It just goes on and on.
The Portland Timbers, on the back of two straight wins and seemingly in their best form of the of the year, traveled to Houston to play the last-place Dynamo on Saturday night at BBVA Compass Stadium and were summarily thrashed.
It was a dreadful performance. Portland surrendered a hat-trick to a player in Houston's Mauro Manotas who entered the game with just a single career MLS goal. The final score would read 3-1, but it easily could have been worse. The Timbers needn't have shown up.
At this point, Portland's road woes should come as no surprise. As confounding as it is, this team has demonstrated at every turn this season that it can't win away from home. Now, with games in El Salvador and Colorado looming in the next week, the Timbers' 2016 fate is as uncertain as ever before.
This was, it must be said, an incredibly deflating defeat. It came against a Dynamo team that, while tough and compact under Wade Barrett, has been out of the playoff race for months. Barrett came into this match with just two home wins since he took the managerial reigns from Owen Coyle in early June.
This could have — should have — been the game in which the Timbers put their foot in the ground and made the turn on the road. Instead, Portland proceeded in a zombie-like state.
The Timbers started well enough, but faded quickly. Manotas got his first goal from the penalty spot just after the half hour mark, with the Timbers conceding the chance after a brutal Alvas Powell giveaway led to an open chance for Colin Warner that Liam Ridgewell flew towards and blocked away with both hands.
It was only the beginning of the defensive circus. Powell was a mess all night, while the Timbers' British center-backs were characteristically useless in the high heat and humidity. Before it was over, the Dynamo would set a new season-high in shots.
First though, Portland would draw level right at the beginning of the second half. Darren Mattocks, following up his match-winning display against Philadelphia with another impressive showing, smoked a shot off the post that Diego Valeri turned in to tie the game at one.
From there, however, the Timbers fell away — and eventually conceded the winner in criminal fashion as Boniek Garcia simply walked through the right side of the backline and cut the ball back for Manotas to slot past Gleeson.
It'd be the winner, though Manotas would bag his hat-trick late after being held onside by Steven Taylor and finishing a breakaway chance through Gleeson's legs. For Houston, this was a walk in the park.
Porter believes that this iteration of his team is better when it plays on the front foot, but away from home, these Timbers are either incapable or unwilling to get up the field. Portland's offense, in turn, has been anemic away from Providence Park. On Saturday, Warner, Alex, and Boniek Garcia ran the show.
Those three players are decent. Warner and Alex have been especially good of late, and Houston always manages to play the Timbers tough. But they're not better than Portland is. And yet, on Saturday, that didn't matter.
To make matters even worse for Porter, Mattocks would limp off holding his hamstring just minutes from the final whistle. It's a major concern. The Jamaican's health is paramount. Lucas Melano, for what it's worth, didn't even travel to Houston for this game.
For the time being, and especially if Mattocks' injury isn't serious, the Timbers will shake their heads, pick up the pieces, and move on. But at some point, this road paralysis is — unquestionably — going to cost this team its season.
Seattle, the only team left with a chance of catching Portland for sixth place in the West, has three home games left. The Timbers have just one. If Portland can't pick up road points, it's entirely possible — perhaps even probable — that the Sounders will catch them.
And even if they don't, it's an iron-clad guarantee that the Timbers are going to start the playoffs with a road Wild Card game if they can't win at either Colorado or Vancouver in October.
It's a bizarre state of affairs. Perhaps it's the fundamentally ridiculous nature of MLS at work, but Portland's transformation from the league's best road team to its worst road team defies all logic. Caleb Porter, a self-professed student of the psychological side of the game, clearly can't figure it out.
Porter continues to point to injuries and international absences as the main reason for the team's road struggles, and while it's fair to say that the Timbers were hamstrung in this game by the presence of Jermaine Taylor at left back in place of Vytas, that change alone wasn't at all decisive.
In the last five games of Porter's first three seasons in the league, the Timbers were 6-1-1 on the road — with wins coming at Real Salt Lake, Columbus, LA, Dallas, and San Jose.
Personnel-wise, this team isn't markedly different than those three teams. They certainly don't have less to play for. But it's not just that the Timbers aren't getting the breaks on the road. In this game, Portland played with zero urgency or commitment. They looked like a team that expected to lose.
2016 has been a strange, turbulent year from start to finish. But unless the Timbers can solve their road form in the next month, it's soon going to come to an eminently predictable end.