The Colorado Rapids have been one of the most impressive surprises of the 2013 season, and their recent run of 12 matches with only one loss has them contending for the top spot in the MLS Western Conference.
Standing in their way on Friday night is a Portland Timbers side that could pass them in the standings with a win at Jeld-Wen Field. The Timbers have just one win in their past five matches, and are coming off a disappointing 1-1 draw vs. Chivas USA last week, but they have excelled at home and should benefit from the boost provided by a home crowd that will know just how important Friday's match is.
The Rapids have put together a 7-1-4 record in their past 12, including three wins in their last four, and the driving force behind their outstanding run has been a rotation of players that have continued to produce for head coach Oscar Pareja.
Colorado's defense has been especially consistent, and will be facing a Timbers attack that has struggled to generate goals on a consistent basis despite the team's ability to dominate possession against most opponents. That said, the Timbers have had success scoring goals vs. the Rapids in 2013, notching five goals in two meetings this season.
Key for Portland will be having a healthy Diego Valeri to drive the attack. The Argentine playmaker has been one of the few consistent threats for the Portland offense and his ability to find the gabs in Colorado's defense will be vital for a Timbers victory.
Portland holds the series edge this season, tying the Rapids in Colorado back in March before delivering a 3-0 thrashing of the Rapids at Jeld-Wen Field on June 23rd. In that win, it was Rodney Wallace who terrorized the Rapids by setting up all three Timbers goals.
Colorado is a different team now, having added a pair of dangerous forwards in Gabriel Torres and Vicente Sanchez in the summer transfer window, as well as seeing players return to health such as Edson Buddle. The Rapids physical forwards will face a good test from the Timbers centerback tandem of Pa Modou-Kah and Andrew Jean-Baptiste, who have the strength and athleticism to deal with Colorado's forwards.
The battle in midfield will also be one to watch, with Timbers captain Will Johnson and Diego Chara squaring off against Rapids rookie Dillon Powers and Nathan Sturgis.
One wild card for the Timbers is Argentine striker Maximiliano Urruti, who made his Timbers debut last week, and could take on a larger role for a Portland side that has seen their forwards struggle to find consistency.
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