What to Watch For (Timbers vs FC Dallas) 4:00 PM Sunday

HUGE game for PTFC this Sunday, should be another sell out crowd and to top that this game will be televised nationally by NBC Sports. Many different approaches to take for my WTWF this weekend and this is the one I have settled on this evening.

To set the stage let’s review an ‘after the game quote’ from Gavin Wilkinson on 21 July after the 5-nil loss to FC Dallas.

“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 we readdress the situation”.

So in considering that quote my bottom line up front (BLUF) question is… ‘how’ will PTFC readdress that situation?

Here’s what I hope we see:

1) WTWF = Work rate/ethic: All ten, not just 9 or 8, but all 10 “field” players “must” have a high work rate/ethic. This does not mean they run around willy-nilly. It means they play a controlled, aggressive, thinking game, where closing down and shutting down space is first, gaining ball possession is second, and then making space to create space to use space to score a goal is third.

I am hopeful that those who are slower than the person they mark lay off a wee bit, stay on their feet and prevent being out-and-out beaten. I would also hope that our midfielders do not lose track of who they should be marking; getting behind the ball when we don’t have the ball is a basic fundamental; failure to do that equals a really poor work rate/ethic.

If the last game against Chivas is an indicator I imagine the work rate/ethic will be high from every single player; if not I would fully expect that player (whoever it is) to get subbed off at the earliest and most appropriate opportunity.

2) WTWF = Long balls: Many may disagree with this view but I steadfastly and stubbornly believe that the more long balls a team plays the less effective they are in commanding the center of the pitch. And the less command of the center you have the less effective you are in possessing the ball.

If we do continue to play long balls I would hope that the Timbers find a traditional striker who plays tall and wins the ball with his back to goal. Someone like that must also be a great ball holder to allow the midfield to join in the attack.

Since we don’t have someone like that every long ball played from square one is a crap-shoot and running an attack based off a crap-shoot is the same strategy Glascow Rangers would play when they played games in the Champions League. And those who know the game know that approach is a negative approach and usually stems from the organization basically admitting to themselves that they don’t have the quality midfield players they need to move the ball forward from the center.

An approach like that usually means the team is trying to win a game 1-nil and if/when they get that one goal they crawl into a defensive huddle and clog the defensive third of the pitch.

So for me, the more long balls we play, the more this organization is admitting to itself that it doesn’t have the quality midfielders it needs to win games based upon possession. Conversely, the fewer long balls we play indicates we are attempting to get better at possession and controlling the ball from front to back.

I am and always will be a firm believer that success in football starts with the back-four; the more disjointed and less comfortable our back-four is on the ball the more disjointed and dysfunctional our midfield and strikers will be. So the less we use our back-four to move the ball forward the more likely we are to be dysfunctional in the back-four.

WTWF = Midfield Commander: My gut says Jack Jewsbury returns in his role this weekend because he was functional in that role last weekend. I like his leadership presence on the pitch; but I do continue to see value and benefit in gaining experience for other players in that role; but I don’t sense it will happen this Sunday. Would it be gutsy to go with Eric Alexander or someone else as the midfield commander? Yes. Would I fully support it? Yes. But do I think Gavin Wilkinson, leaning on Sean McAuley for more support will do that? No.

So with Jack in back who do we see in the remaining 5 positions (to include our strikers)? I expect we will see; Songo’o, Nagbe, Chara, Richards, and Boyd. Here’s who I hope we see; Songo’o, Alhassan, Richards, Chara and Boyd.

The line up with Jewsbury, Chara, Alhassan (Nagbe), Richards, Songo’o and Boyd gives us veteran leadership in the front and back and gives us, IMHO, our four best midfielders. So you know, I do not consider Darlington Nagbe a midfielder; IMHO he is a striker, for me, at least, he presents and represents, on the pitch, during every game I have seen, all the qualities you would expect to see in an off-target striker.

At the end of the day, in either of these combinations I remain non-violently and stubbornly convinced that one critical piece of this puzzle must include the concept that Diego Chara continues to play the same aggessive, tackling, high midfield pressure-position he played against Chivas. This new role suits him, suits the Timbers, and maximizes his strengths in gaining ball possession or tackling to slow play in the attacking half of the pitch.

It would be rude not to think that winning 1-v-1’s in the attacking half of the pitch don’t increase our opportunities to load the 18 yard box with players. A quick switch, quick turn and early cross can always provide a half-chance or better to score a goal.

WTWF = Back-four: We (IMHO) need to see a bloody ‘tight’ back four that works together to sustain and maintain a high position in the defensive half and a tight position across the width of the 18 yard box. We cannot afford to see our fullbacks go wondering off, namby-pamby, into lulu land hoping to overlap and bring in a cross without thinking defense first and defense second.

If the last game is any indication I expect we will see far fewer overlap attempts than in previous matches. And having a tight back-four means our wingers must track back and slow play to increase everyone else’s opportunity (who plays the midfield) to get behind the ball. If it means a harsh tackle then so-be-it but keep those way above the 18 yard box because… set-pieces win games…

Brunner is not yet ready to return based upon training reports and it’s unclear to me about the fitness of Futty Danso. So who starts in center-half on Sunday; if Footy is not fully recovered the decision is pretty clear, Horst and Mosquera. If Footy is healthy, many, I suppose will favor seeing the pair of Mosquera and Danso. I like that pairing too but for me, IMHO, a tighter and more disciplined pairing of Horst and Danso lends itself better to the smaller pitch size here at home.

With respect to our fullbacks; if the ‘stay at home approach’ is taken this game like it was in the return matchup with Chivas then I’m good to go with Smith and Kimura at fullback; not much choice at the moment and these two guys must be at the top of their form for this game. Both will need to adjust their close-down tactics depending upon the speed of the player they are man-marking. FC Dallas did not discriminate between penetrating the left or right side the last game; I don’t expect them to do anything different this game.

WTWF = Strikers: Simply stated; I will be watching for our striker(s?) to put the ball in the back of the net; that’s what they get paid for. I fully expect Kris Boyd to play at peak performance this game. I see this game as a nexus for Kris. In other words if he performs, does his job, scores a goal or two it will follow that he will continue to get strong playing minutes; if not then serious consideration needs to be given in providing minutes to our other strikers.

So in closing I offer this final quote from Gavin Wilkinson after the 5-nil loss to FC Dallas. “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”

To true… It should go unsaid that these players will challenge themselves and will raise their standards to play in front of 20,438 fans and untold numbers watching this match on national television. It is now time for them to perform based upon their personal reevaluations.

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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