend.

1. Where will the goalscoring come from?

Head Coach Phil Neville faces a significant dilemma in attack. When speaking to the media at training Thursday morning, he revealed that starting striker Felipe Mora is a “major doubt” to appear in the match against Colorado. The front office has yet to finalize the long-anticipated signing of a new forward, meaning that this mystery player will not be ready for Saturday either.

To make matters even worse, Jaroslaw Niezgoda departed the club earlier this winter, leaving only a few options available at the number 9.

Neville could start 24-year-old Nathan Fogaça up top, the only natural striker he has that is currently healthy besides academy prospect Tega Ikoba. Fogaça spent a portion of last season on loan with USL side San Antonio FC, scoring two goals in seven appearances. However, he has only scored three goals in the past two seasons for the TImbers and has been unreliable since joining the club in 2022.

The other option would be to play winger Dairon Asprilla out of position. Asprilla has played striker before but is past his prime and regressed as a goalscorer in 2023. Also, he may be asked to provide depth in other places on the field.

The good thing is that whoever is the starting forward will have a potent attacking midfield of Evander, Santiago Moreno, and Antony behind him. This formidable trio possesses a dynamic blend of creativity, speed, and precision in passing, which will take much responsibility off the striker’s shoulders.

2. Keep Djordje Mihailovic off the scoresheet

Once Portland figures out who will be the guy they trust to score the goals, they then have to draft a plan to stop Colorado’s best player, Djordje Mihailovic, from scoring goals.

In 2022, Mihailovic left the MLS to join AZ Alkmaar in Europe. However, due to receiving minimal playing time there, he decided last month to return to the United States. He accepted a contract offer from the Rapids, marking his return to American soccer. The last time he played an entire season for an MLS club, he scored 11 goals and put himself in MVP conversations that year.

If the backline can minimize his impact, they should be in good shape, as Colorado has few other players who are dangerous in front of goal. Their forwards Rubio Rubin, Diego Rubio, and Jonathan Lewis scored just six goals combined last year.

3. Eric Miller 

In addition to Mora, the Timbers will be without starting left-back Claudio Bravo for the season opener, too. This will give Eric Miller the opportunity to shine as his understudy.

Miller, 31, signed with Portland in 2023 and made 22 appearances that year. He has an extensive history in MLS, playing for six American clubs so far in his career.

His style of play showcases exceptional strengths in clearances, aerial duels, and passing. His ability to diffuse attacking threats and seamlessly link defense with attack can not only solidify the team’s defense but also spark offensive opportunities.

If Miller struggles, though, the left side of the field may become vulnerable, potentially allowing the opponent to exploit gaps, launch counterattacks, generate scoring opportunities, and ultimately, find the back of the net more easily.

At long last, MLS is back in action. If you’re not excited about that, what compelled you to read this far into the article? Jokes aside, the Timbers Army is more than ready to turn back into part carnival, part mosh pit, part revival meeting, and part Christmas morning this Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm. To watch from home, you’ll need to subscribe to MLS Season Pass on Apple TV ($14.99/month or $99/season). Enjoy the game!