To try and answer that here’s some team defending characteristics of the Montreal Impact and how effective they are in defending at home:
So how about Portland, as a team, in attack on the road?
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But in considering a match lasts a full 90 + minutes was it really two different halves or did a purposeful first half strategy, of fast and furious activity, play a key role in a (pre-prepared) second half strategy on a more patient approach to possession with purpose in penetration?
I’m not sure I can muster the half-time statistics to support either view but lets consider for a moment just how different the two halves were; in both what the eye probably saw and what Caleb Porter indicated to a national TV audience after the game.
To be specific Caleb offered after the game that his halftime talk centered on regaining composure and not offering up such a frantic and fast paced attack in the second half.
While what Caleb offered is true is it really only half-true?
In other words was they are prepared “intent” in the first half to work extra hard in order to burn the opponents energy, as much as possible, knowing that with a highly competent bench Caleb could insert fresh, talented (top quality) players (late on) in order to take advantage of those tired legs?
Having witnessed and watched Caleb work his efforts these last two years it wouldn’t surprise me.
And even if it wasn’t intended the ‘threat’ of considering that tactical approach makes this team even harder to to play against as the defense gets better.
However viewed the results ended up seeing the Timbers score two superb goals in the run of play!
And those two goals came within the space of five minutes; in and around the classic time that some sports scientists reckon the tired leg syndrome kicks in… the 65-75 minute mark of a game.
So in review, and their history of scoring goals late in the game, it doesn’t come as a surprise to me on how this game finished and how the tenor of the game took an apparent, major shift, at the 45 minute mark…
To be honest though, I’m not an expert in sports science but I will make it a point to track the Timbers PWP performance indicators by each half now…. just to make sure I have the data to compare when a game like this takes shape again.
With that said was there anything different, team performance wise, in how they performed in victory versus how how they’ve performed when not winning?
In short; this game was only the third game where Portland exceeded the 500 pass attempts marker; when exceeding 500 passes the team has taken 5 out of 9 possible points.
For only the fourth time the Timbers exceeded 60% of the possession in a game; this one ended up at 61.89% possession.
In their other three games, exceeding 60% possession, the Timbers have taken 2 points – the game against Chicago with the PK against, the game against FC Dallas and the 2nd of two back-to-back games against Sporting KC.
All told the Timbers level of penetration (23.75% of their overall possession) matched that of the game they won against DC United.
What’s interesting is that the further away from 24% (going up) – the less likely the Timbers are in winning – what that means is there needs to be a level of possession, without penetration, for the Timbers to maximize opportunities in winning.
That may go against the grain for many – but that level of possession that is not penetration is possession that drives towards the intent to possess and control (think defense first)…
Shots Taken versus Penetration:
To date they really hasn’t been a pattern in this area for either wins, draws, or losses – the defensive pattern I spoke to in the pre-match article probably has more relevance than this attacking pattern of penetration.
Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken:
Three times this year the Timbers have seen at least 40% of their shots taken end up as shots on goal; one of those was a draw against LA Galaxy and the other was that loss against Vancouver – (don’t forget the two early PK’s called against Portland).
For this game the Timbers put a full 50% of their shots taken on goal – pretty accurate and a good indicator that space was being created and patience was being leveraged to generate quality shots; it’s always a good indicator when the team can generate a good margin of shots taken on goal.
The last three games have been the best attacking games for Portland this year – all three games saw their Attacking PWP Index exceeding 2.6372.
That means the combined percentages of possession, passing accuracy, penetration, creation and generation of goal scoring opportunities have been way above average compared to other teams in MLS.
The downside, in the past, has been the defending side of the pitch…
We all saw the game; the greatest danger to the Timbers was when Deshorn Brown was on the pitch; when he got injured the attack for Colorado changed. No pity here… unlucky for Colorado – good for Portland!
Liam Ridgewell will need more playing time on field turf to better anticipate the bounce and the need to slightly tweak how he delivers a long (switching pass) out of the back.
Otherwise he looked good in his first game and he clearly took physical and verbal command of the back-four in the first couple of minutes – you would expect that command and control to be present with every center-back…
Perhaps I’ve missed it in the past but the last time I recall seeing a center-back display that phyiscal and verbal commanding presence was the last time I saw Mikael Silvestre play in Portland
If you missed that tidbit here’s a link to the video the Timbers offered up earlier this week – from my vantage point I non-violently agree 100% with what Caleb offers — it is indeed — a must win.
And it’s no wonder given the less the glamorous record at home – all told the Timbers have taken less than 50% of their points at home (10 here and 11 on the road).
And in case you’ve been asleep or completely disengaged from Timbers football the primary reason for the lack of points has been down to defensive mental mistakes.
Hard not to recall that late PK awarded against Chicago or the two PK’s awarded to Columbus to kick off the season. Let alone the complete meltdown against Seattle or the two PK’s against Vancouver.
No team has conceded more PK’s, per game this year, than Portland (.47).
Stunning really when you think about it – and the bottom line on that is a reflection on how poorly the positional play has been as the opponent has penetrated the defending Final Third and 18 yard box.
No greater example of that than the last game where Will Johnson, usually the most tuned in player, completely fell asleep and played Dempsey on-side…
Some may offer that is spilt milk – well it is, but it’s a pattern of spillage on a far to regular basis.
Given that – the critical statistic I’ll be tracking tonight is how well and how often the newly regenerated Timbers back-four can remain organized as they look to control stray penetration by using the off-side trap.
Key area to watch should be roughly 10-20 yards atop the 18 yard box; will the Timbers keep a line when not in possession?
And how quickly will the Fullbacks get back, or the central midfielders get back when possession is lost – the key will be numbers goal side of the ball…
I don’t offer this focus lightly…
The Timbers are 5th worst in MLS in trapping their opponents off-side and they are (more worse) at home than they are on the road – (1.27 off-side calls per game at home compared to 1.67 on the road).
Perhaps that was one of the things Donovan Ricketts had in the back of his mind when he said the team is not performing well at home?
I’ve been away for the week and I understand Liam Ridgewell is most likely to start alongside Norberto Paparatto.
That’s two guys who have yet to play together in a competitive match – that might be a struggle.
But if both are professional, tuned-in, switched on, and take heed of advice from Ricketts hopefully the center will hold.
On either side should be Michael Harrington and Jorge Villafana.
I’d expect to see at least one stay back a bit if the other ventures forward; especially if the score-line is nil-nil.
Firepower has never been that much of an issue with Portland – they should score goals and the most likely avenue is away from Drew Moor (if healthy?).
If Fenando Adi starts up top I think he will need a counter-foil (false #10) for support (be it Rodney Wallace, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri or Gaston Fernandez). Adi can work on his own but I think having someone up near (with him) takes advantage of the space he doesn’t occupy, his deft touch, and very good vision…
Both Colorado and Portland might start this game in wide-open mode.
Both are known for yielding penetration into their own defending Final Third in order to maximize opportunities from counter-attacking.
The volume of opponent passes in the defending third for both teams reflect that; both teams have opponents who average more than 100 passes in their own defending Final Third.
In addition, the Goals Against for Colorado, on the road, are quite high (1.56 per game) and the Goals Against for Portland, at home, are also quite high (1.82 per game).
All told — it’s likely it’s a high-scoring affair.
In considering the Possession with Purpose Indices…
Colorado sit on 2.35 and Portland 2.40; in Defending Colorado are 2.24 and Portland are 2.43; the edge in attack goes to Portland and the edge in defending goes to Colorado.
All told Colorado is 4th best in MLS in Composite PWP – Seattle is 3rd, LA is 2nd, and Sporting KC is 1st.
In case you missed it Germany was tops in CPWP in the World Cup, Argentina was 2nd, France 3rd, Colombia 4th and Holland 5th…
A devastating result last night that really highlights all that has been pear-shaped for Portland this year… untimely defensive errors be them fouls in the Defending Final Third or simply poor man-marking.
And although this wasn’t an MLS game there is much that can be gleaned from the consistency of team play in MLS this year that can provide examples on just how badly the Timbers have been in defense.
But before getting there a quick reminder that between this year and last year there has been a coaching change in this squad… Amos Magee is gone and Cameron Knowles responsibilities were increased.
Others closer to the organization will know which Assistant Coach had more or less influence in how the defensive scheme works – for me it’s merely a point to make that a change in some form of leadership has occurred.
Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): The Timbers team performance statistics in Defending Possession with Purpose add up to being the 10th worst in all of MLS so far this year; most know the Timbers were the best in Defending PWP team performance last year.
If you think that doesn’t matter consider this; the DPWP for Argentina and Germany, in the World Cup this year, was #1 and #2 for all 32 teams in that competition – defense wins!
But what about some other defensive statistics most consider as reasonable ways to probe overall effectiveness in stopping the opponent from scoring goals?
Penetration – the volume of passes by their opponents sees the Timbers as yielding the 7th highest average passes attempted by their opponents in the Defending Final Third (110.72). Volume doesn’t necessarily translate to quality – but at some point quantity can matter…
Crossing – the percentage of successful crosses by their opponents see the Timbers as yielding the 8th worst percentage (26.46%). Any cross is a dangerous ball in the box…
PK Conceded – the Timbers are worst in MLS in conceding Penalty Kicks; .5 PK’s conceded per game. Like fouls in the defending third – conceding a PK usually means very poor defensive positioning in your own 18 yard box.
Opponent Caught Offside – the Timbers are 5th worst in catching their opponents offside this year (1.39 per game). Most consider the more times an opponent is caught off-sides the more highly organized the back-four are in defense.
Corners conceded – the Timbers are 2nd worst in conceding corners this year (6.06) per game. Sometimes this ins’t a bad thing – but it’s never really a good thing to allow the opponent to load up your 18 yard box in order to score a goal. This doesn’t even address set-pieces coming as a result of throw-ins…
Defensive Clearances – the Timbers are tied for 2nd most Defensive Clearances per game this year (26.50) – usually a very good indicator on the ‘volume of dangerous balls the opponent puts into the box” – the more clearances the more dangerous balls delivered into the box that can’t be controlled and moved out with patience.
Fouls in the Defending Final Third – the Timbers are worst in MLS this year in committing fouls in their own Defending Final Third – (3.89) per game. More fouls in this area usually translates to more defending players being caught out of position – or less discipline; neither of them good.
This may not be something some folks want to read – but it is what it is…
The defensive woes of Portland, this year, are not isolated – they are systematic and most probably not solved with the addition of one more central defender.
Changes in overall defensive posture, throughout the entire Defending Final Third, need to be addressed.
Usually when systemic issues arise it not only means a change in player personnel it also might mean a change in coaching staff.
I find it highly unlikely that the Timbers will find issue with Caleb Porter; he’s a superb Head Coach who knows and understands the game – but I wouldn’t be surprised if another internal coaching change might be on the horizon…
Especially when you consider that more teams, this year, are getting better in attack…
Adding Liam Ridgewell should help, but for me, it isn’t all down to weaknesses in the Center-Back position.
A heavy task considering how depleted the Center-back ranks are – and – with no hesitation – how ineffective the defending, and – at times – the goal keeping, has been this year.
Who lines up today in the back is unclear to me, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jack Jewsbury settle in as a central defender.
His speed isn’t top notch any more but his cerebral play remains pretty sharp.
And somehow, today, I’m not seeing speed being the factor as much as the mental awareness needed on tracking where and how Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, and others line up and play.
As for the fullbacks; it’s likely Harrington and Villafana get the call on the right and left side respectively. If O’Rourke and McKenzie start then I’d expect to see Taylor Peay and Jack Jewsbury on the subs bench.
However the back four line-up the midfielders will need to play their role in clogging the area atop the 18 yard box and as the LA Galaxy penetrate the Timbers defending final third.
Could Caleb throw Taylor Peay into the deep end to see how he does? If the score-line gets pair shaped I’d expect he might…
In moving on to the Timbers attack and the other side of the pitch…
In attack the Timbers have been incredibly dangerous.
Outside of Seattle (2.06) and Vancouver (1.67); the Timbers are third best in average goals scored per game; 1.65… hmmm bit of a Cascadia Cup flavor to that list…
And in looking at their comprehensive “attacking” team performance indicators (possession with purpose) they are second best in MLS; second only to that city up north.
I expect a free flowing game with plenty of action on both sides of the pitch – if a team is going to try and slow the game it is likely to be Portland.
That may run counter to what some others believe, but the greater the chances the Timbers have of being out of position, the more likely the LA Galaxy are to score…
In considering who starts and who doesn’t… Caleb has plenty of options – and one, in particular, we’ve not yet seen… starting a game with Gaston Fernandez and Fenando Adi playing up top.
A set up like that might see Diego Valeri playing the attacking central midfield role, with Nagbe on the right and Wallace on the left; leaving Will Johnson a likely candidate to run the back end of the midfield…
However viewed, and however the team starts, the “goals against rot” needs to stop…
In this game – in this venue – defense must come first. And even a draw here is a GREAT result given how leaky the back-four have been.
Why? Well Sporting KC have always been pretty good when it comes to defending – last year they were tops in my Defending Possession with Purpose and this year they are ranked 2nd, behind LA Galaxy (the next Timbers opponent).
As for the Timbers, last year they were ranked 2nd behind Sporting, but this year they are ranked 10th.
I’d imagine the expectations, by some, for Liam Ridgewell to come in and solve all the back-four issues are pretty high.
For me, I’m not convinced – I think the improvement in defending needs to start with the midfield and how the new combination at fullback goes with Harrington on the right side and Villafana on the left side.
All this plus a more switched on Donovan Ricketts – I’m not sure why this year but sometimes I’m seeing stellar play and then sometimes some pretty questionable moves that are a bit nerve wracking – perhaps others have a different view?
In moving on… we all know the scoreline for this game so I decided to check out some home and away stats on the Timbers opponents when they win, lose or draw.
For what it is worth, in the one home game, when the Timbers won, their opponent (DC United ) had the majority of their unsuccessful passes outside the Timbers defending third (76%).
In all games where the Timbers have drawn the opponent has averaged 63% of their unsuccessful passes outside the Timbers defending third.
In games they’ve lost (SKC and VWFC) the opponent has averaged 54% of their unsuccessful passes outside the final third.
In other words, the more unsuccessful passes, outside the defending third of the Timbers, by the opponent, the more likely the Timbers are to win or draw.
Put this way (at home) the higher the Timbers press and close down the opponent outside their own defending third the more likely they are to win.
It’s just the opposite on the road…
When traveling, (and winning) Timbers opponents average 52% of their unsuccessful passes outside the Timbers defending third 52%.
When getting a draw on the road (Houston) the Dynamo average unsuccessful passes outside the Timbers final third was 65% and the opponent average unsuccessful passes outside the Timbers defending final third is 60%.
In other words the more unsuccessful the opponent is in completing passes ‘within the Timbers defending final third’ the more likely the Timbers are to win on the road.
Put this way (in away games) the lower the Timbers press and close down the opponent outside their own defending third the more likely they are to win.
This is not me manipulating the data – it’s strictly what the averages indicate…
If, indeed, the Timbers outcomes are related to these data outputs then I’d venture to offer that in order for the Timbers to win in LA this next week they will cede possession and look for a quick counter.
Anyhow – on to what really matters; it’s an MLS Regular Season game after a short break from the World Cup; if you’re like me I just don’t grow tired of watching proper football.
Caleb Porter had his mind pretty much made up, about who was starting tonight, earlier this week; the flexibility of a deep squad and a concern in looking to win both games.
Some guys are quicker at recovering than others; we saw that with the USMNT game versus Germany – Cameron was rested that game and Bedoya only came on at the 60′ mark.
In terms of what to watch for…
I don’t imagine that the style of game will be the same here at home; figure Portland will play on their front foot and Sporting will take the approach that the Timbers took – yield penetration and some possession but look to score on counter-attack.
Like last game, the biggest indicator for this outcome will be the defense for both teams; for me it’s unclear if Ridgewell will have his Visa stamped yet and it’s unclear if Paparatto is healthy – according to Stumptownfooty he was not at training on Thursday.
I would venture we will probably see Pa Madou Kah and Danny O’Rourke starting as centerbacks with Villafana and maybe Harrington on the right side?
In attack Caleb has a whole bunch of options and tonight might be the first night we see Rodney Wallace get a start with Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe and Fenando Adi.
If we see others Caleb has shown the tendency to run his wingers inverted (left footers on the right and right footers on the left); I like that approach as it gives you two types of crosses you can offer from the wings provided the fullbacks aren’t inverted too…
In all likelihood it’s Diego Chara and Will Johnson returning to pair up in the middle.
A sound and solid team that has learned to play simple and can sustain differing penetration styles.
Should be exciting and hope to see a jam-packed stadium; Liam Ridgewell saw the support offered up for the US Open Cup but has yet to feel the real energy from a jam-packed stadium.
It’ll probably be pretty wide open on the Timbers side so the back-four will need to be tight… both in communication and in support for each other.
As noted in my pre-match analysis - this game would come down to how well Sporting KC defended.
And as noted by Caleb in the post-match quotes the Timbers went in there with the intent to absorb and defend – yield but don’t break… and that’s exactly what they did.
Sporting had the run of play and Portland scored the most goals – wicked good and well done!
I’m not sure about you but I continue to be pleasantly surprised by Taylor Peay; in speaking with his previous Head Coach in college (U-Dub – Jamie Clark) here’s what he had to say to me after Taylor made his debut in the previous match against Orlando U-23′s:
He’s a tweener of a CDF and RB. I know he’s played a lot of RB with the Timbers, but not sure that after a few years he will not end up as a CDF. Graceful stride, decent feet and tough on the tackle. Can be a bit rash in wide one v one defending situation and sometimes forces entry passes, but all things that will continue to get better and better.
He wants it and is willing to work for it so I think he will come good. He can get up and down the wing and with good passers which the Timbers have he can do a lot of his runs/attacking without the ball which will suit him.
Taylor again impressed last night – and the notable piece here for me is the exclusion of Alvas Powell in the starting 11 as well as his non-selection for the final 18. I wonder if he will rotate into the final 18 this Friday night?
If not, does this signal a move that Portland are beginning to move on from Powell and his stay may not be last much longer?
For me, there are many knowledge holes in the ‘loan’ process and how that future works remains a mystery – can a player on loan be traded or be waived? Does he take up an international slot while on loan? Perhaps others can offer comments that may answer those questions?
Anyhow – back to the game…
This time around I didn’t see Portland operating a single pivot like I thought they offered with Jack Jewsbury against Orlando – and as Caleb noted they looked to ‘control the game without the ball’… so a single pivot would not have been appropriate.
Also noted in the second half; I missed the first half – we saw Zakuani and Alhassan playing inverted winger roles (left footers on the right side and right footers on the left side). My thanks to Travis Oman (@toman1982) for answering my question that they didn’t start the first half that way.
This, for me, continues to be a trend I personally like to see – the more variation in ways to penetrate the box the better – and with Zakuani on his strong foot he went left (from the right side) dribbled past some guys and ended up seeing Collin bring him down for a PK… that tactical move paid big dividends!
One final observation – I noticed that Adi came on yesterday for Fernandez as opposed to Urruti – that is a slight change for Caleb as well – it may not translate back into regular season matches but, again, a slightly different mix of players that reveals additional flexibility; the greater the flexibility the more dangerous this team becomes.
And yes, I suppose you could view that as Caleb simply looking to save the legs of Gaston for Friday but with the video analysis these guys do – you can bet notes will be taken…
The Timbers Centerbacks continue to be a mystery – many opportunities for Sporting KC that went wanting in the end – with a couple of days to prepare and adjust hopefully that wall of defenders can continue to get better.
For now the stage is set for the next round of the US Open Cup!
There was a chance a couple of years ago for this match and Spencer blew it – Caleb got this team to this point and I expect a wicked, first class, top-flight match.
Two games remain between that head to head contest – short rest before this one on Friday – - and a huge away match against a pretty pissed off (and pissed on) LA Galaxy team…
If the World Cup wasn’t enough – wow - this next run of three games is really – really huge for Portland!
Next up – My pre-match for the game on Friday – after first making sure to follow up with another of my PWP articles on the World Cup – in case you missed my last one here’s a link to that article and my regular home page for all Major League Soccer analysis.
If you’ve listened to Caleb Porter this last week you know that the starting line-ups for these back to back games won’t be the same.
That said the intent is clearly to win, which means some regular starters are likely to get the head nod for both games. How about Kansas City?
In the lead up for Sporting here’s what Peter Vermes and Sal Zizzo had to offer from Kansas City earlier this week.
All told Vermes played the ‘injury card’ and the ‘players away for the World Cup card’; if I didn’t know better I’d consider this was his way to plant the seeds that his own expectations, going in, aren’t that high and that he expects his lads will have to battle hard to defend their home turf.
The challenge for Sporting, like Portland, most probably rests with their defense; Collin has a hamstring injury, Besler is out for the World Cup, and both Myers and Opara are out for the season.
In looking at penetration, into their defending third, Sporting KC Opponents average 74 passes per game this year. That is the lowest average for opponent penetration in MLS this year.
Figure what penetration the Timbers do get will have to have purpose…
For Portland, the defensive numbers aren’t quite as good. The Timbers Opponents average 110 passes, per game this year, within the defending third. That is 7th worst so far this year.
Figure Sporting is likely to gain quite a bit of penetration. With more penetration it is likely they will offer up more shots.
The 3-2 win in Kansas City last year is history and really doesn’t mean anything other than to reinforce what the Timbers already know from this year – they can and do win on the road.
What to watch for may be wing penetration by both teams to try and open up the middle for late runs or shots atop/within the 18 yard box.
The tighter the fullbacks play the quicker the switches need to be in order to gain space – should be a fast paced game with good end-to-end action.
I guess the game is offered on web-stream tonight; I won’t offer a play by play through tweeter but will include my thoughts as I see the game unfolding.
The Capt. Obvious here is the Timbers move on to the next round – opponent to be determined; for a recap suggest you read and watch the video in this article…
If you want other US Open Cup match recaps plus what Dan Itel offered up last night go here…
For me – here’s my takeaways after watching the match last night…
Rodney Wallace got his first look-in last night at Providence Park after returning from surgery; and to be honest he looked pretty good.
Kalif Alhassan and Michael Nanchoff – while some may disagree with this, last night was a very good night for Michael Nanchoff and here’s why…
In closing some final thoughts on the back-four and some options that may appear to be unfolding…
Jack was back in the midfield last night and for all intents and purposes it looked to me as if Caleb was running a single pivot in lieu of the double pivot. Might that initial dip into the fresh waters of a single pivot be an indicator? I’m not sure but consider this…