Why March Always Trips Up the Timbers

Portland has 1 win in MLS’ opening month over the past 4 years
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, March 20, 2014

Green Logs - a column on the Portland Timbers & the Portland soccer scene

A good beginning is something that the Portland Timbers have a tough time achieving.

But, at the same time, the finishes have been getting better. Sort of.

Sunday’s 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire was another chapter in the odd history of March matches for the Timbers. While Portland is off to a better start than last year, with 2 points from 2 home matches against Philadelphia and Chicago, the higher expectations placed on the club have made the start feel very disappointing.

Maybe fans shouldn’t be surprised. March has been a mixed bag, with moments that gave hints of what was to come later in the season.

In the 4 years that the Timbers have been in MLS, the club has exactly 1 league win in March. That was the 2012 season opener, when Portland scored 3 straight goals in the second half, including the match winner in the 66th minute from Kris Boyd, to knock off Philadelphia 3-1 at Providence Park. But even in that match, Portland started slowly, as the Union took a 1-0 in the 51st minute before the Timbers tied it up with an Andrew Jean-Baptiste goal 3 minutes later.

The only other win the club has had in March in its 4 MLS seasons was a US Open Cup win over Chivas USA in 2011. That was also a home match, but played at the University of Portland’s Merlo Field because the renovations to Providence Park weren’t completed.

The overall MLS record in March for the Timbers looks, well, not good. Along with that 1 win are 6 draws and 5 losses. On the surface, that’s about as bad as one could hope for. But each season has been a bit different.

For example, 2011 was not expected to be a good start because it was an expansion year. The losses at Colorado and Toronto were tough to swallow, but at the same time there was a hope that things would get better once the Timbers were able to start playing at home. With 3 straight home wins in April, those hopes were realized.

In 2012, the good feelings that the opening win and a come-from-behind draw at FC Dallas had given were quickly gone. Losses at New England and at home to Real Salt Lake started a run of 5 losses in 6 matches for the Timbers and was, in a sense, the beginning of the end for John Spencer as Timbers manager.

No one quite knew what to expect in 2013, with Caleb Porter now in charge. The wild come-from-behind 3-3 draw with New York in the home opener was followed by a horrid home loss to Montréal. But the doubts were started to be erased by 2 more come-from-behind draws on the road, including Rodney Wallace’s stoppage-time equalizer in Seattle and Will Johnson’s 2 second-half goals (including the first penalty for the Timbers in league play in over a year) in a draw at Colorado. Those two draws ended up being the start of Portland’s 15-match unbeaten run and the springboard for the amazing season that followed.

This brings us to 2014 and, well, those 2 come-from-behind draws at home. Gastón Fernández has scored both equalizing goals for Portland, being the one player able to convert any of the Timbers’ numerous chances into scoring plays. And, yes, while those 2 draws are a better start than the club had in 2013, they still feel a bit like losses with what is expected from this version of the Timbers.

Like last year, the 2 home matches are followed by 2 straight on the road. It’s back to Colorado on Saturday (the third time in 4 seasons Portland has traveled to play the Rapids in March, including the Timbers’ first-ever MLS match in 2011), then a trek to north Texas to play FC Dallas on March 29. Points from both will be crucial, especially with a nationally-televised home game with the Sounders on April 5 looming on the horizon.

It would be a great time to end the March road win drought for the Timbers. If not, they run the risk of having to play catch-up early in the season, with an April schedule including road trips to RSL and Houston following back-to-back home matches with Seattle and Chivas USA.

History isn’t kind to the Timbers. But history has been rewritten a few times since Porter’s arrived in Portland. The next 2 weeks is a chance to do that again.

NEXT UP: March 22 – Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, Colo. 6 p.m. EST, ROOT Sports NW, MLS Live.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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