Kickoff at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is less than five hours away, the calm before the MLS Western Conference storm between the Rapids and Timbers. 

Portland’s head coach Caleb Porter praised his players for overcoming “slow starts” to equalize in their first two games of the season. Indignant fans equate “slow start” with a lack of preparation and passion. But according to Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni, it’s a matter of misperception.

“You’re no fresher than you are when the whistle blows,” Mastroeni explained. “As a player, the game is going 100 miles an hour. There’s nothing slow about the first five minutes of a game, at all.”

As a coach off the field, Mastroeni recognizes a different view.

“If possession is bad or guys can’t get near a ball to win a tackle, then it’s perceived from the coach’s perspective as a ‘slow start,’” Mastroeni said. “But if you zip a few passes together and you win a couple tackles, then all of a sudden it’s a ‘fast start.’ The difference is probably a couple inches or a couple connected passes. So that’s the way it’s perceived.”

Without missing a beat, he described the beginning of the Red Bulls game last Saturday. “It was a ‘slow start.’ If we would have connected a few passes and been better with our positioning, it probably would have been a fast start. But since our possession was really poor, we kept feeding into their momentum.

“More important,” Mastroeni noted, “they overcame that and started taking control of the middle part of the first half, getting off shots. To me, that’s the most important part because that’s the mentality. That’s something you can’t coach. That comes from the spirit of the group.”

Making the most of his first MLS start, Dillon Serna looped a drumbeat of chances in the first half, shots on-goal and dangerous corners following the saves.

“He’s a go-getter,” Mastroeni said. “He’s always looking for a shot. That’s the mentality you want.”

So, what dictates the start of a game?

“It’s the battle of wills,” Mastroeni said. “It’s one team being more persuasive in the way they’re playing, in their demeanor.”

It’s a fight for momentum. The whistle will blow at 4:00 to start the game (slow, fast, or otherwise).

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