The Portland Timbers are headed up north this weekend to take on the Seattle Sounders and the side’s lack of even a single road win in the 2016 season has never seemed so perilous.
Since the Timbers joined the league in 2011 they have had years where they struggled on the road — 2011 and 2012 in particular — and others where they were among the best in the league away from home. Most notably, the 2015 Timbers went 7-8-2 away from Providence Park during the regular season, the second best road record in the league, then went undefeated in their away playoff matches en route to winning the MLS Cup, including their eventual 2-1 victory over the Columbus Crew in the final.
Now, however, the Timbers are a troubling 0-6-6 away from home with five of their remaining nine games to be played on the road. With the Timbers on 32 points thus far, and many estimates for the points needed to make the post season set in the low to mid 40’s, the Timbers will need every point they can get at home, and likely some from their road matches as well.
Historically, seasons without a road win are a rarity. Since the Timbers joined the league in 2011, only four teams have managed to go a full year without getting a win on the road. From the start of the modern era of MLS in 2003 to 2010, only three more teams finished a season without a road win. Of those seven seasons when a team went winless on the road, that team finished in the bottom two of the Supporters’ Shield standings (the league-wide standings) every time. In four out of the seven seasons, the team without a road win was dead last in the Supporters’ Shield standings.
Of course, with five games yet to play on the road, the Timbers still have chances to break out of their road rut. In order, the Timbers final road games of the season are at Seattle, at FC Dallas, at Houston Dynamo, at Colorado Rapids, and at Vancouver Whitecaps. Looking at those fixtures, it seems that the Timbers find themselves in a strange spot, facing both the two teams at the top of the table in the Western Conference as well as three of the four teams currently below them on the Western Conference table.
The Rapids and FC Dallas have not been perfect at home, but it is the prospect of traveling to play the teams with whom the Timbers are more directly competing for a playoff spot that should have Timbers fans sweating. While Houston has not done much to pull themselves out of the basement in the West, Seattle and Vancouver are both real contenders for the sixth seed in the Western Conference and their matches against the Timbers could prove vital to their post-season aspirations.
Most immediately, the Timbers match this weekend against the Sounders sees them coming up against a side which are on a roll since the introduction of new designated player Nicolas Lodeiro into the lineup. Currently the Timbers enjoy a five point cushion over the eighth place Sounders, but a win for the Rave Green this weekend suddenly puts Seattle within striking distance of a playoff spot — currently held by the Timbers — when just weeks ago many were writing their season off as a lost cause. Equally importantly, a win for the Sounders would leave middle-Cascadia with significant momentum in their playoff push; something whose importance the 2015 Timbers could certainly attest to.
The Timbers final match of the season also happens to be a road match where the Timbers will be headed to B.C. Place to take on the Whitecaps. While the Whitecaps are currently enduring their traditional late-season death-spiral, there is every possibility that both the Timbers and Whitecaps will be jockeying for playoff position all the way down to the wire.
In the end, however, all that we can take away from this is that the pressure must be on Caleb Porter and company to get results, both at home and on the road. And that should come as no surprise to anybody who has a passing familiarity with the Timbers’ season to date.