After two impressive home victories against San Jose and Houston, the Portland Timbers face a tough challenge, as six out of their next eight matches are on the road. Now before we get ahead of ourselves thinking that we can pull nine points out of possible eighteen, let us take some things into consideration.
Timbers Overall Road Record: 3-21-10.
Three wins. Three measly wins on the road in two seasons! That is abysmal, and if the Timbers want to be considered playoff contenders, they have to win on the road. Not just tie. Luckily, after watching every match this year, I must admit, this squad seems a little different than past Timbers teams. This team has character; they have spunk, they play with an unmatched tenacity, and it shows. They were down 2-0 at Colorado and they roared back to obtain a 2-2 result. The same can be said with the Sounders game on March 17; they literally persevered to the very end. I am dubious that past Timbers crews could put up these consistent results in such fashion.
The keys to the Timbers road woes:
1) Stop playing from behind: So far on the road this year, the Timbers have conceded the first goal in every game. Luckily, this Caleb Porter team is well coached and plays with a resolve that guides them towards results. But sooner or later, it is going to catch up to them, not only on the road either, but at home as well.
2) Possession with a purpose in the midfield: Our midfield play has been somewhat erratic. Some games, our midfield is playing flawlessly in controlling all facets of the game and field. They create the tempo and force the other team to play to the Timbers game. But if you look at this last game, the Timbers possessed the ball over 60 percent of the game. With such dominance in terms of possession, one would think that there would be a staggering difference between shots on goal, but there wasn't. The Earthquakes had almost put up more shots and shots on goals than the Timbers, despite controlling the ball for less than 40 percent of the game. Simply, the Timbers need to work the ball in space better and that involves the midfield making better runs after they feed the ball to Ryan Johnson.
3) Consistent forward play: Ryan Johnson has been an animal in the past few games as he has scored three of the Timbers last six goals. But I have noticed a couple drawbacks to the quick paced forward: he plays a little flat at times. I am unsure if he is tired or if there are other elements at play that are nullifying his effectiveness, but it seems that in long periods in the match, he becomes invisible. He reverts to a less dynamic player than we are used to seeing, like in the Houston game. I think the way to acquire more consistency from him would be implementing more fundamental maneuvers, like short give and goes. You will see it from time to time, and each time they do it, it creates a serious goal scoring opportunity, but for some reason, they just stop doing it. The best game I saw the Timbers utilize this off the ball movement was in the New York game, it was surreal to see how well they played as a unit.
If the Timbers work on these aspects of their game. I'd fully expect them to come away with at least two wins in the next six road games.