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Timbers look for answers to road woes of the past

Players set goals for 2013 away games: score first goal, win


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - Ryan Johnson (left) and the Portland Timbers are taking are optimistic that the club can shake its road doldrums and post some impressive away victories this season. Since joining Major League Soccer in 2011, there have been many truths for the Portland Timbers. Perhaps the most frequent truth, and the most difficult for the organization to stomach, is that the Timbers stink on the road.

In 2011, Portland managed a meager 2-9-6 record away from Jeld-Wen Field.

That was bad, but the 1-12-4 mark in 2012 was even worse.

First-year coach Caleb Porter says this club can be different, because, well, it is basically entirely new. More than half the roster from last season is gone.

“It’s a new team,” Porter says as the Timbers prepare for their 5 p.m. Saturday 2013 road opener at Seattle. “I’ve not dwelled on the past or talked about the past because a lot of these guys know nothing about the past. They weren’t here. That can be played up too much —the past. I’m really trying to focus on the now and trying to move forward. The way I look at it, we’re 0-0 on the road with this new team and under this new regime.”

The Timbers will need to bond on the field, though, if they want to pick up points, especially on the road.

“It’s all about the team being comfortable with each other,” defender Ryan Miller says. “If you have a strong camaraderie and knowledge of each other, then it’s going to take the pressure away when you’re on the road.”

After playing the Sounders, the Timbers will play at Colorado on March 30. With Portland off to a 0-1-1 start, getting points over the next two games is important.

Porter is taking a different approach to playing Seattle than did John Spencer, the Timbers’ first coach. While Porter admits that the match is important for the fans, he is preaching a very Chip Kelly-like “faceless opponent” mindset.

“The games are the games,” Porter says. “Every game is important. Seattle is a derby. It’s a rivalry game. But for me, it’s no more important than any other game. Certainly for the supporters it is and we want to get a result. But we want to get a result every game.”

Miller agrees with Porter’s logic, but also says that each player will react to the rivalry in his own way.

“At the end of the day, they’re just another team in MLS,” Miller says. “Seattle has traditionally been a good team and they’re our neighbors and you never want to lose to your neighbors ... but different guys will just approach it different ways.”

Timbers striker Ryan Johnson hopes that the Timbers will also view Seattle as a faceless city and CenturyLink Field as a faceless stadium. He hopes the team plays on the road as it does at home.

“I hope we don’t change anything at all,” Johnson says. “I hope we always go for the win no matter what — whether it’s home or away. We have such talented players, it doesn’t matter where we play, we can do the job. I expect us to win some good away games this year.”

Defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste agrees.

“We need to go into the road games with the same mentality we do when we’re home,” he says.

Besides a new roster, a new coach and a new philosophy, the Timbers also have a revamped home pitch, which they hope can help them on the road. Last season, the Jeld-Wen Field surface was 110 yards by 70 yards. This season, the pitch is 74 yards wide. The narrower pitch might have been one reason the Timbers struggled so mightily on the road.

“A lot of teams can’t go from small fields to big fields,” Jean-Baptiste says. “Their fitness is set to small fields because that’s what they train on. When they get put on a bigger field, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ ”

Jean-Baptiste later backtracked and said that the narrower home pitch did not affect the Timbers last season. The general consensus around the Timbers locker room, though, is that playing home matches on a pitch that is four yards wider will make going on the road easier this season.

“When you’re on a pitch that’s normal, that’s very helpful,” Miller says. “It’s not as big of a change when you go to another field that’s bigger or smaller. It’s definitely an advantage for us.”

Of course, the only thing that truly matters is whether Portland puts more goals on the scoreboard than the other side.

“We want a shutout, and we want to score the first goal,” Jean-Baptiste says. “Once we accomplish both of those, I don’t see any reason why we won’t win any game the rest of the season.”