What Happened vs What to Watch For (Timbers nil – Dallas 5)

Where to start?

As promised I had some specific What to Watch For’s… I won’t throw them out with the bath water as there is much to learn from failure; the success of failure is turning failure into success.

From a tactical standpoint Gavin Wilkinson started his lads with a Diamond 4-4-2; a change in system based upon the running of a 4-2-3-1 in three previous matches. The intent here would be to play down the middle a bit more by running a system of play with a CAM and a CDM. Sitting out to start the game were both Jack Jewsbury and Kris Boyd.

For me, it was a welcomed change to see Eric Alexander given the opportunity to run the center; we didn’t see it though and the reason why was pretty clear; we played an extensive amount of long balls throughout this entire game and you can’t expect someone to control a midfield if you don’t push the ball through the center.

If you were patient enough to watch the whole the game it should be Capt. Obvious to all that we were dominated across the entire pitch; if there were any bright spots in the second half they are tainted given the score line.

And no; I don’t consider the early shot on goal by Mike Fucito as a bright spot; it came as a result of a long ball and I think only Brian Clough would call that a bright spot. I would call it a red-herring or, more likely, a negative, as it reinforced our lack of discipline in trying to play a more concentrated and controlled game from the center. Furthermore, the use of the long ball should help stretch the defense and provide more space in the middle; it didn’t. We played square balls or we pushed the ball back to square one… negative play reinforced by, further negative play; the playing long balls. Nothing positive about that at all.

On to my WTWF’s:

Left fullback versus right fullback: No concentrated approach by FC Dallas to penetrate one side versus the other side tonight… Dallas did not discriminate nor did they need to… Mike Chabala replaced Steve Smith this game and Smith didn’t even dress as a substitute. There was absolutely no difference in having Chabala in the left fullback position as opposed to Smith. While I think we defended better from Kimura’s side it really didn’t matter. When considering a path forward if you had to use a scale and weigh up which side you would fix first, to me, it’s the left; but both sides need work!

IMHO we should make EVERY player available to try out for left fullback on this team; everyone! And yes, for me that includes Diego Chara! This game starts and ends with the defense; if we don’t recognize that our defense is our single, most compelling reason for failure, this team would be doing a dis-service to its fans.

1-v-1’s: This normally telling statistic had no meaning whatsoever this game. And it didn’t matter if we had fresh legs or tired legs we just made too many bad or poorly timed passes and simply failed to track back when needed. For those who say we played some better ball possession movement in the second half, down 3-nil, bullocks, that was merely a result of FC Dallas dropping off and giving us space.

Commanding the Center: With all the long balls played today there was never ever really any opportunity to try and command the center. I think I tracked well over 30 long balls played this game with the majority of them occurring in the first half. Using a strategy like that usually means you want to bypass your midfield in moving forward and rely on the bounce of the ball (luck) to gain possession in the attacking third. So in conclusion I would offer up that we tactically ignored playing the ball down the center.

The most simple system in this game to play is the bucket 4-4-2; in going back to square one, perhaps that tactical approach is the right one for the remainder of this season? But if we do ‘go back to square one’ shouldn’t we shut down playing long balls and begin to learn the patience that is needed, and ball control that is needed, to play the game from the center? Is it better to have tried and failed then to not try at all?

I hope some of the local youth coaches have a DVR of this game; it will be a great teaching tool on how not to defend and how ‘not defending’ destroys your midfield play.

Back four: We were loose, staggered and out of position a significant portion of this game; tight and disciplined is the simple key to a flat-back four. It is very unclear to me at this time which of our center-backs runs this line. It is worth repeating and flogging this dead horse; fullbacks have ABSOLUTELY no value to a team if they can’t defend first! Running overlaps or pushing forward means nothing if you can’t first defend your part of the pitch.

I would offer these questions for anyone to consider…
1) Can Kosuke Kimura play left back?
2) Can Diego Chara play left back?
3) Did we have a stronger and more communicative back-four when Jack Jewsbury played there?
4) Were we tighter with the center-backs in the back four with David Horst in there?
5) Who do we have in our U-23 team that can play fullback?
6) Is there value in bringing back AJ Baptiste to get him playing time with the first team?
7) Who actually runs our back-four now?

One other observation; we started this game by playing deep; everyone was behind the midfield line which meant we were giving away space from the get-go. Pushing higher in the back pushes everyone back 10-15-20 yards; thereby forcing the opposing fullbacks to have to play further back. I did see us playing higher in the second half; but by then it really didn’t matter. For me this is an indicator that our two center-backs are cheating backwards and not maintaining an aggressive off-side trap position.

With my WTWF finished here are some telling quotes from Gavin Wilkinson.

Gavin Wilkinson:
General thoughts on the game:
“What is there to say? Humiliated. I think we quit tonight. Yes, the conditions are difficult, but we said no excuses. Merritt [Paulson] put me in the position to find out more about the players and to actually get to the bottom of a few things, and right now we’re trying to fix a few broken things and it showed tonight. We had a Dallas team that performed well and left out a player who was maybe causing problems, collected themselves, regrouped and all went in the same direction.”

“We had people quit tonight and that’s not me throwing players under the bus. It’s a reflection on the organization and Merritt won’t stand for it. The organization won’t stand for it and everybody is going to go in the same direction or we’re going to run into problems.”

“I don’t think tactics lost us the game. It’s not me isolating the players. I’m in it with them, so I’m very careful about what I say there. But we are embarrassed tonight. We found a way to lose the game, scored an own goal and then dug a deeper hole and didn’t track runners. You can’t tactically allow for players to not track runners. They’ve got a job to do. It’s up to us collectively to get the jobs done, but this is unacceptable, completely unacceptable.”

“I feel humiliated. I feel terrible for the organization. We talk about how great our fan support is. We had a group of fans that traveled tonight and I apologize to them and that’s me and the organization apologizing. It’s important that we readdress the situation.”

“As far as coaching, I coached as much as I can for right now. I’m in an interim position and it’s up to the players as well and myself to look at the best way to move forward. Right now I’d say playoffs are not a possibility based on where we’re at right now and the inconsistency of the results. Defending as a group we’ve changed nothing that we’ve done as a group in how we defend, yet we’re breaking down. Time and time again, we’re breaking down. We included a few new players with fresh legs with the potential to play extremely well and they failed.”

On the state of the team:
“I think we overachieved some in the first year. Players were a little bit complacent coming into their second year and they forgot what attributes it took for them to be successful. And you look at any player. We’ve got technically gifted players. We’ve got young players with a lot of potential, but if you can’t work through adversity and if you can’t challenge yourself and raise your standard and set new goals week in and week out, we’re going to struggle. So it’s an important time for them to reevaluate.”

Here are some of my final thoughts after reading and re-reading the thoughts offered by Gavin Wilkinson:

1) This game, although very technically complicated is quite easy really; if you hold a team scoreless you either get one point or three points. Defense first, defense second and attack third… especially on away games.

2) The philosophy in rebuilding the attitude and technical structure of this team should start from the back-four and move forward. Everyone on this team needs to be evaluated and offered up as possible fullbacks for this team… everyone is fair game.

3) We have had some great play by our center-backs in the past; what pairings work best from a team standpoint – a center-back who runs undisciplined in the back four really completely ruins any controlling play a ‘flat back four’ can have in off-side traps. Running with a Sweeper should be considered; it allows one player to run the defense and set up off-side traps; there simply is no consistency in watching our back-four run off-side traps…

4) And I non-violently and stubbornly stand by this observation – the defender who leaves his feet is a weak defender! Sliding tackles are not a sign of great defending; they are a sign of poor defending and you either get lucky and get the ball first or you aren’t and you give up a free kick or penalty. Again; there are some great examples across the entire length of this game for a youth coach to teach their players on how ‘not to defend’! If someone is faster than you lay off for bloody sake; if they are slower than you play a bit tighter; but never ever leave your feet.

Defenders are paid to defend; no amount of ball movement forward in an attacking position means anything to anybody if you can’t defend first!

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.

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