Match Analysis = What Happened vs What to Watch For (Timbers 1 – F C Dallas 1)

My WTWF in this game focused on:
1) Long Balls
2) Work rate/ethic
3) Midfield Commander
4) Back-four (high and tight)
5) Striker(s?)

To begin though let’s first review an after the match quote from Gavin Wilkinson answering if there was more urgency after the FC Dallas goal:

“Yeah, that’s always going to be the case, unless the team don’t respond as they should. I think their response was absolutely brilliant, absolutely brilliant. If you’re on a bit of a losing streak, and you’ve got young players and you question the mentality and the past, and you question the leadership; for that response, hopefully shows that some of the players are maturing, some of them are starting to give it a little bit more sacrifice, and I think that’s a positive. The urgency, I think we controlled the game prior to that, so we didn’t have to take the risks that possibly we took, and that we were creating chances. I think even if you look at the number of shots that we had had when they had a man sent off, it was still double what Dallas had. We were controlling the game, we were creating chances, and when you don’t put the chances away, being a defender and being in that position in the past, it’s hard not to be a little bit negative in that position and start to say, ‘When are we going to score,’ because it is every mistake that we make at the moment we are getting punished. And hopefully that changes.”

With that here are some thoughts I’d like to offer for the wolves to feed on:

When reviewing my five WTWF’s above I’m only going to focus on one in particular as a way to stress the importance of how that single WTWF can impact other activities on this field of play. Others may disagree with this philosophy but it’s one I am comfortable with.

WTWF = Long Balls:
First some data I collected and jotted down as I watched how this game played out.

1) We played, by my count, less than 20 long balls the entire game; my exact count (right or wrong) ended up being 16. That is, for me, the lowest number of long balls I have ever seen PTFC play!

2) Conversely, we played as many as 13 ‘short balls’ from square 1; that is the single largest total I have ever seen since blogging PTFC!

3) Of the 16 or so long balls we played we only gained possession of on 33% of those long balls and in no instance did I recall where a long ball resulted in dangerous play that led to a direct shot on goal, a free kick or a corner ball.

4) Of those long balls played better than 90% of those were played in the direction of Brent Richards or Franck Songo’o and I only recall one long ball going in the direction of Kris Boyd. A good reason for that might be that both George Johns and Matt Hedges are taller and bigger than Kris.

So with these four ‘data points’ how do they translate to my other WTWF’s? In working back to front; which is always a good thing in football let’s first consider our back-four.

  1. By playing more short balls from square one we gave our back-four more time on the ball and therefore increased opportunities on work rate and increased opportunities to play switches for our highly placed attackers to work from. In total I counted nine switches played throughout this game and this increase comes from 1) being on the ball to play the switch and 2) increasing the opportunity of our back-four to have the vision to play these switches. Furthermore it reinforces the defense second philosophy; those that have ball possession control the run of play; those that don’t – don’t. I have always been an advocate of defense first, defense second and attack third. Playing more short balls and fewer long balls reinforces this approach.

  2. How did the lack of long balls impact our midfield command? If you watched the game it should have been pretty clear that the linkage between Jewsbury and Chara and our back four was much better than it has been in the past. Plenty of ball movement in and around the center of midfield and some good triangulation as our defense pushed higher in order to better increase opportunities to link with our strikers. I remain non-violently stubborn that this midfield commanding role taken on by Jack Jewsbury, these last two games, has significantly raised the level of midfield play for Timbers.

  3. So with that increase in midfield command we also saw a positive knock-on effect on how we linked our wide-outs. Most would agree that the work-rate of our back-four, Jewsbury, Chara, Richards and Songo’o was tremendous and there continued aggressive play (on both sides of the ball) reinforced linkage from the back-four to the midfield, and on to the wide-outs. We had chances, half-chances, quarter chances and pretty good ball movement up and down the pitch. It was disappointing to see minimal leveraging of Kris Boyd from our wide-outs but as we play this style more we should see increased opportunities for Kris. I will talk to that a wee bit later.

  4. So in conclusion I would submit that the fewer long balls we play the greater our opportunity to positively impact our back-four, our midfield command, our work rate, our ball possession and our strikers; with one exception.

THE one exception: In considering who our long ball targets were and the significant amount of wing play we had there was a corresponding lack of play down the center to Kris Boyd. Was this due to Nagbe playing more square balls or was this due to a lack of long balls served down the center? I think it was both.

Whenever it appeared that Nagbe would look to penetrate the top part of the 18 yard box Dallas would close down tightly and force lateral balls from Nagbe so it would appear that Kris was choked off on short balls.

And we already know that Richards and Songo’o were targeted over 90% of the time on long balls because the center-backs for Dallas were bigger and taller than Boyd.

So was the closing down of Nagbe penetrating the center by design? You bet; Kris Boyd has pedigree and he’s a classic poacher. Dallas purposefully pushed us wide because of their height advantage. So how does PTFC deal with this in the future?

Perhaps Kris is given the opportunity to drift back a bit more similar to Robbie Keane and play a more decisive role in the build up? He has great vision, great foot skills and his veteran experience could really benefit others trying to learn a more forward attacking midfielder role. I will watch for this in their next game.

With my WTWF’s covered here’s some other observations I would offer for your consideration.

1) The formation of play for this game: To begin we saw a 4-3-3 in attack and a 4-5-1 in defense (when we didn’t have the ball). The same formation and squad started the second half until things got pear-shaped.

We all know when things got pear-shaped but here’s some fodder for the cannon to go with the Capt Obvious lack of man-marking and closing down to gain possession on the wing.

a) In the 44th and 45th minute of the first half we twice got lucky with our back-four being way out of shape; I’m not sure if that could be seen by watching TV.

b) When Ferreira received the ball in midfield Steve Smith was almost as high up the pitch, if not higher than Ferreira.

c) David Horst was up and outside left of the 18 yard box.

d) Hanyer Mosquera was behind Horst and on the low right side of the top of the 18 yard box.

e) Kosuke Kimura was slightly higher and slightly further higher thaqn the 18 yard box.

f) So, in essence, we again, had no shape or formation to our tight and aligned back four. David Ferreira, being a veteran sees this, plays a brilliant through ball to Brek Shea who outpaces Kimura (who failed to close) and slots home a lovely low ball across the 6 yard box. Sealy, a fast paced striker, easily outruns Horst and slots the ball home.

g) So although David Horst lost his mark the overall position of the back four to begin with was slack. There were other occasions where we got somewhat sloppy in the back but at the end of the day the defense held Dallas to one goal, and there is goodness in that.

2) Back to the formation; after giving up that goal we soldiered on for about 9 minutes and then brought on Mwanga for Richards and Dike for Boyd (good to see him get a run out there – strong work ethic and a very suitable {like for like sub with Boyd}). In doing this we pretty much went to a 3-5-2 and alternated between having Kimura push up into the midfield or having Smith push up into the midfield.

3) Around the 75th minute Gavin Wilkinson brought on Kalif Alhassan. This etched in stone our formal 3-5-2 as he replaced Steve Smith. Part of this substitution also included rolling Franck Songo’o out to the right and pulling Nagbe up higher on the left.

4) With KAH coming on the tempo of the game changed considerably for the positive and it wasn’t too soon thereafter that KAH, in linking play again down the right, played in a clinical cross that Kevin Hartman could only punch out. Fortunately for PTFC the punch was just about knee high and perfectly placed for Capt Jack Jewsbury to volley home. A ‘crackin goal’ and one not often seen in footy; the volley at knee level is one of the toughest shots in football.

5) With that brilliant strike I will end this blog working from this final thought by Jack Jewsbury after the game.

“I think for us, it’s building off two positive performances. Points wise, yeah, we didn’t get what we wanted out of them, but if you look back at these last two games, the team as a whole fought, battled, created chances, and defensively we’re a lot more organized than maybe we’d been earlier in the year. There’s definitely some positives to take, and now it’s just about turning those positives into three points.”

I would agree but at the end of the day I wasn’t satisfied with 1 point and TBH I don’t think this team was either. But we battled hard and got a point and a draw is always, always, always better than nil-pwah.

Just think if we had drawn all our away games and drawn all our home games we didn’t win we’d be at 32 points now. There remains true value and goodness in working from a tight back-four.

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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