PORTLAND — This might not seem to be the best time for the Portland Timbers to be relaxing.
But as the Timbers seek to rediscover their winning touch at Providence Park, the focus includes breathing easier.
“When things go wrong, your tendencies are to play safe — not be creative and go for broke,” Timbers captain Will Johnson said. “When you’re in one of the top spots you’re kind of playing with house money. You just continue to win and you’re on a roll. When you’re below the (playoff) line the pressure’s more. Everything’s magnified. You play a little tighter. So we’re trying to get rid of that.”
Timbers coach Caleb Porter on Friday said his team has played better at home than one home win might indicate.
“I think it’s important to remind ourselves that we still have been quite dominant at home. We’ve not been a bad team at home,” Porter said.
Colorado is fourth in the West largely because of a consistent defense that has allowed 22 goals and posted eighth shutouts — though 14 of the goals allowed have come in Rapids’ road matches.
“The biggest thing is they’ve got a little confidence. That’s huge in this league,” Porter said.
“I think confidence is key and lack of confidence hurts you for sure. The nice thing for us is that, although we’ve not gotten results as much as we would’ve liked, we’ve never really lost our spirit or our confidence,” Porter said.
As captain, Johnson said he’s been reminding teammates of their successes as one way to build belief in the midst of a challenging season.
“It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve still got a good group of players and we still believe in ourselves,” Johnson said.
Shaking off the pressure that comes from unrealized expectations and an uphill climb to a playoff spot doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind. While Porter would like his team to play with more confidence and expression, the Timbers must find the right balance between attacking and defending. Falling behind too often is part of the reason Portland won only once in its first 10 home games.
Johnson said the Timbers must approach their search for the first goal in home games “differently than we have done, that’s for sure.
“It’s a tough question,” Johnson added. “You want to hit the guy in the face but you don’t want to get hit in the face yourself, so how do you do that?”
The answer might hold the fate of Portland’s postseason chances.
“We need to get back to winning dominance at home, which is what we had last year,” Porter said. “The big key is (not) giving up early goals. When you give up an early goal at home, it allows a team to sit back and park the bus and bunker in (defensively).”