We meet again.
The Portland Timbers exorcised a lot of demons in their 2015 MLS Cup run. And at their first training session on Saturday morning it was clear that the Green-and-Gold are still carrying with them a great deal of confidence from their trophy-winning campaign.
But among the foes that remain for this team is one that should have been vanquished long ago: March wins.
The statistic is as well-known as it is longstanding; the Timbers remain winless in March during the Caleb Porter Era. That’s 0-for-12 when it comes to winning games in the month of March.
In fact, the last time the Timbers won a game in March Portland’s starting eleven was: Troy Perkins; Rodney Wallace, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Eric Brunner, Lovel Palmer; Eric Alexander, Diego Chara, Jack Jewsbury, Kalif Alhassan; Jorge Perlaza, Kris Boyd.
At training on Saturday, Porter was, as he has been the last couple years with regard to his March foibles, nonplussed about the team’s lack of early-season results:
Obviously we want to get our first win a little sooner than the fourth or fifth game, but I wouldn’t say we didn’t have success to start the year. Our goalscoring didn’t come until late in the year, but in terms of performances, some of our best performances were -- if you look back -- were early in the year. Maybe the results weren’t there, but the play was strong.
Porter’s point is a valid one: From the season opener against Real Salt Lake to the March away at Vancouver, some of the Timbers’ most dominant performances (at least until their late-season renaissance) of 2015 were in the spring. And Porter’s implied point is also valid; if the performances are strong, the results have a way of evening themselves out.
In fact, after a season full of strong performances but few results, at least some of the Timbers’ run to the Cup in 2015 can be explained by some progression to the mean.
Results, though, are important. And especially so as the Timbers take aim at the season-long excellence that it takes to win the Supporters Shield, the Timbers' greatest unmet league challenge. And it can’t be denied that the Timbers have demonstrated a worrying inability to get them in the season’s first month.
We’ve seen how good the Timbers can be. Only the MLS equivalent of the Flat Earth Society could deny that the Timbers were the best team in the league at the end of 2015. And, although there have been some losses, by and large the Timbers have done a good job of keeping their core together.
This team can be among the MLS elite, and there is no reason that it can’t achieve the season-long excellence that winning Supporters Shield requires.
To do so, however, the Timbers need results in the spring. Which brings us back to training camp.
There are certainly factors that set the Timbers up for a better start than they’ve had the last few years. Portland’s defense is in much better shape than it was in 2014. The Timbers aren’t facing the plague of injuries with which it started the 2015 season. And, as noted, confidence couldn’t be higher on Morrison Street than it is right now.
But, ultimately, they have to do it, which makes these next six weeks before the season kicks off important. Because with a fourth consecutive slow start the Timbers could put their reasonable Supporters Shield ambitions in serious jeopardy by April.