[MLS WEEKEND]The R-word hasn’t been mentioned much this week for the visit to Home Depot Center by the Timbers, who like the Galaxy have just one victory so far this season.
Last month, head coach John Spencer bristled whenever the team’s miserable 2011 road record (2-9-6) was mentioned. Portland got its 2012 road campaign off well enough with a 1-1 tie in Dallas, then stumbled to a 1-0 defeat at New England.
“I’m just very disappointed,” said Spencer of a loss he felt should have been at least a tie. “I think this is one of those performances that keep the media talking about why we can’t play away from home. This is one of those performances, a very poor performance.
“And in saying that, we still probably created four good looks at goal today. Matt Reis pulls off a great save from Franck Songo’o, other than that we had two or three clear-cut chances. I think that we’re a better team than we showed.”
Given two chances at home to prove Spencer’s theory, the Timbers instead collapsed both times as typically rowdy crowds at Jeld-Wen Field raised the usual ruckus only to exit in frustrated disbelief. Real Salt Lake rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win, 3-2, in the final minutes, and last weekend Chivas USA scored twice in the second half for a 2-1 comeback triumph.
A trip to the home field of the defending champion is an unusual remedy, yet Los Angeles (1-3-0) is mired in troubles of its own. It is vulnerable in just the area -- central defense -- that can be exploited by DP Kris Boyd, who scored Portland’s goal against Chivas USA and was named the team’s Man of the Match. Yet the overall performance so infuriated Spencer he said the Timbers “played like an expansion team.”
The Galaxy’s acquisition of defender David Junior Lopes from Chivas USA this week might prompt his inclusion in lineup and offer opportunities for the Timbers’ attack. Yet more important than matchups in this game, or any away contest for that matter, is the team’s mindset.
Timbers television analyst Robbie Earle, who during his 18 years as a combative striker in the English League tangled with Spencer a few times, thinks a benign approach cost Portland on the road last year and a change in attitude can change the results as well.
“At times, we were a little bit passive on the road,” says Earle. “They often went into games almost like sitting back to see what the opposition had, and by the time they’d scored a goal or two we realized they weren’t as good as maybe we thought they were. But by then the game was gone or very hard to peg back.”
Against Dallas, Portland took the initiative; Rodney Wallace and Jack Jewsbury were cautioned during a ragged opening period. Portland fell behind midway through the first half, but a Darlington Nagbe strike in the 51st minute earned a point. Last year, the Timbers came back only three times to get a point after falling behind on the road. Both of their away wins were 1-0 finals (at Chicago and Vancouver) and they also scored the first goal in a few road matches, which isn’t a bad game plan against a reeling opponent.
A team that has lost three in a row might be desperate enough to force the issue in the opening minutes, even at HDC against the Galaxy. Sometimes getting away from home can be the best remedy for adversity, if the attitude is right.
“It’s a little bit more this year about having more belief in what the Timbers group are and knowing they can be more aggressive from that opening whistle and impose themselves on the game,” says Earle. “They weren’t outplayed that many times on the road. Even games when we got beat it was times where we were chasing the game almost too late, trying to get back into it.
“It’s one thing for the coach to be saying that message but you need people in the locker room saying it and believing it as well, to be honest. ‘If we go up one-nil this time, it’s a whole different ballgame.’”