The first time the Portland Timbers played FC Dallas in Texas, the game-time temperature was a nice, temperate 78 degrees.
And the Timbers took advantage, earning one of their few points on the road in a 1-1 tie on March 17. This time around, however – a Saturday evening matchup at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas (9 pm ET; watch LIVE online) – the weather will not be cooperating.
It’s blistering hot in Texas right now, with a game-day forecast calling for the mercury to shoot well past 100 degrees.
Not exactly what the doctored ordered for a team already struggling mightily on the road, having now gone winless in nine attempts with seven losses.
Timbers interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson told MLSsoccer.com by phone after a steamy Friday morning training session at the stadium, that he’d have to factor the heat into his preparation, no bones about it.
“I think Dallas isn’t a place where you come into and look to put pressure high up the field,” Wilkinson said. “They’re a little bit more used to this weather than we are coming from Portland. The important thing is to be consistent over the 90 minutes and not blow out of the gate in the first half and be dead for the second half.
"We’ve got to manage the game, we’ve got to manage the tempo, we’ve got to stay disciplined and play with maturity. And it will take a little self-belief and confidence to get those tasks done.”
The Timbers have had two training sessions in Texas since their 1-0 loss Wednesday afternoon at Chivas USA. And Wilkinson said the main strategy over the past few days has been to not wear the players out. He’s sent the team a very clear message that regardless of the strategy, Saturday’s game will be all about having enough will power to get through “90 minutes of agony.”
“It depends on the players,” he said. “Some of them today couldn’t stop commenting on how hot it was, and others absolutely loved the challenge. It goes both ways, to be honest. But it’s going to be hot. I don’t know if the temperature is anything you get used to.”
And if Wilkinson’s message has a bit of a “man up” theme to it, it’s for good reason. The Timbers are in desperate need of three points, having lost three straight and four of their last five.
Portland and Dallas are sharing the basement of the Western Conference standings with 19 points apiece, although Portland have two games in hand.
And Wilkinson isn’t ready to write off the season just yet.
“For us, talking about the playoffs and things like that, it will remain constant chatter,” Wilkinson said. “And to make that realistic and actually change the way this season has gone, we need to start grinding out some results. We need to create better opportunities to put those chances away.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.