After a winless five-match road trip to open the season for the Portland Timbers, returning home to Providence Park has brought spark and life to the Timbers that has turned into back-to-back wins to a team searching for a new identity under first-year coach Giovanni Savarese.
Having managed only two points from their first five matches the Timbers (2-3-2, 8 pts) currently sit in ninth place in the Western Conference although a 3-2 win over Minnesota United (2-5-0, 6 pts) and a convincing 3-0 win over league leaders New York City FC (5-1-2, 17 pts) has left Timber fans riding high in confidence and optimism.
The Timbers defense in the first five matches of the season has allowed 12 goals while only scoring six of their own in the same time span. Since returning home the Timbers flipped the script and have doubled their scoring tally while only giving up two goals.
The defense was especially sound in the win against NYCFC as they were able to almost completely shut down a formidable City attack lead by David Villa. Villa was essentially a non-factor in the match, registering only one shot on target while completing less than 70% of his passes.
When comparing the Timbers defensive performance at home versus their opening five road games the back line has been more coordinated producing substantial results. Whether this is because the team has finally become comfortable in Giovanni Savarese’s new system or due to the home support adding extra motivation remains to be seen and will be something to look for when they travel to San Jose on May 5th to face the Earthquakes (1-3-2, 5 pts).
Home is where the results are for the Timbers who are now 65-21-35 all-time in MLS compared to 24-62-38 on the road. The atmosphere created by the Timbers Army at Providence Park always creates an intense atmosphere for visiting crowds in return the Timbers are more aggressive and creative at home. It’s definitely too early to say in this season if the early road games were an anomaly or if Providence Park is that much of a home-field advantage but if history is any indication Portland will be a much more dangerous side with their fans behind their back than when on the road.
As the Timbers prepare for their trip to San Jose while on a bye this week they should be looking to exploit a defense that has given up 13 goals through six games but has historically performed better at home.
The Earthquakes might not have the same dynamic attack that New York City has but they find ways to score at home in crucial moments. Chris Wondolowski, Vako, and Magnus Eriksson lead the attack for San Jose while Jahmir Hyka and Danny Hoesen are constant scoring threats that the Timbers back line will have to stay alert to.
If Portland expects to leave with all three points, they will have to deny the ball from that attacking core while being as aggressive in attack as they have been the past two matches.