"Road dog" Portland Timbers look to adjust to new style at home

SEATTLE – The Portland Timbers don’t really seem to care what venue they’re playing in these days.

Due to construction at their home field of Providence Park, the Timbers lived out of suitcases for much of their 2019 season. And early on, the travel-heavy schedule looked like it might end their season before it started, as the club stumbled out of the gate to an 0-5-1 record.

Lately, however, it’s safe to say the Timbers have flipped the script. Coming off Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field, the Timbers now have six road wins in 2019, with a schedule backloaded with mostly home games ahead.

Speaking with reporters over the music blaring in a raucous and celebratory visiting locker room following Sunday’s victory in Seattle, goalkeeper Steve Clark said his team’s recent torrid form away from home comes down to mentality.

“We’re the road dogs, first and foremost,” Clark quipped before adding: “But I think we kind of relish it, being on the road, especially the start of our season. This team shows up in big moments, there’s a lot of winners on this team. I thought we had a great game plan from our coaching staff and we executed it.”

With mostly home games to finish out the season, the next question for the Timbers becomes tactical. While Sunday’s game was a wide-open affair, with the Sounders happy to press the attacking action playing on their home field, the Timbers are going to have to get used to breaking down a lot of bunkers. It’s a formula that Orlando City used successfully when they visited Providence Park on Thursday and pulled out a 1-1 draw, despite being outshot 26-2.

Clark said his team is plenty aware that strategy is likely to repeat itself, and figuring out how to combat it has been a point of emphasis for the team in training.

“It’s difficult for us to break teams down at home, it has been our last two games,” Clark said. “I think we’re looking very, very hard at breaking down compact teams. We’re going to be there a lot and that’s what we’re going to have to do at home because that’s how teams are going to play us. I think we have the ability to that. On the road, obviously Seattle was attacking the whole game so it was a different type of game.”

Before then, however, the Timbers will need to dig into that “road dog” mentality one more time before the second-half homestand truly kicks into gear.

Following a home match with the LA Galaxy on Saturday, Portland will travel to Allianz Field to take on Minnesota United for two matches – first in MLS play on August 4, then in U.S. Open Cup play three days later. Then, it’s 10 straight matches at Providence Park between August 10 and September 25.

“There’s a belief that we can do it together as a group,” head coach Gio Savarese said on Sunday. “There’s that trust in each other to go out there and play with our hearts, and also sticking with what we’ve asked them to do during the games, and whoever comes in has been doing a great job. We’ve been rotating some players and everybody has been adding to what we want. [Sunday’s win] was a very important night and a huge victory for us.”