By now we all know that the Portland Timbers have one of the most passionate fan bases and top stadium experiences in all of American sports. Combine that with a dynamic and dangerous corps of attackers, and you’ve got a recipe for victory. But take away the crowd, the songs, the flags and the tifos, and what happens next? Unfortunately for Timbers fans, what happened against the Columbus Crew this past weekend in Ohio is exactly what happened way too much last year: The Timbers lost on the road.
They started off hot, scoring less than five minutes into the match. But after that, they gave up two goals before the twenty-minute mark. Fortunately, Fanendo Adi leveled the match in stoppage time before the half, but the Timbers could not find the back of the net again. They gave up a late goal and felt their first loss of the season, 3-2.
When you score two goals on the road, you’ve got to find a way to at least draw. After four weeks, Portland have two of the three top scorers in the league. Adi and Diego Valeri each have four goals apiece, only one behind league leader Josef Martinez of Atlanta United. The front six look unstoppable at times, but you cannot expect them to outscore teams in wild west shootouts every match. Especially on the road.
With the one win in LA, Portland already has one more road victory than they did last season. Since the inception of the league in 1996, there has been eight instances of teams going winless on the road over the course of a full season. 2013-2016 saw four straight years with a team unable to grab a single win on the road. Of those teams, though, the Timbers were the only one fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the season. The rest were exactly where you’d expect them to be: the bottom of the table.
What was different about the Timbers in 2016 is that they were nearly unbeatable at home, their 12-3-2 record at Providence Park made all the difference in keeping them in the playoff hunt, despite their dismal 0-11-6 road record. Remember, this was a team coming off a 2015 MLS Cup championship. They were a devastating team at home, but an absolute failure on the road.
To put it in perspective, the Timbers had the fourth best home record in MLS in 2016. The three teams with better records at home that year were the top three teams in the Supporters’ Shield race. And all of those teams had more positive results on the road than losses. The discrepancy between the Timbers home and away records, besides being just plain staggering, is the only reason they did not get a chance to defend their title. A single road victory would have been all it took to get them in the playoffs last year.
The Timbers now stand at 3-1 after losing this past weekend to the Crew. The team picked up two wins at home so far, and after an unimpressive “3 points is 3 points” victory in LA, now stand at one win and one loss on the road. I don’t want to harp too much on the LA match, but the fact is the Timbers were fortunate to come away with the win. Credit Jake Gleeson’s Save of the Week for that result. The fact that they didn’t come away with a more decisive win is the part that I found a bit troubling, and I didn’t not mince words about it.
There is no question that Portland is a playoff quality team and a danger to all their Western Conference foes, but without question, their weakness is playing on the road. If they are not able to pull it together and grab points away from home, then they’re going to be right back where they were last year, fighting for the last playoff spot on the last day of the season.