Post-Slab Pint: Rapids 0-1 Timbers

Welcome back to Post-Slab Pint: Playoff Edition, where I break down (a pint in hand) the good and the bad from every Portland Timbers score.

After taking the lead over Minnesota United in the opening round of the playoffs, the Portland Timbers traveled to Colorado and stunned Major League Soccer with a 1-0 win over conference-top Rapids.

So, I’ll start with what I didn’t like about the game:

Sebastian Blanco left the match in the 50th minute with a possible hamstring injury. After making a long sprint on a long ball and getting a left-footed shot, Sebastian Blanco fell to the ground clutching the back of his leg and was immediately called to the bench for a substitute. If you’re wondering what’s the worst-case scenario for the Timbers playoff tour, this is it. Certainly, Blanco is the best player on the team and every team is worse without the best player. But he’s also the belly fire for Timbers, the guy everyone looks up to in green, from the stadium to the stands, when their backs are against the wall. Just a devastating injury for me, the best MFL player since his comeback last summer. It will be interesting to see Timbers perform without Blanco in the Western Conference Final. The Timbers have not released an official diagnosis of the injury, but coach Giovanni Savarese was not optimistic about that after the game.

Deron Asprilla was sent off in the fourth minute of stoppage time. At the risk of upsetting many Timbers fans, I thought the red color given to Asprilla, albeit subdued, was well deserved. I know it was started by Braian Galvan and I know it deteriorates more than easily, but Asprilla should be more poised in this situation. Contacting another player’s head/face will always produce a red color, no matter how weak the contact is. It’s the fourth and final minute of injury time and the team, who had already lost Blanco, is on the verge of qualifying for the Western Conference Final. Why are you even trying to stick the ball out of bounds there? If the goal is to waste time, simply toss the ball into the stands, take the yellow, and get back to your defensive position. But blindly wrapping your arm around the other player’s head trying to get the ball back was way too short for the guy who liked the Timbers season story that makes you feel good. After the match, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson said the team would appeal the red card.

Now, what did I like about the result?

Larrys Mabiala continued his magic after the season. Just four days after Mabeala scored his first goal of 2021 (the Timbers’ opening goal in their 3-1 win over Minnesota), the Timbers centre-back doubled his tally this season with a 90th-minute scissor kick to send the best team in. In the West they mobilize in their own field. If you were to tell me in the post-season that Mabeala would tie with Blanco for most of the Timbers’ goals in the playoffs, I would have hit you. But that is exactly what it is and if Portland goes on to win the MLS Cup it will be in large part because of Larrys’ championships. It may last long.

After Blanco’s forced exit, his teammates responded by putting together one of football’s most impressive halves of the season. I’ll finish by saying how much I liked Timbers’ performance after Blanco lost early in the second half. The Rapids put the Timbers under all sorts of pressure in the first half and beat the Timbers 7-2 at the end of the first half. But for Steve Clark as one of the best keepers in MLS, the outcome was much different in the break. So it was remarkable that the Timbers finished the game by beating the Rapids 12-10, especially considering that a shot went off the line before Mabeala won in the 90th minute. The Chara Brothers, Asprilla, Santiago Moreno and Felipe Mora were all tough on the line and they had Seemingly endless stamina when broken on the counter. Despite a rough start to the match by Claudio Bravo and Josecarlos van Ranken, the defense led by Dario Zubaric and Mabeala threw one challenge after another to keep the Rapids out of the net.

The Timbers will face the winner of Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Final. The date, place and time are all to be determined later.

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