Portland Timbers reveal secret to reversal of fortunes in road matches during 2013 season
BEAVERTON, Ore. – The Portland Timbers are in the midst of a brutal stretch of games away from JELD-WEN Field.
Saturday’s date with at D.C. United (7 pm ET, Univision Deportes, MLS Live) will mark their second of three consecutive league road games. Four of Portland’s next six games are away. It’s a stretch that would have spelled disaster in the team’s first two seasons in MLS, which saw Portland win on the road just three times in two years.
This year, however, it hasn’t been a problem. The Timbers remain the only team in the league to remain undefeated on the road, earning five draws and one win.
First-year manager Caleb Porter believes the success is as simple as keeping the preparation, game plan and lineup as consistent as possible.
“I’ve said this before, why do the fans and the crowd make it different?” Porter said on Thursday before the team traveled to Washington. “Those are peripheral, external factors that should not relate to anything that happens inside the lines.
"And I think we assume that it must be that much different and that much harder, and I think from a psychological standpoint as coaches sometimes we approach games assuming that. And by doing that what you’re doing is sending the wrong message to your team by saying that it’s going to be harder. So what I try to say, it’s no different.”
And when Porter says he doesn’t change a thing, he literally means it.
Portland have 10 goals in six road games and 10 goals in six home games. Apparently, Porter’s possession attack doesn’t get jet lag.
WATCH: Porter, Jewsbury talk road success
“It all starts with our team spirit, and that starts with Caleb,” said defender Michael Harrington, one of a handful of new players handpicked by Porter during the offseason. “He’s brought a strong mentality to the group right away starting in preseason.
"It’s just kind of stuck with us, and I think that’s what you have to have on the road. It’s just your team, and everybody is against you. You have to have a belief and a confidence, and I think that starts with the top with our coaching.”
And with home teams typically assuming the role of aggressor and also pushing for goals, it's a formula that can result in shootouts on the road as exemplified in Portland’s 2-2 draw at Vancouver last weekend and their 3-2 win at Sporting Kansas City on April 27.
“I always say, 'To win, you have to risk losing,'” Porter said. “And you play to win. If you play not to lose and you play scared to lose, a lot of times you lose. I’m OK losing as long as we tried to win. And I think by doing that, we’ll win more games than we lose.
"And I’d rather go for it on the road and go for three points than have my group taking a negative approach, a reactive approach. You can get a result that way but I don’t think consistently you will.”
Defender Jack Jewsbury, the team’s captain in their first two years in the league, says it's been a new experience for those who have put on a Timbers jersey compared to previous seasons.
“The way that we’re playing right now, it’s not just a way that we can play here at home,” he said. “We can go on the road, possess the ball, continue to get chances and press teams in their end. I think we’ve done a good job of that over the course of the year and hopefully we can continue it.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.