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Three Questions from the Timbers’ 4-1 Loss at Dallas

The Timbers’ recent road woes continued on Saturday evening. And if that doesn’t change soon, the 2015 season may succumb to an unexpected away-form malaise.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This is becoming familiar.

Another away game. Another away embarrassment.

After earning a respectable seven points in their first five road games, the Timbers have lost five of their last six on the road by a combined score of 17-3.

That’s John Spencer Era bad.

Here are three questions from the Timbers’ latest submission on the road.

1. What happened to the Timbers team that was expert at managing away games?

One of the hallmarks of the Caleb Porter Timbers has been their ability to manage games on the road.

In 2014, an otherwise disappointing season, the Timbers were excellent on the road, boasting a very respectable 7-6-4 record with a goal difference of +3.

In 2013, a season after going 1-12-4 away from then-Jeld-Wen Field with a goal difference of -25, the Timbers went a remarkably pragmatic 3-4-10 on the road with a +3 goal difference.

In Porter’s first two years, the Timbers only lost by multiple goals four times on the road. They’ve equalled that number since mid-May.

The reason for the Timbers’ success on the road was this: They were excellent at managing games. Whatever else happened, the Timbers more often than not were very good at taking away their hosts’ Plan A and making their opponent find another way to beat them. It wasn’t always pretty. The Timbers didn’t always dominate the ball like they did at home. But they were opportunistic and difficult to break down.

What happened on Saturday? Dallas went into the game looking to counter and the Timbers played right into their hands. Sure, the Timbers won the possession battle in the first half and during much of the second. But the Burn scorched the Timbers on two counterattacks in the first half and another in the second half.

At 2-0 going into halftime, the game was very nearly over. Down two goals, the Timbers had to come out to try to get back into the game. And although the Timbers started creating some chances as the second half progressed, Dallas found their third on yet another counterattack.

In other words, the Timbers were annihilated by Dallas’s Plan A on Saturday.

Three goals coming from your opponent’s primary attacking threat? That's poor game management.

The question, of course, is why. Why is this Timbers team that has been so good on the road suddenly so embarrassingly poor?

Although the players certainly bear their share of the responsibility for their summer road ineptitude, the bulk of the blame falls squarely on Porter’s shoulders. The personnel on his team has done the job on the road before. Even the Timbers’ two losses in their first five away games were well-managed, as the Green-and-Gold put in one of their best performances of 2015 in an unfortunate 2-1 loss in Vancouver and pushed the Seattle Sounders (then the best team in MLS) to the brink in a 1-0 loss at CenturyLink Field.

The fact is that team that Porter has to work with can be successful on the road.

But right now they’re not even close, as the Timbers’ trademark game management has all but disappeared in the last 10 weeks.

And if the Timbers don’t fix this soon, they’ll find themselves out of the playoffs yet again.

The August schedule is a favorable one, with four games in a row against teams currently sitting outside the playoff picture. But the Timbers’ next two away games are against San Jose and Real Salt Lake, two of the three teams now breathing down the Timbers’ necks for the final playoff spot.

Drop those two on the road like they have five of the last six, and the Timbers will be looking up at another mountain to climb down the stretch.

Caleb Porter has to get his team back to managing games on the road to fix the Timbers’ away form. And he has to fix the team’s road form right now or 2015 may slip away from the Timbers just weeks after it looked like they had finally taken hold of it.

2. How long is Ridgewell’s slump going to last?

Liam Ridgewell has been in a slump since the Timbers were embarrassed in Los Angeles, and people are starting to notice.

Ridgewell was fantastic to start the year as the bedrock of a defense that allowed only 14 goals through its first 16 games. In Los Angeles, however, the Timbers’ sometime captain was the most culpable in the Timbers’ momentum-killing loss to the Galaxy, committing the cardinal sin of earning every bit of a straight red card late in a game that had long since been over.

Since those first 16 games, the Timbers have conceded 14 goals in their last six games (13 in the 5 games that Ridgewell has played).

This isn’t to say that everything on Saturday evening was Ridgewell’s fault. It wasn’t. On the Timbers’ first concession, Jack Jewsbury failed to track Michael Barrios’s run while Ridgewell was occupied marking David Texeira. On the second concession it was Ridgewell who did well to recover and get a deflection on Barrios’s shot (after a well-earned Nat Borchers intervention fell fortunately to the Colombian), only to see the ball float into the net.

But the third concession is the one that shows how far Ridgewell has slipped since his early-season high. After the Hoops recovered the ball from an excellent Jack Jewsbury tackle, Kellyn Acosta (who was excellent on Saturday) did the dirty to Diego Chara with a heavy touch and found acres of space in front of Portland’s backline.

And there, more than Chara’s flub, is the problem. Acosta showed plenty of the ball. If Ridgewell had been on the spot in stepping to cover Chara, it would have been a routine play for the designated player to clean up. And, frankly, that’s a read that Ridgewell was making routinely earlier this year.

Although it’s easy to say the game was out of hand at that point in any event, it’s important to remember that the Timbers had created three very good chances in quick succession in the moments before Dallas’s third (including two that fell to Ridgewell). But, thanks in part to Ridgewell being caught on his heels, a game in which it looked like there might still be something in it for the Timbers if things fell right became irretrievable.

As a leader in the Timbers’ locker room, Ridgewell needs to be the one to step forward, put his hand up, and take accountability for his and the team’s troubles over the past few weeks. And in the process, Ridgewell needs to pull himself out of his slump.

Because Ridgewell was a vital part of the Timbers staying afloat and then surging into the playoff race in the first half of the season. Unless he can recover that form, however, all of that good work may be for naught.

3. Is there a bright spot somewhere in this one?

Look, there’s a lot that is dark about the Timbers being dominated in Big D. But we need something bright.

So let’s look at Lucas Melano.

Although it took Melano a bit of time to really come into the game, we saw two instances of what Melano brings in second-half stoppage time.

In the first minute of stoppage time Melano ran down a ball behind the FC Dallas defense and burst into the box only to be foiled by a slip and a last-minute, recovering Zach Lloyd tackle. Just a minute later, however, Melano got the better of Lloyd, running smartly off of Lloyd’s back shoulder, receiving a ball from Gaston Fernandez, and drawing a penalty on a desperate tackle from Dallas’s again-late right back.

So, if a few minutes of football at the end of a hopeless game are an indication, Lucas Melano’s ability to put pressure on the backline with pace and a bit of skill haven’t been overstated.

Hey, on a day like today, we need something.