No matter the heights they soar to at Providence Park, no matter what they've done the week before, and no matter who is on the field, the 2016 Portland Timbers can't win a road game.
Through fourteen road games this season, the Timbers are still without a win away from home — and while Caleb Porter could point to several positive road performances earlier in the year as a rejoinder to questions about his team's away form, the Timbers aren't even keeping up appearances anymore.
Portland's effort on Saturday night, in a 3-1 loss at FC Dallas that was over before halftime, was abysmal. The Timbers simply didn't show up. To say this team was unrecognizable from the one that bowled over Seattle last weekend would be almost be reductive.
Considering that the Timbers' were MLS' best road team over the last three years, this sudden road paralysis defies all logic. And yet, here we stand. Thing is, these Timbers — the only team in the league without a road victory this year — are only getting worse outside of Soccer City, USA.
Portland entered this match in Frisco with Alvas Powell and Darlington Nagbe missing on international duty. But Dallas was without five players for the same reason — and there was a feeling that, with the calendar turning to September, the Timbers might be ready to flick a switch.
It was wishful thinking. The Timbers were behind after just fourteen minutes, with Mauro Diaz converting a penalty awarded Jake Gleeson was adjudged to have brought down Michael Barrios in the area.
Dallas would double their lead — and effectively seal the result — just before the break. The marvelous Diaz played creator again, with Victor Ulloa eventually arriving on the scene of a scrambling Timbers' defense to make it 2-0 with an emphatic finish.
It wouldn't be a Timbers road capitulation without the concession of a cheap set piece goal, though, and that final piece came just seven minutes into the second half when Walker Zimmerman beat Steven Taylor to head in a fairly innocuous Diaz free kick. After several more Dallas chances, Diego Valeri would pull a goal back late to make the final 3-1.
Oscar Pareja's team was excellent. Dallas' defensive urgency in the attacking half of the field — aided in no small part by Maxi Urruti — has caused the Timbers problems all year, and again tonight, the home team's collective speed of play and thought had Portland reeling.
Zarek Valentin had an extremely difficult night defensively in his first match back from injury, while neither Diego Chara nor Jack Jewsbury could limit Diaz's influence. Lucas Melano's weekly abdication of his defensive duties was of no great help on that or any other front.
But while Dallas may win the Supporters' Shield — and while Pareja, as the country's best developer of young talent, should be the next USMNT manager — this wasn't an unbeatable team. Dallas was missing its entire starting central midfield, its left back, and, if you count Fabian Castillo, one of its scariest players.
There was space for the Timbers on the counter, especially early, but too many attacks ended up at the feet of Melano. Fanendo Adi, struggling, as we all do, with the refereeing style of Ted Unkel, complained so loudly and so frequently that even the Dallas fans took note and booed him when he was substituted in the second half.
You could say that this is a bad matchup for the Timbers, and you'd be right. This was Dallas' third win of the year over Portland, with the aggregate scoreline standing at 8-3. But it wasn't, you might remember, such a bad matchup last year when the Timbers won the Western Conference.
That team, even on their worst day — and it should be noted that the championship Timbers were still very much adrift at this point in 2015 — kept games close. This Timbers team, all year, has simply shut up shop when its faced adversity on the road.
It's hard to buy that coaching is the issue, though Porter's decision to start Jack Barmby — and then yank him at halftime when he'd hardly had a touch of the ball — was odd all the way around. Collectively, this Timbers team isn't good enough or isn't strong enough to dig in for more than a game at a time.
Clearly, the Timbers can pick their spots. But winning a championship — even in this league — is about sustained, relentless success. Porter knows that, and a number of his players do too. So why can't they execute?
One road win isn't too much to ask, but the numbers suggest that this team can't beat a strong side like Dallas. The Timbers only have two wins against playoff teams all year. More than half of the team's victories have come in home games against the teams below them in the Western Conference.
The signing of Steven Taylor, believe it or not, hasn't helped the team's defense at all. Portland has conceded eight goals in his first three games. Vytas, for all his good work offensively, hasn't been a significant defensive upgrade either. It's a unit that continually gets pulled apart at the worst possible moments.
It's one thing to come up short against a good team, but the Timbers weren't even close on Saturday night. Dallas was better in every phase and every aspect of the game.
Portland is leaving the door ajar for Seattle and San Jose — and it might be worth mentioning here that even if they qualify for the playoffs, Portland will certainly have to go on the road for the Wild Card game — but more than that, the Timbers making themselves ordinary.
That performance should have been embarrassing. Instead, it just felt familiar.