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Marlon Hairston slalomed through the Portland Timber’s defense slicing down the right flank to then lay it in the middle of the box for an easy finish by Sebastian Le Toux. Hairston celebrated like he’d scored the goal and it’s as if he had, creating one of the few pieces of individual brilliance in a game that was largely defined by compact team play.

A big theme going into the match for the home team was how the Colorado Rapids would respond emotionally after having blown a big win last week. The Rapids faced the defending MLS Cup winners in the Timbers who were fighting to get into the playoffs.

Because of this, both teams played organized soccer, playing compact and limiting spaces offensively. The Timbers were the more offensive minded team early on, trying to get forward and creating some danger, particularly with Diego Valeri. First, Valeri shot from outside the penalty box, but Tim Howard managed to tip it high over the goal with his outstretched hand.

The Timbers got forward putting in a few dangerous crosses and trying to find Fernando Adi on long balls over the top. Jared Watts and Axel Sjoberg looked shaky at times but always got the job done. The visitors most dangerous test of the central defense was on a long pass from Alvas Powell aimed at Adi who got tangled with Sjoberg. The ball fell to Valeri, who again, put a hard shot on target but Howard, again, swatted it away over the net. Valeri was a true danger in the first 35 as he also hit the post on a cross-body shot.

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After an underwhelming first half, the Rapids came out with a greater sense of purpose and more forward thinking football in the last 45. Dominique Badji remained a dangerous, starting the half off with a half-volley spin just off target and creating chances with his pace throughout the match.

The game breaking play came in the 63rd minute where Hairston took the ball and attacked the right flank. As he arrived on the right upper corner of the box he turned one defender and got inside the other all the while shifting and swerving his legs almost dizzying his direct opponents. At that point, Hairston had already done the hard part by dribbling by the defense, the pass he put into the middle of the box was right into clear green grass with a waiting Le Toux, who lightly put in an accurate shot into the right corner where Portland couldn’t do anything.

Le Toux had a golden opportunity on a header at the end of the first half, off of a beautiful Marc Burch cross, but he missed high. This time around he wasn’t going to be denied and scored an all-important goal for the Rapids playoff race.

The post-goal response was very telling for a Colorado team that’s all-in on this playoff race and fighting for a top two seed to get a bye in the first elimination round of the playoffs. The Rapids had a great chance on Badji’s foot where he turned on his defender and found a quality save from Jake Gleeson late in the game.

The Colorado defense was nothing short of impeccable denying the Timbers any sort of shot at a rebuttal or equalizer in the second half. Portland truly didn’t create a quality chance in the final 45 while the Rapids played their best soccer.

As room opened up defensively and Portland tried to push forward the Rapids had more chances. Youngster Caleb Calvert, who was subbed in the final ten minutes, had another fantastic chance putting a strong shot from the outside on net that required another Gleeson stop. With this win and an FC Dallas win vs the LA Galaxy, the Rapids are now solidly in second place in the West. On top of consolidating their spot in the top two of the standings, the Rapids also clinched the playoffs mathematically putting them back in the playoffs since 2013.

Born in Boulder and raised in Milan, Italy like Danilo Gallinari. Also like Gallo, I moved to the States at 18; unlike Gallo, I wasn’t drafted by the Knicks but came to attend Western State Colorado University (go Mountaineers!). I graduated in 2009 with a major in Communications and Media and two minors in Journalism and Philosophy. After working in the linguistic field for a few years and listening to sports radio ALL DAY at work, I decided to do it myself and it changed my life around. (Now, I can say I couldn’t be happier and am proudly married to the love of my life Kate.) I moved back to Gunnison and started volunteering for the NPR affiliate up in Crested Butte, while also starting to contribute on an NFL podcast for playitusa.com. A 10 minute bit on one podcast turned into being a regular, year-round on three different podcasts on the NFL, College Football, and the NFL Draft. I’ve since started writing on trueblueblog.net and playitusa.com as well as writing in depth Draft analysis for footballnation.it in the past 3 years. I love the Draft and knowing the stars of the future before everyone else. My sports mount Rushmore is Terrell Davis, Patrick Roy, Italian soccer star Roberto Baggio, and John Elway, deal with it! Hit me up at @andresimone to talk NFL, NCAA football, NFL Draft, CSU football, Nuggets or anything else Colorado or Italy sports related.