The Portland Timbers play Wednesday, Sept. 15, at Providence Park for the first time in a month.
With the Colorado Rapids visiting, they hope to play more like the team that has posted three consecutive shutouts than like the team that gave up six goals to rival Seattle back on Aug. 15.
"The last game we played here was a nightmare for all of us," defender Larrys Mabiala said.
In explaining what has changed since that horrific outing, Mabiala pointed to cohesiveness and focus as ingredients.
"We defend more as a as a unit, trying to force the opponent to go where we are more comfortable to defend," he said.
It has helped that Mabiala has been able to play alongside Dario Zuparic for a run of games for the first time this season. An early injury to Mabiala and squad rotation during busy stretches meant different combinations at the back for much of the season. Mabiala was quick to praise the play of Bill Tuiloma as a central defender, but said getting consistent playing time builds confidence and cohesiveness.
Mabiala, Zuparic and goalkeeper Steve Clark have started three matches in a row, all shutout wins.
"We know each other very well. It was just a matter of being able to keep playing in a more consistent way and that's just what happened (in the last three games)," Mabiala said.
Along with lineup consistency, the Timbers have improved their set-piece defending, though Mabiala admitted they were fortunate to escape Seattle on Aug. 29 winners after the Sounders missed on a series of good chances from corner kicks.
Mabiala said communication among players and coaches has helped Portland defend set pieces with more confidence and certainty in recent matches.
Even with three consecutive shutout wins, the Timbers' 39 goals allowed are the third most in MLS. With 11 matches left (seven at home), Portland sits fifth in the Western Conference with 10 wins, 10 losses and three ties (33 points).
The Timbers watched some good defensive play while preparing for this match. Colorado is 12-4-6 (42 points), sitting third in the Western Conference. The Rapids have allowed 18 fewer goals than Portland while matching the Timbers' 32 goals scored. They have been scored upon only 21 times (tied with Nashville for fewest in MLS) in 22 matches.
Wednesday's 7 p.m. game is the first of three in a row at home, with LAFC visiting at 4:30 p.m. Sunday and Real Salt Lake at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25.
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