When the Portland Timbers face Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday (5pm PT NBC Sports, 101.1 FM XL Radio / La Pantera 940), it will be a match dripping with symbolism.
The Timbers performance in their last match there, which ended in a 3-0 loss, has been emblematic of their road struggles that have put them in danger of becoming just the fifth MLS team to go winless in a season on the road.
That loss, on July 7, also marked the last game of former head coach John Spencer, who was subsequently fired after the team's lackluster performance.
It's a return to the scene of the crime, of sorts, for Portland.
"We've had some rough outings," Timbers midfielder and captain Jack Jewsbury told MLSsoccer.com after Friday's training session on the San Jose State University campus before the team traveled to Salt Lake City, refering to the their 0-10-4 road record.
Preview: Bendik and Jewsbury on RSL
But in the more than two months since that low point, a lot has changed for the Timbers.
Offensive statistics - such as possession, passing numbers and scoring - are up. And the team is coming off a 2-2 draw Wednesday at MLS-leading San Jose Earthquakes, becoming just the fifth team to leave Buck Shaw Stadium with a point. The Timbers were even up 2-0 with 20 minutes remaining in that game before San Jose mounted a frenzied comeback.
"We've created chances on the road, we just haven't made the most of them," Jewsbury said. "I think in San Jose, in the first half especially, we weathered the storm a little bit when they had the ball and then made the most when we had opportunities. That was the main reason we went up 2-0. At the end of the day we were happy with the outing."
Jewsbury knows it will be a completely different game against possession-orientated RSL. The Timbers possession numbers took a dip against San Jose, something Jewsbury said will have to improve against RSL.
Also, in the Timbers three games at altitude, two in Colorado and one in Salt Lake City, they've been out-scored 9-0.
"We know there are going to be times in the game just like there were in San Jose when they have a lot of the ball," Jewsbury said. "They're a good team in possession, and they're very comfortable getting on the ball. So we have to be aware of that. They're a team that likes to play up the middle of the field, so we have to be able to disrupt that and, when we can, get a hold of the ball. I think in the past month or two our possession has been better, and we're going to need that."
And it certainly wouldn't be lost on Jewsbury to get that elusive first road win at the site where things came crashing down.
"We definitely want to build off the [San Jose] performance," Jewsbury said. "We thought it was a solid outing for us, puting up a fight against one of the best teams in the league at their place. It was definitely a step in the right direction, and now it's time to go and do it all over again."
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.