Home field still a huge edge for playoff-hungry Timbers

PORTLAND, Ore. – As the Portland Timbers approach the final home game of their inaugural season at JELD-WEN Field, there’s little question the stadium itself has been the team’s one constant.

Lineups have changed. There have been struggles offensively and defensively. And, of course, there have been ups and downs.

But all 16 games at the newly renovated, historic stadium have been sellouts. The Timbers' home record of 9-4-3 – which they’ll put on the line Friday against the Houston Dynamo (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online) – is among the best in MLS. The Timbers haven’t lost a home game since a 3-2 defeat July 10 against Seattle.

“I think the energy here, there’s a great energy, a positive energy, when we come out on the field, and I think that drives us forward,” Timbers head coach John Spencer said.

The scenes of extravagant tifo, constant chanting and singing and just plain raucous behavior at JELD-WEN have drawn attention from throughout the league. It’s what the opposition talks about before playing their first game there, and what they mention afterward.

“The crowd is amazing over there,” New York Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry said before playing in Portland on June 19.

“It's a good atmosphere, obviously something you want to play in front of,” Galaxy midfielder David Beckham said after his team lost 3-0 on Aug. 3, arguably the seminal moment of the Timbers season. “You want to play in front of fans that are passionate about their team.”

Spencer has also been quick to say it’s taken quality play to earn such a solid home record. And with an experienced Houston team also fighting for the playoffs, he said that’s exactly what it will take to earn another three points at home.

“They’re always big games at home,” he said. “I don’t doubt that if we were 20 points off the playoffs, the stadium would still be packed out. It’s not just important for the fans, it’s important to give us three points for the playoffs.”

Either way, Spencer said it’s been a season that has exceeded all outside expectations, one he’s been glad to share with such a soccer-obsessed city.

“I really feel probably the proudest I’ve felt in my entire career when I come out and stand on the field knowing that I’m the head coach of this club,” Spencer said. “Because it’s a proper professional club. We’ve got a great fan base, great ownership, and I really truly believe that if we keep this group together we’re going to have a tremendous team.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at dcitel@hotmail.com.