BEAVERTON, Ore. – The eight-game winless streak to start the season has been the elephant in the room for the Portland Timbers.
As the weeks roll by, the quest for their first win of 2014 becomes more and more desperate. The MLS Cup Playoffs – where almost every follower of the league forecasted the Timbers would end up – now seem a world a way. If it is destined to happen, the long road back will likely have to begin with Portland’s upcoming three-game homestand, starting Saturday against D.C. United (10:30 pm ET; MLS Live).
It’s just the Timbers are trying not to think that way.
“Guys that have been in and around this league know that you get on a bit of roll and all of a sudden you jump up and jump teams quick,” Timbers veteran right back Jack Jewsbury said after Wednesday’s session at the team training facility. “But we don’t want to say, ‘Oh, we’ve got three home games and it looks like nine points.’ That’s easy to say. But first game first with D.C., and we’re going to go out there and do everything we can to get three points and then we’ll move onto the next game.”
It’s the old sports cliché of “one game at a time.”
But considering the hole the Timbers have dug for themselves – they currently have the league’s worst record with five points from five draws and three losses – there are few other options. Since 2011, the year the playoff Knockout Round was introduced, only two of 30 teams that qualified for the postseason did so with fewer than eight points in their first seven games.
“The disappointing thing, honestly, is the four games we’ve had at home, we drew them all,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said. “And frankly we should have won, we could have won all of them. And if we get a couple of wins in those four times we drew at home, everybody is thinking differently. But we didn’t. So the urgency now to get three points at home coming back is even more.”
Even a 1-1 draw on the road last Sunday against the Houston Dynamo, a notoriously tough place for the Timbers to play, was met with palm-wringing.
“At the end of the day we need to pick up some wins right now,” Jewsbury said. “If you look down the road we’ve got three home games, but for us it’s making sure we’re getting better on the training pitch and it’s the next game at hand, which is D.C. So we don’t look past that, we don’t look back on what’s happened.”
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And it’s not as if the next three games are walks in the park.
D.C. United are surging and will carry a five-game unbeaten streak, which includes three wins, into Providence Park. Then the Timbers will play host to the LA Galaxy on May 11 in a nationally televised matinee before facing off against the Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew on May 17.
“This team is realistic; we know where we sit,” Porter said. “We also know where we want to end. We know where we sit, and the most important thing is we know what we need to do to get to where we want to end, and that’s biting off three points at a time.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.