For Timbers supporters trying to strike the right balance between being hopeful and having fair expectations, here are a few reasonable hopes for this season.
The Portland Timbers have sure been entertaining this preseason. Even at their best in 2011 and 2012, the Timbers didn't string together passes the way the first team did in the preseason tournament (recently dubbed the Rose City Invitational by Merritt Paulson).
Nonetheless it seems likely that there will be some growing pains. The Timbers have a new coach who is unfamiliar with MLS and a team full of players with very limited experience playing together. As Geoff pointed out in his article on expectations yesterday this will be a rebuilding year, and we've seen teams like Real Salt Lake go from the bottom to the top of the table, but not in a single season.
With all that in mind, it is not reasonable to expect that the Timbers will win the MLS Cup or the Supporters' Shield this year. The Timbers' Front Office has even been quiet about playoff aspirations, unlike last year when fans were all but promised a playoff run. So this year, I'm focusing on what I call Perfectly Reasonable Hopes. These are accomplishments that would show that the Timbers are improving, that the team is in the process of becoming a Cup contender. They are also things that I believe the Timbers could actually achieve, hence the qualifier "reasonable."
At least three road wins
In 2014, I hope the Timbers' road record is not noteworthy anymore, unless it is noteworthy for being exceptionally good. In 2013 though, I'll settle for baby steps. I'm hoping for at least three road wins, one more than our best (how sad is that?) and five draws on the road for a total of 14 points. Of course, I'd trade a couple draws for another road win or two. Lest you think I'm aiming too low, I looked at every team's away record in 2012 and three was the mode and medium number of road wins, while the average was just over 4. The average number of road points was about 15.7. So if that remains fairly similar in 2012, the Timbers would go from the absolute worst away record to just slightly below average. That's improvement, and I'll take it.
No games where we concede five goals
This is pretty straightforward. Matches where a single team concedes five goals or more are fairly uncommon. There were six altogether last season. In two of those, one third of the total, that team was Portland. I know lots of fans and lots of members of this community are predicting high-scoring games and I do not think those predictions are unfounded, but the Timbers need to do better. You are most likely not going to win a game if you give up five goals.
Nobody gets the three-game sweep
The LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, and, most painfully, Chivas USA all got the sweep against the Timbers in 2012. This year I hope to see the Timbers take at least a point away from each three-game series with their Western Conference opponents. I hope for this partially because it made me feel like our team was such a pushover and I did not care for that feeling, but there is a more sound logic involved too. I cannot decide if I think it is reasonable to expect a playoff spot this year, but if the Timbers are going to get there or even get close, they cannot afford to drop so many points against their direct playoff competition. Seattle was the lone playoff team last year to lose all three games to one opponent (San Jose). The other four teams to give up the sweep were all hanging around the bottom of the table with the Timbers: Colorado, New England, Philadelphia, and Toronto.
Sustain a three- or four-game winning streak (or a few of them)
I'm glad Geoff alluded to this in his piece on expectations yesterday. The Timbers have never won more than two games in a row and last year they managed that only once. Not only is this indicative of a lack of consistency, it signals an inability to build on their success. Instead of making letting wins beget wins, the Timbers would often come off a great win (e.g. beating Seattle 2-1 at home) and promptly a suffer a terrible lost (e.g. losing 3-0 in Colorado). Winning 3 or 4 (or more!) games in a row would be a positive sign that the Timbers are establishing more consistency and learning to generate some momentum.
Don't lose to a non-MLS team in the U.S. Open cup
This one, like my "no conceding five goals" hope, is pretty self-explanatory. It is difficult to pick a single worst moment from last season but the Cal FC game is in the running. I will probably never shake the memory of the eerie, stomach-turning silence of Jeld-Wen field when Kris Boyd sent his PK to the heavens and again when Cal FC scored in extra time. Even though the 2013 squad bares little resemblance to that group, by virtue of playing in Timbers green, they come in to the U.S. Open Cup with that in their club history and with something to prove. So I won't fret if we only get to the fourth round and get knocked off by a strong MLS team, but it will be another low point for me if a lower-division team knocks us out again.
So there you have it, five things I hope to see from the Timbers and that I think are perfectly reasonable. What do you think? Am I too optimistic? Too reasonable?
What are your Perfectly Reasonable Hopes for the Timbers this year?