Life on the road has not been kind to the Portland Timbers. That doesn’t mean they’re not having fun.
The Timbers have set up shop on the East Coast since they left Portland at the beginning of the week for their current two-game road trip.
True, Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against Toronto FC left the Timbers still searching for their first road victory heading into Sunday’s contest against the New York Red Bulls (4 pm PT, KPTV / Timbers Television Network, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940). But the week in Toronto – they’ll depart Saturday for New York after a morning training session at the TFC training facility – has given them a chance to train without any distrations.
“It’s good for the group to be around one another,” interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson told MLSsoccer.com after a light training session on Friday. “I think it helps develop more chemistry, more camaraderie. And the result in Toronto and the way we came back obviously helps, so there are a lot of positives.”
When Wilkinson took over after the dismissal of former head coach John Spencer, he said he was confused by the team’s struggles on the road due to the fact that there are inherently fewer distractions, less fan pressure and not as many commitments off the field. And this week, Wilkinson said, the team has been relaxed.
But that’s not to say the fact that they’re winless in 11 games away from JELD-WEN Field doesn’t still weigh on their minds.
“You’ve got the pressure of our performances on the road that we’ve had in the past and trying to find a way to move forward,” Wilkinson said. “So there are those pressures. But it’s good for the group to be away and be around one another. And as I’ve said time and time again, they’re a good group, so it has been a good time with the guys, definitely.”
Wilkinson also said the team’s recent run of quality play has helped keep things light.
In the past three games – which included ties against Toronto and FC Dallas and a 1-0 loss against Chivas USA – Wilkinson has praised his team’s performances, noting improved possession, passing and shot numbers.
“You have to look to those positives when the results aren’t going your way,” he said. “We’re starting to play a little bit better style of football. We still need to be more clinical in front of the goal. We had the chances to put the game away Wednesday night but didn’t. So there’s still a lot we need to work on.”
To beat New York on Sunday, everything will need to come together. The Red Bulls are fighting with Sporting Kansas City for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and the team’s leading goalscorer, striker Kenny Cooper, who the Timbers shipped out of town during the offseason, certainly has this game marked on his calendar.
“We need 11 players playing well, 11 players getting their job done, not falling asleep, not losing concentration,” Wilkinson said. “It’s going to take a solid group effort, and it’s one that we need every player up for the task. They’re a very talented team.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.