After a win the Timbers' troubles seem so far away.
But all too often in the past two years the Portland Timbers have dropped the next result after a victory and, once again, it's seemed as though those troubles are here to stay.
Since 2013, the Timbers have shown remarkable consistency. That is, if consistency can be defined as rarely stringing any series of results together.
Since Caleb Porter took the helm, the Timbers have never won or lost more than two in a row. In fact, the Timbers have not won three straight in their MLS history.
This coin has two sides, however: The Timbers have shown a remarkable ability to avoid losing streaks while also having an extraordinary inability to put together win streaks.
The Timbers' success after wins has been well publicized. Since 2013, the Timbers have averaged 2.00 points per game after losses, a number that has them tied with the New England Revolution for second in MLS, only narrowly behind league-leading LA Galaxy, and well ahead of fourth-place FC Dallas at 1.5 points per game. Although the Timbers haven't lost many games in MLS, this is nonetheless a genuine strength for the Timbers and one that has been vital to keeping the wheels on the wagon in difficult times.
The flip side is that after wins the Timbers are suddenly not half the team they used to be. In games after the Timbers earn three points they are 15th in MLS in points per game with a very modest 1.15 points per outing. Whereas the Timbers' form after losses puts them in a distinct group at the top of the league, the Timbers' form after wins is places them at the back of the MLS peloton.
If yesterday football was such an easy game to play, then the Timbers' experience has been that the next game the team will need a place to hide away.
Before we get to why this is happening, it's important to understand a couple statistical points of mitigation in the points-after-wins numbers. First, by its nature the points-after-wins metric excludes some wins from consideration. Accordingly, points-per-game after wins (with a mean of 1.33) are a little bit lower league-wide than points per game after losses (mean of 1.39). This isn't a huge difference, but it's a difference.
Second, and related, the data points for post-win points per game are a little bit more clumped than the post-losses category, with the range of post-win averages spanning from 1.00 (Philadelphia Union and Montreal Impact) to 1.91 (New England Revolution) while the post-loss averages span from 0.84 (the late Chivas USA) to 2.06 (L.A. Galaxy). Again, the difference isn't massive, but it's there.
Nonetheless, the Timbers' post-win form is 0.85 points per game poorer than their post-loss form. That's the biggest form disparity in MLS.
PPG After Wins
PPG After Losses
|New England Revolution||1.91||1.08||0.83|
|New York Red Bulls||1.45||2.00||0.55|
|Real Salt Lake||1.29||1.47||0.18|
|Sporting Kansas City||1.58||1.42||0.16|
|San Jose Earthquakes||1.18||1.31||0.13|
|Median: 1.33||Median: 1.39||Median: 0.19|
|Mean: 1.34||Mean: 1.39||Mean: 0.30|
But, those points of mitigation notwithstanding, the Timbers' form disparity is undeniably significant, which begs the more difficult question: Why?
The Timbers are odd among the teams with significant disparities in post-loss and post-win form in one notable way: Unlike New England, Chivas USA, and New York Red Bulls, Portland doesn't have any notable winning or losing streaks. Indeed, the Revs numbers are particularly streak-driven, as during the relevant period they had two separate five-game win streaks to go along with and eight-game losing streak.
So the Timbers, unlike their companions at the top of the form-disparity chart, have sort of plodded their way to their anomalistic statistical place.
This consistency, such as it is, is reflective of the Timbers' approach. Caleb Porter, by design, is not one to make significant changes based on results. This is probably part of why the Timbers are good after losses; the Timbers' consistency of approach allows them pick themselves off the mat, make the necessary tweaks to fix what may have gone wrong, but forego the dramatic (often losing-streak-inducing) changes that more reactionary outfits may seek to employ after a poor result.
The flip side of that consistency, however, is that after wins the Timbers' next opponent is able to predict with some accuracy what Portland is going to do with relative ease and adjust accordingly. It's possible, then, that those adjustments give opponents facing the Timbers' after a win a greater chance of stealing points.
But, nonetheless, as a function of his coaching philosophy, Porter more often than not believes in yesterday.
Such a stay-the-course dynamic is consistent with the Timbers' experience after their first win in 2015. After beating FC Dallas 3-1 (in a game in which the Timbers were solid, if unspectacular) the Timbers rolled out a similar approach against Orlando City.
The result? The Timbers' only comprehensive beating of the season.
Sitting on nine points through eight games, the Timbers aren't in as desperate straights coming into May as they were in 2014. But they're not exactly in pole position, either.
If the Timbers aspire to greater regular-season accomplishments than sneaking into the playoffs as a low seed, however, they're going to need to string some results together. The Timbers, therefore, will need to buck their trend of having a shadow hang over their games after a win.
How to make that happen is less than certain. Although there are certainly circumstances in which Porter could be more aggressive with his pregame tactical decisions, with increasingly aggressive and inconsistent tactical choices comes increased risk.
And the last thing the Timbers need right now is an uptick in losses if those risks don't pan out.
Whatever they do to fix the problem of anemic results after wins, it's clear it needs to be fixed if the Timbers want to avoid a low playoff seed.
Because even with the Timbers' prowess after losses, if Portland can't address their malaise after wins, yesterday could cast a shadow hanging over 2015.