PORTLAND, Ore. — At the end of the Portland Timbers’ relatively disappointing 1-1 result Wednesday at home against San Jose, head coach John Spencer was asked to address the elephant in the room.
Four out of the Timbers remaining five games are on the road, beginning with a showdown at New York on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online) that pits two teams fighting neck and neck for the 10th and final playoff spot.
The troubling stat for Portland? They’re just 1-8-4 on the road this season, one of the worst in the league.
“Do I think we’re good enough to go and pick up points on the road? Yes, I do,” Spencer said. “We’ve got to have that belief in ourselves. That’s what good teams do at this point of the year; they go on the road and grind out three points. It’s not always about style and substance, sometimes you’ve just got to go and dig deep and try and get something and sneak a win.”
The Timbers’ only road win this season came back on July 16, a 1-0 result at the Chicago Fire. But there have been signs of life recently, most notably a gritty scoreless draw at Philadelphia on Sept. 10.
“If you look at the Philadelphia result, I thought the guys did really well,” defender Mike Chabala said. “We kept a clean sheet in a really tough place. You can say what you will about our record on the road, but I think this team has matured a lot in the past two months. I’m looking at getting a road win and looking for the guys to rest up quick and turn around and go back out there.”
Minus an Oct. 2 game in Vancouver for the opening of BC Place, four of Portland’s final five games are against teams either battling for playoff positioning or trying to fight their way in, making Wednesday’s failure to obtain three points all the more salient.
Dealing with New York
The last time the Timbers faced the Red Bulls, Portland coughed up a 3-1 second-half lead and settled for a 3-3 draw. Although Dwayne De Rosario is gone (he scored the late equalizer that night in Portland), familiar faces Thierry Henry (12 goals) and Joel Lindpere (seven goals, six assists) are still a threat to the Portland defense.
“They’re a tough team,” team captain Jack Jewsbury said. “They’ve got some unbelievable players that we have to keep our eyes on. At the end of the day, we’ve got to stay organized as a group. Defensively, we’ve been pretty solid recently and when you keep a team off the score sheet, you give yourself a chance to get those three points.”
Nagbe still at forward?
Rookie Darlington Nagbe has started each of the last two games at forward, a tweak in the lineup that has given the club’s offense a new look and relegated Jorge Perlaza to the bench. That has also played well for striker Kenny Cooper, who has scored a goal in each of the club’s last two games.
“I enjoy playing with him,” Cooper said of Nagbe. “I think he’s a great talent. I think we’re fortunate here that there’s a lot of great depth on this team.”