PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Timbers coach John Spencer will allow that Saturday’s Timbers-Sounders (11 pm ET; ESPN2/Deportes) game has “a little more spice on it.”
But there are aspects to this week’s contest against Sounders FC that matter to the Timbers coach much more than getting over on Sigi Schmid, Kasey Keller or the Emerald City Supporters.
“The big thing for me is going away from JELD-WEN [Field] and performing,” Spencer said. “That’s the big question mark still hanging over our heads. We need to go away and put in good performances and have a good result. You don’t want the stigma — it’s very hard to get it off — that you can’t play on the road. The quicker we get that erased, the better.”
In an early season full of milestone moments, Saturday’s first MLS regular season meeting with Seattle is the latest domino to fall.
In the past two months, the Timbers have celebrated their entrance into the league (at Colorado), their first positive result (a tie at New England), the final touches on a refurbished stadium, the first home game, the first victory.
The next stage of evolution is earning a road win. And with just 175 miles of freeway separating Portland and Seattle, travel distance is not an excuse. The Timbers are reasonably healthy at the moment, too.
In order for Portland to get some credit for recent victories over FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia — teams that remain ahead of the Timbers in the Power Rankings — the Timbers need a road win for legitimacy.
Portland are 0-3-1 on the road and one of seven teams still winless away from home this season. Yet with four wins in their last five games it is readily apparent the team’s quality of play has improved greatly since March. Two weeks ago, Spencer’s biggest concern was squashing a trend for conceding goals in clusters.
Goalkeeper Troy Perkins and the defense responded by producing the first two clean sheets of the season. Of course, those were at home.
“Our [defensive] shape, just in general, has been good,” Spencer said. “We need to be sure to start the game with the same mentality we have the last three or four games.”
Spencer has deep roots in Scotland’s Old Firm, one of the fiercest rivalries in sports. Aside from coaching Portland to a 2-0 preseason victory over Seattle in the Cascadia Summit, he doesn’t have much experience with the Sounders rivalry yet.
“It’s a great game to coach in, a great game for the players to play in because of the history behind the rivalry,” he said. “It’s great we’re having these games in MLS soccer and American soccer. When I came [to the US] in 2001, we never had anything like this.”
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