We’ve been here before.
The Portland Timbers were run off the field by FC Dallas on Saturday. There really aren’t many other ways to put that.
Here are three questions from the Timbers’ most recent capitulation on the road:
1. Could the Timbers build some momentum from last week’s win over Seattle?
We begin this week with the answer to a question from last week: No.
And at this point there really isn’t any reason to believe the Timbers can get points on the road. Here’s what Caleb Porter had to say about his team’s road form after the game:
Yeah, it's been a strange season on the road. We've been one of the best teams in the league on the road, so that's what makes it even more mystifying because last year we won seven games on the road. The year prior we won seven games on the road. That's 14 road wins. That's the most in MLS. This year, everyone says, ‘We haven't won,' and that's true but we've been close all year. We've drawn six games and in four of those games, we were up. But, we've just not found that kind of breakthrough result.
There’s a lot of pretty straightforward truth in there. In both 2014 and 2015 the Timbers were among the best road teams in MLS. And in 2016 they’re the worst.
Not among the worst. The worst. Full stop.
As Porter noted, there have been times this season during which the Timbers have been getting close to earning results on the road. From May through mid-July, the Timbers rattled off four consecutive road draws during which the defense starred more than the attack.
But those times haven’t been recently.
The Timbers have lost their last three away games by a combined score of 8-2, an aggregate scoreline that flatters Porter’s side in light of the fact that both of their goals came down 3-0 and well into garbage time. Simply put, the Timbers aren’t competitive on the road right now.
It’s possible, although probably not likely, that the Timbers could sneak into the playoffs with their current road form if they are perfect at home. But that playoff berth would be a bit of a white elephant given that the Timbers’ first (and presumably last) game would be on the road.
So, in answer of last week’s question, the Timbers remain one of four teams in MLS who have failed to win consecutive games this year. And that remains the case because they’re the worst team in MLS on the road.
And somehow they seem to be getting worse.
2. So why are the Timbers suddenly so poor on the road?
This is the more difficult question.
It’s easy to point to the Timbers’ defensive regression in 2016 as the primary cause of Portland’s road troubles. And, in fairness, that certainly is a major factor; a team can’t concede 1.7 goals per game on the road as the Timbers have this season and expect to win with any regularity.
But 1.7 goals conceded per game on the road isn’t that bad. In fact it’s a more-or-less average; tied for 12th in MLS. That’s not good, but it’s also not horrible.
Even worse, though, is the Timbers’ 11 goals scored on the road. That mark comes in at tied for 16th, and is only two goals (recall the Timbers’ last two away goals were entirely meaningless) off the league bottom.
Which is to say the Timbers’ road woes are a more comprehensive problem than just a backsliding defense.
And we very much saw that play out in Dallas on Saturday (as we did in Seattle two weeks before). Although the Timbers' defense didn’t cover itself in glory by any stretch of the imagination, the attack had opportunities (including two with an open net) to get on the scoreboard and make the game competitive. But just as they did two weeks ago in Seattle and have done for much of the season, the Timbers squandered those chances.
The comprehensive nature of the Timbers’ problems on the road, however, also make finding the root cause of those issues much more difficult, especially since the Timbers’ tactical approach on the road (although a little bit more attack-oriented than in 2015, likely on account of defensive struggles) really isn’t all that different from the way the Timbers play at home.
Whatever the cause of the team’s terrible road form, however, the time that Porter has to figure it out is running short. And if he doesn’t the Timbers’ 2016 campaign won’t see November.
3. What was the weirdest stat of the Timbers’ loss in Dallas?
Okay, so there’s really not much else to talk about from Saturday’s loss. So let’s go with a wonky, highly, highly aberrant stat (that may just be another reflection of how poor the Timbers were): The Timbers created three chances on Saturday; one each from Vytas, Zarek Valentin, and Jake Gleeson.
The Timbers front six on Saturday combined to create zero chances. Zero.
Read again: Zero.
Yikes. Like, really yikes.