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LOGJAM in the Midfield Part II (As of July 3rd)

LOGJAM in the Portland Timbers Midfield (Part II) (Analysis is As Of: 3 July) it does not reflect additional observations and analysis made since that point in time. This is the second of a multiple part analysis about our midfield and who does what, where.

NOTE: This blog was originally developed in early July but due to technical issues I was unable to publish it at that time.

Since the technical issues have been resolved I am now publishing this Blog; there will be a LOGJAM in the Midfield (Part III) published in mid-August.

In the short time between July 3rd and now (July 20th) there have been improvements in players individual performance that “will not be reflected”. My update published in mid-August will address those improvements and changes in views/perceptions. I look forward and encourage comments and thoughts from others about these analyses.

Setting the stage: For me, I am a firm believer that defense comes first – you can always get one point with a clean sheet… with that there are some skills I rate more heavily and more critically than others for midfielders.
I would also offer that playing midfield is the toughest position to play in this game; it not only requires 100% participation in the game all the time it also requires 100% thinking as you participate in the game all the time.
My approach with this analyses is not to be critical and tear-down/call out but to point out percieved strengths and weaknesses I see as a fan of this team based upon my own personal experiences in coaching and providing feedback to young players learning this game. It is most certainly not ‘the’ view nor the ‘only’ view.

I have tried to organize it somewhat… Info below covers the Player, my percpetions of their percieved strengths, weaknesses, where I could see them offering greater value in various systems based upon those strengths and weaknesses. Others will no doubt have different views… that is the beauty of this game.

As you read through, and if time permits, please consider the opportunity of sharing your views as well…

Diego Chara:
Strengths:
Dribbling and turning the ball
Short ball passing
Pace
Keeping ball possession
Tackling and gaining ball possession
Movement on and off the ball
Getting behind the ball
Aggression
Closing Down
Creating space and using space

Weaknesses:
Switching play
Visual domination of space outside 20-30 yards
Running the midfield
Fouls

Perhaps he is best suited to play in any standard 4-4-2 system (non-diamond) formation. Diego Chara, IMHO, is the single greatest contributor in trying to bring success to this team; although I have jotted down a few weaknesses none of them prevent him from continuing to remain as the top central midfield defender of this team.

I do believe in order for Diego to get to first class in running a midfield he needs to do a better job of looking for opportunities to switch the ball out wide against the run of play. This weakness does not prevent him from doing all the things he already does.

I see Diego Chara playing in any system of play and I believe he will begin to assert, and should assert more leadership type efforts on this team as he gets older.

Bottom Line – Starting Central Midfielder

Eric Alexander:
Strengths:
Dribbling and turning the ball
Short ball passing
Pace
Switching the run of play
Crossing
Movement on and off the ball
Getting behind the ball
Vision
Closing Down
Creating space and using space

Weaknesses:
Concentration
Keeping ball possession
Tackling and gaining ball possession
Consistency of play

Perhaps Eric Alexander is one of the stronger all-around players we have when he concentrates and he could be used more in different roles than he is used now.

I believe he is best suited to play in a standard 4-4-2 system (non-diamond) formation. When consistent, he has aggression, shows no fear in getting stuck in and has the vision needed to move a ball out wide or provide direct through-balls to strikers. He offers his most for this team by playing in the center of the midfield (not a CAM, CDM midfield) but a midfield that is four wide; not the ‘diamond’ formation.

I believe he has the capacity and capability to be a strong central midfielder who can rotate out wide, drop back behind the ball or work off the target striker. For me he should start in the central midfield (non-diamond) position on this team. Areas for improvement (keeping and gaining ball possession) will come if he becomes more consistent, aggressive and gains maturity with increased responsibility of playing in the center of the pitch.

I can see Eric Alexander playing in a 3-5-2, 3-4-3, 4-3-2-1, 4-2-3-1 or 3-6-1 – he has, I believe, the mental capacity and capability to be a leader on this team provided his mental maturity matches his physical capabilities. I am not sure that his confidence and concentration is at the level it needs to be to help run the center of the pitch; building this up is the direct responsibility of the coaching staff.

Bottom Line: Starting Central Midfielder

Darlington Nagbe:

Strengths:
Dribbling and turning the ball
Short ball passing
Pace
Striking
Crosses
Movement on the ball
Creating space and using space
Finishing touches
Creativity

Weaknesses:
Switching play
Visual domination of space outside 20-30 yards
Running the midfield
Keeping ball possession
Tackling and gaining ball possession
Closing down
Getting behind the ball
Aggression

I believe he is best suited to play as a striker in any standard 2 striker formation. His weaknesses, at this time, do not translate well to someone who would play central midfield in any formation.

Darlington Nagbe is young, very young, and patience and experience are critical to his further development in becoming a more versatile player in any system; as his aggression and ball tackling/possession skills increase his versatility to play in any system in any position in the midfield or center forward will increase.

He is a starter and should play as many minutes as possible to improve his maturity and ball possession skills. If he continues to start in the center of the midfield then he must be quicker to eliminating his weaknesses on or around the ball in the defending half of the pitch.

Bottom Line: Starting Center Forward in a two striker formation

Kalif Alhassan:

Strengths:
Dribbling and turning the ball
Short ball passing
Pace
Delicate and finishing touches
Crosses and switching play
Movement on and off the ball
Creating space and using space
Vision
Gaining ball posssession
Aggression

Weaknesses:
Keeping ball possession
Closing down
Getting behind the ball
Running the midfield
Injury prone
Tackling
Power on the ball (Strength)

Kalif Alhassan is perhaps the most technically gifted/skilled player we have ‘on-the-ball’ and there remains a clear drop in ball movement/vision when he is not on the pitch.

He is a starter and should play in a less-defensive role with any formation at this time. I believe he is best suited to play an off-target center forward, winger or perhaps CAM in any system / formation; his skills would be best used playing off and then on the ball to take advantage of his delicate touches, vision, ball turning and crossing skills. He will need to improve considerably on the defensive side of the pitch in order to play a traditional winger in any formation.

I sense he has the capacity and capability to play in a 3-5-2, 4-3-2-1 or in the front middle of an attacking 4-2-3-1 or along the forward wing in a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3.

Bottom Line: Starting Center Forward (off – target) or Starting Winger or attacking midfielder; with analysis yet to be completed on Mwanga the starting center forward option may not provie viable.

Franck Songo’o:

Strengths:
Dribbling and turning the ball
Short ball passing
Pace
Finishing touches
Crosses
Movement on and off the ball
Creating space and using space
Vision and creativity
Power on the ball
Aggression
Switching play

Weaknesses:
Closing down
Getting behind the ball
Running the midfield
Keeping ball possession
Tackling and gaining ball possession

I believe Franck Songo’o he is best suited to play a winger in any formation that this team runs; I also believe Franck Songo’o will eventually develop the capacity and capability to play in the central midfield of any formation run. For now I sense he is best suited on the wing and must be encouraged to have a greater work rate on getting behind the ball defensively and becoming more aggressive in gaining/keeping ball possession.

Ideally, with Franck Songo’o being right footed he would play on the left for a overlapping formation; otherwise he could play either side and be effective as long as he tracks back to play defense.

Bottom Line: Starting Midfield Winger

Now here is where a surprise may come in; perhaps others would discuss Rodney Wallace or someone else next… not for me; I have Kris Boyd next.

Kris Boyd: While not playing midfielder, I have included Kris Boyd in this discussion because I have already suggested that the two strikers for this team could be Darlington Nagbe and Kalif Alhassan. So where does that leave Kris Boyd? In watching and tracking his movements here are what I would offer are his translatable strengths and weaknesses to a midfield role:

Strengths:
Dribbling and turning the ball
Short ball passing
Pace
Striking and Heading
Crosses
Movement on and off the ball
Creating space and using space
Vision
Keeping ball possession
Aggression
Closing down
Tackling
Power on the ball
Getting behind the ball
Switching play

Weaknesses:
Running the midfield
Shows frustration to easily (leadership issue)
Winning Aerial battles

I offer that Kris Boyd has many leadership qualities and could be an eventual Captain of this team. He has the technical skills, capability and capacity to play any position anywhere in the central forward midfield; but would offer that his best position is as a striker.

Bottom Line: Starting Striker or Starting Central Midfielder in a forward position.

Rodney Wallace:

Strengths:
Dribbling and turning the ball
Short ball passing
Pace
Athletic ability
Crosses
Movement on and off the ball
Creating space and using space

Weaknesses:
Closing down
Getting behind the ball
Running the midfield
Injury prone
Tackling and gaining ball possession
Power on the ball
Keeping ball possession
Vision

Rodney Wallace can be a starting player on this team but I rate him being 7th or 8th best out of the first 6 when considering what I believe are the more critical needs for the midfield (defense first).

I believe Rodney Wallace can play any winger position in any system; and a player of his caliber is a huge asset to this team.

Although Rodney Wallace has defensive skills he was moved from teh fullback position, IMHO, because he showed a tendency to lean towards being more offensive minded than defensive minded.

With increased maturity and his great athletic ability Rodney Wallace can get regular playing time for this team as either a fullback or winger in any system.

Bottom Line: First Substitute.

Jack Jewsbury: I don’t see Jack getting much more playing time in the midfield with him playing right back unless there is an injury or a regular in the central midfield is out for a game.

Strengths:
Dribbling and turning the ball
Short ball passing
Keeping ball possession
Closing down
Getting behind the ball

Weaknesses:
Pace
Running the midfield
Switching play
Deft touches

Jack, IMHO, does many things good or well but I would hesitate to offer that he has critical strengths that make him an overwhelming selection over another player apart from his time in the league. On the other hand with that amount of time in this league I would offer that his two weaknesses are greater when compared to others because he has had more time in the league. From his experience and his role as Captain of this team he should be much more suited to running the midfield than any other player. I don’t see it; perhaps others do?

I would offer that he is best suited as a defensive substitute as opposed to a starting midfielder but others may have a different view on that.

Bottom Line: Starting Fullback; substitute central midfielder

Sal Zizzo:

Strengths:
Direct dribbling with the ball
Direct running with the ball
Speed
Pace
Crossing
Short ball passing
Getting behind the ball

Weaknesses:
Lack of aggression in marshalling his ‘area’
Mulitple ways to turn the ball and change direction
Tackling and gaining possession
Keeping the ball
Switching play
Vision
Consistency
Touch

I offer that Sal Zizzo needs to do a lot more to put himself in a position where he can maximize his skills to improve this team. In working from my observations I believe he is best suited to play winger in any standrd system/formation. He is right pegged therefore playing the right side best suits his skills.

Until he improves his aggression, masters more deft turns/touches with the ball and increases the skills he has in keeping possession and tackling to gain possession I do not see Sal Zizzo as a starter in any system of play.

Bottom Line: Substitute winger

Lovel Palmer: I don’t have enough info for strengths and weaknesses that I have seen in game situations – perhaps he sees time tonight against San Jose?

Bottom Line: Not enough information to determine.

Steve Smith: Although Steve Smith is not listed as a midfielder I would offer that if this team were to run a 3-5-2 Steve Smith could probably slot in as a midfield winger. I sense Steve Smith is mature enough to know and understand what his role would be in that system.

Bottom Line: Starting Fullback; Potential Winger in a 3-5-2 type formation.

Daniel Mwanga: Still haven’t seen enough to get a good feel for Danny Mwanga.

Bottom Line: Don’t know.

Mike Fucito: I like the energy that Mike brings but if Nagbe and KAH are healthy and considered first as strikers, for me, then I believe Fucito would be a great substitute or starter if either was injured. As things go today he will probably get more time as a striker.

Bottom Line: Striker; substitute.

In closing; this original blog was developed in early July and for now may provide some information that is outdated. I have, however, needed to post this to ensure there I could offer up some comparisons between then and my future “now”.

My thanks in advance for your patience.

My next LOGJAM in the Midfield update (Part III) will occur sometime in the middle of August. Let’s hope between the 3rd of July and then that some of the weaknesses I have offered up back then will no longer be present or perhaps may have been converted into strengths.

You can follow me on twitter at: https://twitter.com/ChrisGluckPTFC

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 PossessionwithPurpose.com, PTFC Collective and Prost Amerika.