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Timbers Marching

Sometimes you win. Sometimes you play a dozen consecutive games on the road.

Portland Timbers v FC Cincinnati Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

For the second consecutive year, the Portland Timbers are starting the season on a lengthy road trip. By now, most of you are intimately familiar with most of the Timbers’ woes: Portland has allowed a league-worst ten goals in three games. In all three games, Portland has conceded first, twice in the first fifteen minutes; and Portland has lost players to red cards in the past two matches.

MLS: Portland Timbers at FC Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Timbers have made a very serious investment in the Providence Park renovation — and not just from the pocketbook. In submitting the plan, the organization knew the renovation project was going to be a hardship on all three teams. I did not expect the Timbers defense to be so porous, but I certainly wasn’t expecting them to be standing on nine points at this stage either.

Feel free to tune this part out, because I say this a lot: winning on the road in Major League Soccer is a very hard thing to do — especially in the West. The competition is fiercer. The distances: longer. But I digress.

Since the 2013 season, only six MLS teams have had winning records on the road. Over that period, three teams — yes, the 2016 Timbers being one of them — were winless on the road.

As my astute colleagues have mentioned, some frustration with the March results is not an altogether new sensation. With the loss to Cincinnati, Portland’s overall March record in MLS play presently stands at 5-14-13 in 32 games. That’s 12/20 home/road split. In other words, Portland’s ratio of road to home games in March is nearly 2:1. That’s a great Elastica song, but hardly a path for success.

Of the five wins, three came in 2017. That’s when Portland drew and dispatched the then-expansion/promoted Minnesota United, beat a shorthanded LA Galaxy, and then blew out the Houston Dynamo. Of course that Houston team would avenge that loss some eight months later in the Conference Finals.

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place ...
Kris Lattimore

Besides the travel, MLS is unique among other leagues in that the champion is based not on record (though it obviously helps), but on a tournament held at the of the season. In other words, it’s not about how you start, but how you finish. Same as it ever was.

With preseason spilling into regular season — and a lack of truly meaningful games until the scheduled rivalry matches in April and May — the league itself gives March short shrift.

Simply put, it’s rare for a team to win both March and the cup. To that point, since 2015, the March record for the West teams playing in MLS Cup for the last four years is 1-7-7, or ten points drawn from fifteen games. That was easiest thing to calculate, so I’m fairly certain I’m not (very) wrong here.

Portland has one of the most special bonds between a city’s professional sports franchises and their respective fanbases. I’ve seen it from afar and I’ve seen it up close. The Portland Timbers have nine more games before making, what I believe, will be a very triumphant return to a radically upgraded, even more imposing home field.

Giovanni Savarese and his crew have no shortage of things to figure out between now and then. If they don’t ... Well, then we are in for a very long season, indeed.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but there just seems to be a whole lot more cohesive plan for T2 since Giovanni Savarese arrived on the scene. It may just be that Savarese is a one hell of a great motivator.

Regardless, there’s a palpable buzz around T2 that, for a better word, is heartwarming. Dairon Asprilla’s bicycle kick was, as the kids would, “on fleek.”