Match Analysis (Friendly) Timbers vs Aston Villa

Before you begin to read this get a cup o’ tea and a biscuit; I’ve got quite a bit to offer for this friendly — or was it a friendly?

For the scoreline yes but if you recall a previous quote from Gavin Wilkinson this really wasn’t a friendly for some of the players.

Here was his quote after the FC Dallas loss about Tuesday’s upcoming match: “It can help us get over this one a little quicker and get this taste out of our mouth. We owe our fans a lot. One thing I say a lot is that you can have poor performances, but your work ethic can never be poor. And tonight it was poor, it was very poor to the point where we’ve called some people out in the locker room and challenged them and at the moment there are some disappointed players.”

So for those who started that weren’t what I call new faces there was a spoken challange to them to get better and have a greater work ethic. Given that phrase “work ethic” I will split this analysis up into two phases… Phase I) A new face phase and, Phase II) An old face phase.

Here is my list of new faces for Phase I:
Rodney Wallace – because we haven’t seen him in ages
Steve Purdy
Ryan Kawulok
Sebastian Rincon
AJ Baptiste
Brent Richards
Freddie Braun
Bright Dike
Charles Renken
Joe Bendik

Here’s my list of old faces for Phase II:
David Horst
Mik Chabala
Sal Zizzo
Jack Jewsbury
Lovel Palmer
Darlington Nagbe
Kris Boyd
Franck Songo’o
Troy Perkins
Mike Fucito

Phase I: New Faces:

Rodney Wallace – He looked strong and athletic as normal; he rotated well between left fullback and left wing after coming on and perseverance got him his goal late on. He displayed energy and a high work ethic throughout. Having Rodney back gives us much more depth at the left fullback position and with his pace and speed overlapping runs may prove less dangerous than with Steve Smith or Mike Chabala.

Steve Purdy – Showed patience, very good timing, strength on and off the ball and paired well with Horst. He provided assistance when he could to young Ryan Kawulok and it appeared that his communication with Horst was strong given the three off-side calls the back four got throughout the night. I can easily see him working as a center-back in a starting or substitute role with this team though his pace still remains unclear to me at this time. His work ethic was solid throughout the match.

Ryan Kawulok – A very good job in his first run out on the pitch; he did appear nervous and a bit tentative throughout but it takes awhile for someone to get their game legs going. In the first half, when Villa must have played about 8 switches down his flank he handled them all or worked well with others as they supported his position. Rarely, if maybe once, did our right winger have to roll back and play a reverse overlap and unlike the left side I don’t recall once seeing the right winger actually having to take up a position where we played five at the back… more on that later. Good job; good energy but not clean on his crosses or having comfort with the ball at his feet going forward. I would offer he is not ready for prime time MLS yet; especially if this organization continues to push the use of overlapping on the wings. I would also offer that he appeared nervous and probably hurried himself a bit as opposed to remaining confident that he could retain possession under pressure. All in all a very good work ethic and run out in his first opportunity and even Kimura would not have won that header at the far post that led to a goal.

Sebastian Rincon – He scored a goal and that is always a good thing; I did not really get to see him on the ball as much as I would have liked; but he did show pace, hard work ethic and did not appear intimidated; he also showed ease in passing and accepting passes in congested areas. Not much grist there for anyone to chew on yet; sorry – just not comfortable going into any more detail than that.

AJ Baptiste – Big body and appears pretty strong and agile enough to hold up against a big striker. I would offer though that his approach to working off-side traps needs significant work. There were a number of occasions when he lost his position relative to the other 3 defenders. A team quicker to respond will take huge advantage of that. Many may disagree but I sense he should go back out on loan and get some more playing time under his belt. In seeing Purdy for the first time there is clearly more quality in the overall work of Steve Purdy as opposed to AJ Baptiste. AJ did provide a strong work ethic throughout the 30 minutes of his play.

Brent Richards – Continues to impress with his solid, high, work rate and flexibility in being able to physically adapt to numerous positions while also having the mental awareness to play those numerous positions. That is a great quality in a young player and more time with full speed MLS soccer will only make him better as he matures. I would offer that there were moments of concern however when he rotated into what I would call a wide left fullback and basically turned our flat back four into a flat back five. Better awareness is needed in running the off-side trap; there were occasions where he and Chabala were well behind the other three by as many as five yards. Richards is young and learning and if rotating into the back-four he should improve on his working the off-side traps a bit better.

Freddie Braun – Played very well, had a solid work ethic and contributed on both the attacking and defending half of the pitch; a very good thing for a midfielder; no ball watching and lots of hard work getting stuck in best describe what I saw last night. His replacement of Jewsbury did not create an untenable defensive issue for the Timbers.

Bright Dike – Unlucky he missed that penalty; he may have been a bit tentative in taking it and with someone who has the power on his boot blasting it may yield better results for him the next time around.

As for his field play; when he and Songo’o came on they worked well and the alignment change in the second half actually also resulted in the Timbers playing much higher in defense. In the first half with Boyd and Nagbe or Boyd and Richards there was a different level of work rate and the defensive back four line was on or near the midway point between the midfield line and the 18 yard box. Conversely, in the second half the defensive back four line was only about 5-10 yards behind the midfield line. This is good as it indicates that the forwards and midfielders are pressed higher and being more aggressive with a higher work ethic. Dike’s energy had a heck of a lot to do with that.

Finally, Bright displayed some nice touches for a big guy and showed good pace; he has awareness around the box and worked well side-by-side with Songo’o. I can see Bright playing much more and us perhaps gaining a physical advantage with his presence on the pitch. There remains no question in my mind that his value last night far exceeded that of another player who has had an extensive amount of playing time this year.

Charles Renken – Not much time to impact the squad and this was probably more of an opportunity for Charles to get the ‘first MLS minute’ opportunity than anything else. He also converted on his PK and that is always a good thing.

Joe Bendik – Well played half for Joe; nothing out of the ordinary that I saw. The goal scored on that corner was well played and would have been hard for any keeper to save. He looked in control and comfortable in his position; I did not see any hiccups or miscommunication with his back four.

Phase II: Old Faces

David Horst – I counted on at least 5 separate occasions where David Horst was what I would call a beast with the opponent; IMHO he played strong, smart and big. He worked well with Purdy and their on-field communication was very good given that the back-four caught Villa in three off-side traps.

There was one occasion early on when Horst pushed forward (open field) and laid the ball out left for Chabala; well instead of Chabala pushing a wee bit further forward and providing a cross to take advantage of Horst (our height advantage) he simply slowed the play down and laid the ball back thereby negating a good goal scoring opportunity. What was even more disturbing about this is that when Horst pushed forward (a sound decision given player positions of Villa) no-one (not any of our veteran players on the pitch) rotated back to fill the void left by Horst; they just kind of stood there. You would expect that with both Jewsbury, Palmer and Nagbe in the midfield one of those guys would have rotated back. IMHO David had a great 62 minutes and if not for all the energy Franck Songo’o brought to the pitch in the second half I would give him MOTM. His work ethic was superb.

Mike Chabala – This is where sitting in the press box really helped me see things a lot better. I was disappointed and very surprised to find out how un-tight our left fullback plays with his other three counterparts at times; there were numerous occasions where Chabala was playing or could have played attacking players on-side.

Brent Richards did a great job of protecting Chabala’s flank as the first half progressed (we played five wide at the back sometimes) and I think Chabala took too much advantage of that to push forward far too much. During this game I must have said under my breath at least 10 times “push-up; bloody ‘ell push up”; thought I was coaching again. I have a hard time seeing Chabala getting extensive playing time as a left fullback with this team this year; especially with a youth movement and Kosuke Kimura’s ability to use his left foot as well as his right foot.

I would offer however, and many may disagree, that he may be better suited as a left winger on this team. Mike has great energy and an ability to get up and back on the pitch; but as a defender perhaps sometimes he roams too much. If he is slotted in as a left winger, in the midfield, he gives us a left foot, pace, and most importantly an aggressive – close down style – brought with being a fullback. When comparing his ability to cross the ball and his work rate it actually exceeds someone by quite bit who has had an extensive amount of playing time in our midfield of late.

Sal Zizzo – Great energy from Sal this game; especially liked his motor running about 40-50 yards with the ball from right to left early on; just needs that ‘finishing touch’ to take some good ball movement and turn it into something great. His work ethic was superb and he worked well in supporting young Ryan out right. Good solid game for Sal and confirms for me at least he should get playing time as the season moves forward.

Jack Jewsbury – It appeared to me that we opened up with a bucket 4-4-2; I am not sure though because the system of play was not provided to us in the press box. My assumption that it was a bucket stemmed from seeing Palmer and Jewsbury run the midfield more parallel to each other as opposed to front-to-back. Jack soldiered on this game like he has in the past; I did not see anything from Jack that I don’t already know; he’s a thinker, whose timing may be off a wee bit and he provides leadership. IMHO I believe he offers his most to this team as a late game substitute at the 60-70 minute mark where his mental strength will better serve than those with tired legs and tired minds.

Lovel Palmer – Lovel certainly had a couple of shots on or near goal and although many may disagree I thought his work rate was pretty good for the 70 minutes he had on the pitch. Both he and Jack did a pretty good job of defending the center of the midfield and the primary route used by Villa to get the ball forward came more from running switches (their deep right to our deep right) than anything directly through the middle. A yeoman’s job; nothing stellar and nothing really lacking but perhaps loose man-marking on the first goal by Villa. I did not see a replay so it’s unclear to me who was responsible for marking the goal scorer.

It has been some time sense I have seen Lovel play fullback; perhaps he gets additional playing time there? IDK… With the Timbers season taking the turn it has I envision him getting fewer and fewer playing minutes; especially when Braun and Richards can be called on.

Darlington Nagbe – Okay, I’m going to stay away from saying anything here other than Gavin Wilkinson made a clear (and IMHO a very appropriate) decision about 15 minutes in to switch Brent Richards with Darlington Nagbe; with Nagbe taking on the role of striker for the remainder of the half. Enuf said… With everyone I have been providing some thoughts on their work rate; I have no comments to offer at this time on Darlington Nagbe’s work rate.

Kris Boyd – Solid work rate from our veteran but with the amount of long balls (over 15 in the first half) and lack of crosses (I think I counted 2 in the first half) there was not much attacking for Kris to do so the majority of his time was spent pushing the defenders about a bit and forcing them to play switches as opposed to working up the middle.

Franck Songo’o – An Incredible addition to start the second half; tremendously HUGE work rate as both a striker up front with Dike as well as a midfielder when Mike Fucito came on. His leadership also came out as he helped Dike understand who and when to apply pressure up front and how the midfield; by example needed to track back in defense. IMHO he was the man of the match. He forces things sometimes but that can bring you luck; and that same ‘forcing’ worked to Wallace’s advantage in the second half when he tried at least twice before slotting home the tying goal. Songo’o is and should be a 90 minute starter for this team.

Mike Fucito – Mike came on at the 70 minute mark and also made an instant impact with his presence; the work rate for Mike was huge and his presence was felt. Good work; solid performance; he deserves more playing time as a striking partner with Kris Boyd. I think there skill sets complement each other as much as they do with Dike and Fucito.

Troy Perkins – Good half – not sure who the commanding voice was in running the back four for off-side traps but it worked well and saved a goal early on. I continue to be disappointed in our long ball strategy and it remains unclear to me who are ‘target player’ up front is given the long balls coming from re-starts. Perhaps there is a time in the near future where we rely less on that and play more short balls on re-starts.

In closing – As mentioned when I began this analysis it may have been a friendly but given the full 90 minutes, and no doubt the time spent viewing the video of this game sometime earlier today, Gavin Wilkinson has much more information to use in developing his strategy for the home game this weekend. It’s not clear to me what system he will run but when viewing how things went in this friendly a front-to-back or bucket 4-4-2 may be what we see.

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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