Timbers coach John Spencer says starting spots for the team's home opener are up for grabs.
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Comfy at home, Timbers hope to improve on road

PORTLAND, Ore. – The stark difference between the Timbers’ quality of play at home vs. on the road has been one of the team’s defining characteristics so far.

Portland beat Real Salt Lake 1-0 last Saturday at JELD-WEN Field to improve to 3-0 in front of their energetic crowds, and home games against the San Jose Earthquakes in a US Open qualifier on Tuesday and against the Philadelphia Union on Friday keep the Timbers in their favorite spot this week.

But coach John Spencer knows that in order for the Timbers to reach their goals, the team will have to find success away from the Rose City. Winning on the road seems like the next stage of development for the Timbers as an MLS franchise.

“I told the guys in the locker room that until we do something away from home we’re never going to get any credit for the good wins and good performances here at JELD-WEN Field,” Spencer said.

The coach loves the electric atmosphere created by Timbers Army, but he’s unwilling to credit anyone but the players for scoring goals and playing defense in wins against the Chicago Fire, FC Dallas and RSL.

“Do you think the fans got us nine points at home?” Spencer asked. “I don’t. I think the players got that. They’ve come out and run themselves into the ground [on Saturday]. It was a fantastic effort.”

But does that effort rise to a higher level at home?

There probably isn’t enough evidence yet in the season to make that claim. The Timbers played their most formidable lineup on Saturday, which included a second start for goalkeeper Troy Perkins and first starts for Colombian import Diego Chará and top draft pick Darlington Nagbe in the midfield.

“We’ve established something here,” captain Jack Jewsbury said. “We just don’t want people to start saying, 'Well, they can only get points at home.'”

The Timbers have outscored three opponents 8-4 at home so far. In road games, they are 0-3-1 and have been outscored 9-2.

“At the end of the day we need to get better on the road, and we know that as a group,” Jewsbury said. “To be successful, to make the playoffs, which is our goal, we have to pick up some points on the road.”

In the meantime, the team will enjoy what it has created in the friendly confines of JELD-WEN.

“Once again, it shows when we’re at home we’re a formidable team to beat,” Spencer said after Saturday’s victory, which snapped an 18-game regular season unbeaten streak by RSL. “If we sort out our home form and keep clean sheets on the road, we’ll be sitting in a totally different position in the conference.”