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How can a team be so Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde when it comes to road versus home games?
Following the loss at Real Salt Lake, Portland has gone away from the cozy confines of Jeld Weld Field 15 times this season and has only come back with 4 points. They are on pace to be the fourth team ever to not win a game on the road if they do not earn a win in the next two road games.
You could just see the difference in the players during Saturday's loss compared to the game against Seattle. Let's take a look at the differences between home and away.
Portland has earned 25 points at home, which comes out to be 1.6 points per game. They have beaten top teams like San Jose, Sporting KC, Seattle, and Vancouver at home. Well, Vancouver probably can't be considered a top team anymore but they did beat SJ and SKC when they were the top team in the league.
Portland has scored 22 goals at home this season, which is better than Seattle, Vancouver, FC Dallas, Montreal, Toronto, and Chivas (Chivas has only scored 8 goals at home!). Their home goal differential is +3, 19 scored against, and that includes a five-goal outburst from LA and the three-goal game against RSL. Take those two games out of the equation and Portland has 13 games with 11 goals against for a 0.8 GAA. With those games included Portland is still at a 1.2 GAA with 19 goals conceded in 15 games.
Statistics show they should be a middle of the pack team possibly vying for the last playoff spot. Granted this team is not as talented as we all thought but they are also not as bad as some people think, especially when they play at home.
Portland has earned four points on the road from their 15 games and that would put their road PPG at 0.266, which is abysmal. The only teams that come close to Portland are Montreal and Colorado, who have 4 points and 6 points respectively, but both have won on the road. Every other team in the league has earned at least 9 points or better on the road, with each of the likely playoff teams earning a road PPG of at least 0.8.
Portland has only scored nine road goals all season, going four months from April 14th to August 15th without scoring one. They scored two goals in their first ten road games and have now scored seven goals in their last five -- a hot streak by comparison. They have conceded a league worst 32 goals on the road this season, with Toronto a close second at 31. This puts their GF and GA averages on the road at 0.6 and 2.13 respectively.
Scoring at a rate of once every other road game, while giving up two goals -- that's laughing-stock bad. But the sad fact is, if road their record were merely bad, the Timbers would be close to a playoff spot. If they were averaging a mere 0.8 points per game on the road, the Timbers would have 12 points. Add that to their 25 at home, and Portland would be at 37 points, just one point out of playoff contention.
Well, the answer was there for all to see against RSL and it can be traced back to two root causes. The first is Portland has no vocal leader on the field -- yes, Captain Jack Jewsbury is out there, but he is a lead-by-example type of leader. The second cause is the players have given in and accepted the label that they are a bad road team.
Portland's biggest problem on the field during times of pressure has been the lack of leadership. We all talked about how we hated seeing Chris Wondolowski beating his chest and getting all fired up. But deep down, we are jealous -- Portland needs a player like that. Portland needs a player who will rally the troops and say "This isn't good enough!" Wondo does that for San Jose, and a host of other players do that for their respective teams. The closest Portland comes to that type of Player is David Horst, and he might not be someone the other players think of as a leader.
The second cause is something I see as a teacher all the time. A student comes in without a lot of help and direction from parents or previous teachers and they have this belief that they are not good at Math or Science. At some point in their education, they came across a concept they couldn't understand, and no one was there to help them. So now when they don't understand a concept they just slump their shoulders and become Eeyore-esque in their thought process. The "I am not good at it so why bother trying" attitude which creates a self fulfilling prophecy because they don't try and therefore don't understand it.
Right after the first goal was scored you could see a similar reaction -- a "here we go again look" from the players. Now, this team didn't quit completely like they did at Colorado or even the infamous at FC Dallas 5-0 thrashing, but they didn't look angry; they didn't look defiant. They looked sad, resigned. They have a block, and it is something that needs to be overcome.
Portland Trailblazer fans may remember the the 2007-08 season in which Portland went 41-41 with a 28-13 record at home. They didn't make the playoffs because of their 13-28 road record. The next year Portland made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and had a record of 54-28 all because their road record was better (20-21).
The Timbers, like the young Trailblazer squads of the early Roy years, must learn how to win on the road. The Timbers need to get an attitude like this -- in other words, a love of silencing the crowd. I loved it when I played against another rival and we would go to their stadium and score the first goal. The whole crowd would go silent except for our fans and you could revel in that silence. Portland have to get to the point where they love silence.
It's not necessarily an upgrade in talent, or a shoring up of the defense. Caleb Porter and the FO have to find a vocal, on-field leader and teach the players to love the sound of silence.