I asked Portland defender Eric Brunner a pretty standard question on Thursday before the Timbers hopped a plane to Dallas: What would a road win mean for this team?
His first statement was stern and resolute ("We need points to get back into the race," he said), but Brunner couldn't help but crack a grin while delivering his second: "And I think it'd get you guys to stop asking questions about it."
Yes, the weather is the most stifling storyline for today's 5:30 p.m. match (Fox 12 and 750 AM) between Portland (5-6-3) and FC Dallas (8-4-4), but the Timbers are definitely feeling the heat to earn a victory away from the House of Pane for the first time this season.
Certainly, fans and pundits alike expected a slow start and even some of the (now trademark) ebb-to-the-flow play from a
expansion promoted club that marked its five-month anniversary together just yesterday. But flashes of excellence at home have raised expectations, and after the "bona fide playoff contender" label was attached while Portland was in the throes of a five-match JW-F winning streak, the definition of "successful season" rose right along with it.
But so far, Portland's play hasn't risen to the road.
"We have brilliant moments," Brunner said. "But we need to be able to do that for 90 minutes and pick and choose our times when we need to press and take the risky situation or just keep possession of the ball and help give us a little rest in the back and get our shape organized."
That's especially true today, when scoring early and making Dallas sweat an equalizer might be just the thing to put Portland's away struggles on ice.
More after the jump, including what to watch for tonight (possibly on DVR after you've cheered through the Gold Cup final) and some Texas-sized EXTRA TIME linkage.
Portland defeated Dallas 3-2 back in April behind goals from Capt. Jack Jewsbury, Rodney Wallace and Kenny Cooper—a Dallas native who's scored just once since and is in the midst of a seven-match scoreless streak.
Fans should keep an eye on Cooper today (Could playing in his hometown in front of former fans/old friends be just the right atmosphere to buck his current slump?) while tacticians should focus in on the pivotal match-up between Dallas' Brek Shea and Portland's Jeremy Hall.
I'll be spinning a broken record and again be interested in how the Timbers start and finish. Portland and Dallas are a combined 12-0-1 when scoring first and 1-10-6 when trying to rally (h/t to John Strong-odpedia for that stat), and PTFC's rough finishes in its last two will have fans undoubtedly feeling a bit nervous once the match heads toward its waning moments.
But not Brunner: "'If you go in thinking, 'oh, it's the 90th minute, are we gonna throw the game away?' you're just killing yourself," he said. "We go in thinking we're gonna win the game or get a good result. Regardless if there's nine minutes of injury time or one."
EXTRA TIME! Links cooler than central air.
• Playoffs? Not until the Timbers figure out how to win away from the Rose City, says The Trib's Stephen Alexander
• The Timbers look to rebound after they were "unlucky" to nab three points against New York, says The Sports Network.
• Geoff Gibson of Stumptown Footy and Daniel Robertson of Big D Soccer swap questions/knowledge about today's match.
• Consistency has been a missing ingredient for Portland, says MLSsoccer's Doug Binder.
• Roles are reversed in Portland/Dallas II, says Drew Epperley of Big D Soccer.
• Goal.com's pundits both predict comfortable wins for Dallas in their head-to-head preview.
• On the team's official site, Timbers' voice John Strong points to possession and calls on Capt. Jack's Lieutenants to "re-assert themselves," while Binder notes Kevin Goldthwaite's goal is another sign "it’s been a productive season so far for the Timbers’ back line."
• More on the Timbers Army's front-page treatment by The New York Times from Erik Siemers of the Portland Business Journal, as well as some assorted scoffing by Garrett Dittfurth of Timbers Army.
• Hey, Timbers defender Steve Purdy, how was the Gold Cup?
• Former Timber Tony McManus is hanging up his cleats, says Brian Quarstad of IMSoccer News.