Match Analysis = What Happened vs What to Watch For (Timbers nil – Chivas 1)

Lots of thoughts on my mind about this game but in an effort to stick with my What Happened vs my WTWF I will start there.

1-v-1’s. When considering all the individual battles in ball possession during this game I had the edge going to PTFC by quite a few and most would probably agree that we had a better run of play in the second half than the first.

If you saw the game you’ll know which 1-v-1 we lost and where… no need to point that out. But what I would offer is that I am beginning to sense a trend in our opponents run of play. I would offer that over the course of the last 7 to 8 games the majority of our defending has occurred down our left wing. As this season continues to move on there needs to be a better answer to this continued pounding down our left wing. My WTWF against Dallas will be to log the number of penetrations down our left side as opposed to our right side.

As a separate observation the pounding down our left wing has not just been short balls or through-balls from an opposing midfielder; in this game particularly, we were harried by long balls going in that direction as well.

Quote from Gavin Wilkinson after the game in answer to this question:
Thoughts on the game:
“I think in the first half we lacked a little bit of energy, we lacked imagination, we lacked creativity – our ball speed was a little bit poor and individual areas cost us the goal. I think our shape was by and large a lot better and going into the second half we picked up the tempo a little bit and we started to press a lot higher.”

For me, what Gavin doesn’t say, is that he changed things up in the second half and moved Darlington Nagbe out wide left, moved Kalif Alhassan into the center a bit more and moved Eric Alexander out right. With this change a number of things occurred:

1) With this tactical move it also appeared that Jack Jewsbury and Diego Chara went to a more ‘front-to-back’ central midfield play as opposed to the bucket (side-to-side play) they were running in the first half.

2) With this tactical move we also saw Alexander and KAH come into the game more as they rolled and rotated a bit better in support of each other on the right; this movement in turn brought Nagbe into play more on the left and even provided him a goal scoring opportunity in the second half.

3) With this tactical move it actually brought more triangulation play across the entire midfield area.

4) With this tactical move it actually freed up some space for Darlington Nagbe to work in because the Chivas (Smith) was always trying to get forward; it did not, however, decrease the number of crosses coming in from our left.

5) With this tactical move we actually ended up doubling the number of crosses from both sides in the second half compared to the first half. Increased crosses lead to increased goal scoring opportunities. And although we had only a few shots on target we did have a marked increase in 1/2 chances; 6 crosses counted in the first half and 15 crosses counted in the second half (that I saw).

6) With this tactical move and the return of Franck Songo’o, after his knee injury, the pace in the center and attacking third picked up even more. It was good to see Franck back on the pitch.

7) As Kalif Alhassan became more involved in central midfield play this did provide Gavin an opportunity to sub a tired Eric Alexander for Sal Zizzo; a 100% energetic Zizzo is a worthy substitution for a tired Eric Alexander and the run of play down the right did not suffer for it.

Moving on to some other thoughts and observations:

Set Pieces: We did not have many set-pieces (free kicks) in danger areas of the attacking third today but we did have increased opportunities in the second half with corner kicks. Overall we could have done a lot better providing dangerous balls into the box on our free kicks and corners but for some reason today (for what it is worth) we delivered more out-swinging free kicks and corners than in-swinging ones; the trend over the last 4-5 games has been to play in-swingers more often.

Overall midfield control and possession: In addition to the above comments and thoughts about the tactical change made in the second half I would offer up for the wolves that:

1) This is the third straight game where we have run a dysfunctional 4-2-3-1 from within the central midfield area in the first half. And with the substitution of Kalif Alhassan in the second half this is the third game on the trot where we have moved out of that 4-5-1 derivative and settled back into a box-to-box (front to back) 4-4-2. Only this time (77 minutes into the game) three of our very talented attacking players were now on the bench.

2) We continue to try and play Kris Boyd as a “lone” target striker and in the first half his frustration with the run of play was clear. Given the lack of ground through balls we actually saw Kris Boyd drift back into a central commanding midfield role to get things going a bit. As I have mentioned before in my LOGJAM in the Midfield Part II, Kris Boyd has many more strengths and skills to offer this team outside of playing a non-starter “target striker”. If this team does ever consider rotating back to a Diamond 4-4-2 then for me the CAM in this formation would most certainly be Kris Boyd.

3) Futty Danso and Hanyer Mosquera work as a better partnership than Hanyer Mosquera and David Horst; this is not a diss on David Horst; he, IMHO, is a great 18 yard box CB but if we continue to see Steve Smith push forward as much as he does we need someone with more pace on that left side; Futty made up for some gaps we probably shouldn’t have had.

4) Fullback overlapping continues to be a weapon we use and I’m not sure if that presents us with greater strengths or weaknesses; Kosuke Kimura seems to have the ability to recapture lost ground better and quicker than Steve Smith; if we ever decide to give Steve Smith a rest on the left I do believe we could move Kosuke Kimura to the left and bring Jack Jewsbury back to the right fullback with just as much success as running Chabala out on the left. By doing this we also free up that midfield slot for one of our more talented younger players.

5) I’m not sure when a decision will be made to start running the younger guys out there from the opening kick-off but the central midfield of two ‘holders’ is, IMHO, not working. Alexander and Jewsbury were more effective than Chara and Jewsbury so I wonder how effective a Chara and Alexander center might be than a Jewsbury and Alexander center. I am ever hopeful we see Eric Alexander and Diego Chara in the central midfield sooner rather than later. I just really have a hard time not understanding why we don’t see all five of our young guys out there with Kris Boyd. Jack has skills but with a youth movement Jack better serves this team as a late game substitute (60-70 minute mark) so we can give these younger guys more playing time together.

Another quote from Gavin Wilkinson after the game:
On what Portland did well and what the team must improve on:
“I think our defending one-on-one. I think in the middle of the park we did a decent job and we got isolated out wide and we need to do a better job of dictating play, even in our defensive third.”

For me:
1) I am not sure what the solution is other than to be really disciplined and not leave the feet with a poorly timed tackle. The first sign of a weakness in any defensive position is when a defender has to leave his feet to try and tackle; there can really be no other analysis to that other than the player was flat out – out of position to begin with.

2) The primary role of a defender is to defend; I just don’t see a sustainable and tenable run of play from either of our wingers if we don’t get better at moving the ball forward in the center; if we continue to rely on overlapping we will continue to generate, IMHO, more weaknesses than strengths. Goals against versus Goals for is probably a good indicator of that.

3) I would offer we ‘dictate play’ by commanding the midfield with a midfield general, again this game we did not have what I would call a “Capt Obvious” midfield general.

Final thoughts:

1) I remain non-violently stubborn that I want to see Darlington Nagbe on the pitch but not in the center of either the Diamond 4-4-2 or the 4-2-3-1. His skills, IMHO, belong on the wings where he might have space as a counter-attacker against an aggressive opposing winger or up front in a two striker formation.

2) I remain non-violently stubborn that a standard box-to-box 4-4-2 with the right players on the pitch can be our most aggressive attacking formation because 1) we do not have a traditional target striker, 2) we have defensive weaknesses that outweigh fullback strengths from running overlaps in the attacking third and, 3) our central midfield works better playing front to back as opposed to (bucket / side-to-side).

3) I saw absolutely no ‘ball-watching today’… we may have been out of position or over-committed but no-one ball-watched.

4) Perhaps we see a change in formation and a ‘second half tactical strategy’ to start the first half in our game against FC Dallas this weekend?

5) Can someone pass on any info about what we have in our U-23 squad for fullbacks or ‘big target strikers’ who like playing with their back to the goal? I have heard good things about Dike, he is big and strong, but can he jump like that guy Mattocks from Vancouver?

6) Fun Fact: Have you ever heard this phrase before?

“Back to square one” = If not – that phrase gets its origin from how radio broadcasters would help listeners follow the movement of the ball in the game of soccer(football). If the radio announcer said the ball was back at square one it meant the ball was moving back to the goalie. So if all else fails send the ball back to square one; in those days the keeper could use his hands on a back-pass.

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Chris Gluck

Chris Gluck

I have been covering the Portland Timbers and Major League Soccer, as a community blogger/analyst for the Columbian Newspaper, since June, 2012. Since then my involvement in soccer analysis has expanded to include participating in the Regional Emmy Award Winning Soccer City PDX TV Show (Comcast Sports Northwest). My unique analytical approach has been published in Europe and presented at the World Conference on Science and Soccer 2014. I also appear regularly as a co-host on Rose City Soccer Show and the Yellowcarded Podcast. You can find my work on, PTFC Collective and Prost Amerika.

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