The Colorado Rapids were the second-best team in the MLS in 2016 and then experienced a steep decline.
This season, the Rapids surged to the top of the Western Conference and would like to think earning the bye in the postseason works to their advantage Thursday when they host the Portland Timbers in the conference semifinals.
The MLS is playing for the first time on Thanksgiving -- the game will appear on FOX after the NFL's first game between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears -- with the winner advancing to the conference finals against Real Salt Lake or Sporting Kansas City.
The Rapids earned the top spot by going 17-7-10 in the regular season and their 61 points were one ahead of the Seattle Sounders, who lost in penalty kicks to Real Salt Lake on Tuesday.
"We know it's going to be a tough game, a tough match. Colorado's done very well this season," Portland coach Gio Savarese said. "They have a very good team, they have good selections in players and the entire staff has done a phenomenal job to be able to have a good season. So, we expect them to be very good, but we are also preparing very well to make sure we are competitive
The Rapids scored 51 goals, the fewest among the Western Conference's top four seeds but their 35 goals allowed were second-best in the West.
Colorado is led by Michael Barrios, who scored eight goals and had six assists. Barrios is among five players who scored at least five goals for Colorado, including Jonathan Lewis, who scored twice on Nov. 7 as Colorado leaped into first place with a 5-2 rout of LAFC.
Goalkeeper William Yarbrough led the league with 17 wins and tied for the league lead with 13 clean sheets.
Also responsible for Colorado's success is coach Robin Fraser, who took over in August 2019. The Rapids were in the midst of missing the postseason for a third straight season when he took over for Conor Casey, and Fraser guided them to a 5-2 finish before vaulting Colorado into fifth in the West last season.
"We're more a team than we were my first two years here," Colorado captain Jack Price said. "You can see the fight we have. We dig in for each other and we have that never-say-quit attitude."
Fraser and the Rapids are now focused on stopping Sebastian Blanco, who scored twice in the second half of Portland's 3-1 first-round win over Minnesota on Sunday. Blanco scored seven goals in 24 regular-season games after returning from a torn ACL and supported Felipe Mora and Dairon Asprilla, who combined for 21 goals.
"It has to be a complete team effort in terms of awareness and communication," Fraser said. "He floats around the field and finds good pockets of space, and through good communication we need to minimize the amount of times he can receive balls in dangerous spots and have the opportunity to hurt us."
Portland enters on a five-game winning streak, having scored 14 goals since a 2-0 loss in Colorado on Oct. 23.
--Field Level Media