In just a few short weeks time, the Portland Timbers will be embarking upon yet another great MLS adventure. Seeking to put the heartbreak of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016 behind them, Giovanni Savarese and his team will be eager to construct a successful 2023 season – one that includes a return (and potentially a deep run) in the playoffs.
Doing so is of course no simple task. MLS regular seasons are eight-month-long, 34 game gauntlets, where the teams that rise to the top are usually the ones that stay the healthiest and most resilient.
With Portland’s goal in mind, let’s take a peek at the Timbers’ 2023 schedule to analyze what might be in store for the boys in green this year.
You can review all of the Timbers schedule for yourself here.
A rough Spring away from home
Portland starts the season with three out of their first five games at home. From there however, they’re at home just once during the month of April. The Timbers play six out of their opening ten fixtures on the road, which presents a daunting opening to the season.
Winning on the road is notoriously difficult in MLS. The Timbers managed to win away from Providence Park just three times all of last year, and two of those wins were against Vancouver and Seattle – the two teams that are geographically closest to Portland. One of their early away dates in 2023 is at BC Place against the Whitecaps, but outside of that Portland has tough Spring visits to the likes of defending champions LAFC, a revitalized FC Cincinnati, and “Portland never beats them in Texas in the Spring” FC Dallas.
All of that adds up to a rough outlook to the start of the year. Four out of their six opening away days are against Western Conference foes, so don’t be surprised if Portland struggles to get results and sinks in the standings through the opening rounds of the season.
The early home dates loom large, as they’re all against Western Conference opposition. To stay somewhat afloat and avoid falling into the basement, Portland will have to show up and get points out of those home fixtures.
Case in point, circle the April 15 matchup against the Sounders as perhaps the biggest game of the first half of Portland’s season. It has huge implications for Portland’s place in the league and the Cascadia Cup standings, as well as for the emotional narrative of the early part of the year.
Finding their footing in the sunshine?
A road-heavy early Spring gives way to a home-heavy late Spring and Summer slate of games. The Timbers will play more in Portland than elsewhere during May and June, and this stretch affords itself well for the Timbers to find their footing a bit.
It’s a mixed bag of opponents, but a reasonable one. Every Western Conference team Portland plays at home in this period in 2023 (Austin, Vancouver, RSL, Minnesota, Dallas) was a team that Portland got at least a point against at home in 2022. Past is not necessarily precedent , but on paper at least every home game here is a winnable one.
The Timbers unfortunately face two Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday three-game stretches in this period, but in both instances at least two of those three games are at Providence Park. If the formula for success in MLS is “win your home games, get a result or two on the road”, the Timbers could be set up nicely to achieve success as the weather starts to turn warmer.
Of course, this is the Timbers we’re talking about: consistent in their inconsistent form, and reliable to lay an egg or two when it’s least expected. Having the opportunity for consistency is one thing – it’s another entirely to actually take advantage of it. And until we see proof, the confidence in Portland to do so is very much still up in the air.
The big finish
As seems to be the case literally every single year, it looks like the final three months of the season are set up for another barn-storming pivotal end to Portland’s season. After the Leagues Cup break Portland plays ten games over a seven-week period, and all of them except one are against Western Conference rivals.
In an even split, five of those games are at home — and every single one is against a team that Portland will likely be jostling against for a spot in the playoffs. It is not a huge assumption to say that Portland will likely need to win the majority of those games (might even need to be all of them!) to have a shot at a playoff bid.
It is also a fair assumption to think that Portland will have to pick up points against conference opponents on the road during the stretch as well. A game against Seattle once again looms large, this time up at Lumen Field on September 2. That game could very well be the decider in Portland’s Cascadia Cup defense and will have significant playoff implications as well.
“The greatest team you’ve ever seen” pic.twitter.com/wthcV2yccl— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) July 10, 2022
Underpinning this stretch of the year – and the entire year, if we’re being honest – is the health of Portland’s squad. Portland endured large swaths of 2022 being hampered by one or more key players being unavailable and on the mend, and they never really fully recovered in time to make a playoff run. With so many high-stakes games in such a short time span, the Timbers will need to be healthier in 2023 and have all hands on deck at 100% so that they can get the most out of every game they play.
The outlier to that is an away day to Montreal in Portland’s penultimate game. Despite Portland being idle the week after, with the above point of health in mind don’t be surprised if the Timbers punt that game and rotate the squad with one eye on the October 21 Decision Day showdown at home against the Houston Dynamo. It’s a regular season finale that, for the second year running, could determine Portland’s playoff hopes.
What do you think? Which dates are you circling on your calendar? Will this be the year the Timbers finally do the unthinkable: have a strong start to the season? Let us know in the comments!