Portland Thorns Need To Stop Impersonating The Utah Jazz

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The Portland Thorns have been doing their best impression of an early 1990s Utah Jazz team from the NBA this season. And it really needs to stop.

Portland Trail Blazers fans my age will remember those Jazz teams from the 90s. They were a perennial powerhouse with John Stockton and Karl Malone leading the way for a decade of deep playoff runs. Blazers fans will also remember that the Jazz were nearly unbeatable at home. But they had an Achilles heel: The road.

The Thorns are proving to be eerily similar to those Jazz teams; an unstoppable tour de force at home, but a less formidable and beatable squad on the road. Portland has posted an 8-1-1 record here in the Rose City, but has struggled on the road to the tune of 2-4-3.

Sure, last Saturday’s game in front of a season-high 19,627 rambunctious fans at Providence park was a lot of fun. In fact, this is all good stuff from that win against the Houston Dash.

But all this soccer goodness must expand outside the borders of Oregon as well. Even during last season’s record breaking regular season run when the thorns went 12-3-5, they were a mediocre 4-2-4 away from home. With all the talent and star-studded players the Thorns bring every night to every city, even DIondre Cole might ask, “What up with that?”

Those early Jazz teams were doomed by their inability to win on the road when it counted most, especially in the playoffs where the Blazers were lucky recipients of their failed attempts to win away from Salt Lake City. Just look at these disparities between home and road records for the Jazz.

1990-1991

Lost in second round of playoffs to the Trail Blazers.

1991-1992

Lost in Conference Finals to Trail Blazers.

Like these Jazz teams, the Thorns can often look like two very different rosters with similar names and faces pending on geographical location. Perhaps it’s the smaller venues during away games? The lack of loud, rhythmic chanting in opposing parks? No Widmer?

To be fair, winning on the road is often one of the more difficult accomplishments for any team in any sport to achieve. But, great teams find a way to get it done in the most hostile environments away from the comforts of home.

Even if the Thorns somehow capture first place in the standings and earn home field advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, the NWSL championship will be in Orlando. Translation: The Thorns will have to win on the other side of the continent to win a championship.

Portland faces its latest challenge this coming Saturday, a road game against rival Seattle Reign. If the Thorns are going to find any confidence in being able to win in another environment, the hostile atmosphere of Seattle would be a good place to start. This game will test if the Thorns are ready to be road warriors as opposed to road kill.

The Utah Jazz eventually learned to compete better on the road, earning two trips to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, losing both times to the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls. Luckily for the Thorns, there is no Michael Jordan standing in their path, only their ability to compete with the same energy and fire elsewhere as they do in Portland.

Three of the final five games for the Thorns are on the road, two against possible playoff teams. The Thorns will need to play against the Reign this weekend as the team we all know and love, and not this other team emulating a 90s basketball team from my past.

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About Author

John Stupak is a senior writer for Oregon Sports News since 2014. John has followed Oregon sports for nearly 30 years. He is a life-long Portland Trail Blazers fan and has had the privilege of covering the Portland Thorns of the NWSL. Along with everything sports, he is fan of movies and of quality television (sorry CBS) in his spare time. John has a beautiful wife, Amanda, along with one soccer-loving, intelligent, and artistic daughter. John is an electrical tech designer by day and a writer by nights and weekends. You can follow John and all his musings on Twitter (@Stupak77).

1 Comment

  1. Interesting comparison!! Funny how parallels in sports often run deep and across even different sports at that. Good article.

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