Match Analysis – (Timbers 2 – Toronto 2)

Right – Get a cuppa tea/coffee, a biscuit or two, print this puppy out and curl around the fan or AC vent! Hot tea is actually a good drink for many people on a hot day…

Bottom line a draw is always always always better than nil-pwah! And that ‘s what Timbers were successful in doing last night against Toronto.

So how did things pan out with my WTWF? Before I get to that here’s a couple of quotes from Gavin Wilkinson about his thoughts on the game:

“Toronto created some chances in the second half, but I think we controlled the tempo and the rhythm for a majority of the first half. When you do that, I think you have to finish teams off, but Toronto responded very well. After they scored two, I think we did well to get ourselves back into the game, keep the ball, move the ball, create chances and equalize.”

“We had the lead and then we made it difficult for ourselves. You can question a couple of calls and even one of their goals, there was a foul on David Horst where we disputed the call. We were looking for a way, we applied a lot of pressure and this is part of the maturing process. We lacked a bit of confidence and you can see it in the players. It’s a draw on the road, we scored two goals, it’s a good thing for us and we have a lot to look forward to.”

Couple of ways to view those quotes but I’ll choose this direction.

  1. For me it doesn’t say a whole lot about anything; just a quick synopsis that is painless and pretty much non-descriptive.

  2. It was difficult to see but it did appear Horst was held back on the in-swinging free kick by Sal Zizzo. In addition, Mike Fucito was definitely pulled down in the 18 yard box. That’s unlucky and part of the game. Here’s what Gavin didn’t say; he didn’t say Toronto came out and busted arse in the second half and worked hard to get those two goals. We did lack confidence but I would offer we could have done a much better job man-marking the Reds.

  3. There is no question that the Timbers worked hard to bring pressure back on Toronto; what helped was how quickly the Reds dropped back into turtle shell defensive scheme after they went up 2-1. My guess is with a full squad Paul Mariner doesn’t do that.

  4. In watching the lead up to our second goal perhaps you noticed how far forward Steve Smith moved on the sideline before delivering his throw in; it looked like an additional 5-10 yards or so to me.

Gavin’s response to the question on what does it say about the team where they have come from behind in the final 15 minutes that last two games.

“It shows a lot about the urgency and belief that these players have. I think it is a good sign because we put ourselves in that situation and I think we were our own worst enemy where in isolated incidents we had given Toronto chances.”

To true, I would offer that to begin the second half we looked a bit lazy and disjointed and ho-hum. The look on the faces of our defenders said it all when the Reds scored their first goal and the marking got no better when the Reds scored their second goal six minutes later.

I’m not sure if Donovan Ricketts said anything to the back-four or vice versa but there was the fire of emotion when the Timbers went down a goal. It took awhile to manifest itself and, IMHO, the substitution of Mike Fucito and Eric Alexander brought some much needed juice to this team.

If there is a takeaway on this I would offer that there may be value in subbing players out around the 55th minute as opposed to a bit later. Most fitness trainers know that a player’s physical stamina begins to decline in soccer right around the 60th minute. Perhaps if we sub players earlier than the 75 minute mark we might not only score an equalizer but we might also score a game winner.

Gavin was then asked what he thought about Donovan Ricketts and the back line?

“Good, I think there are always areas to improve on and I think if the back line play as well individually and collectively as they can we will be fine.”

Notice that Gavin didn’t say great; to true again. They played great in the first half; played high and tight and in a flat line; the second half however was complete bollocks the first 25 minutes or so. Those guys need to work much harder on sustaining the back-four for the full 90 minutes. That is two games in a row now where we were strong at the back for the first half and then gave away a goal no later than 15 minutes after the restart.

Ricketts appears to communicate quite a lot out there and that is good; if I didn’t know better I would have thought Donovan was a bit nervous out there. And since I’m talking Donovan I might as well jump into my WTWF.

WTWF #1 = Donovan Ricketts: I’ve already talked about his communication and what I feel was a slight nervousness in the game. In considering his long balls; the guy has a wicked boot and gets quite a bit of height on his punts; there is goodness in that it gives players a wee bit more time to circle the target location to maximize gaining possession of the ball.

As for anything else to offer at this time; not really. He did a good job minding between the pipes last night and he will take some time settling in with the back four. If the rebound goes the other way I would offer his first save off that free kick was brilliant. The lads really need to man-mark tighter; especially inside the 6 yard box!

As for expecting a save on the second goal; I doubt it. Kimura got played and both the flick-on and finishing touch were brilliant. To stop that goal we again would have needed to man-mark tighter in the six yard box.

WTWF #2 = Back-four: Very solid performance in the first half and I don’t recall one time where the actual positioning of the back four was not tight; there were occasions where we could have marked the attacker better but we played pretty close to the chest and when one of our fullbacks (or center-back ventured forward) someone would be there to slot in.

  1. How bout Mosquera with that penetration down to the 18 yard box? Horst has done that before and Mosco must have won the coin flip this game to go forward instead of Horst. No damage done on that but again we failed to take advantage of the height difference like we did when Horst went forward against FC Dallas. The midfielders need to penetrate the 18 or deep corners as quickly as possible if one of our center-backs gets into that position again. I wonder if this is a slight wrinkle Sean McAuley has injected into the team attack plan?

  2. But back to being grounded. The second half opened poorly and I had already made a ‘check mark’ at least on one occasion where within the first 10 minutes we were getting slack back there. Two minutes after that we were not tight in marking the attackers on a pretty pathetic and very high free kick. We should’ve done a whole lot better than that! Rubbish defending, complete bollocks. Time will be spent sorting out more precise man-marking requirements for a free kick from that area.

  3. Needless to say 6 minutes later and the Reds had struck again. In watching the build-up all the defenders were in good position but they weren’t in great position; great defense would have stopped that goal; we weren’t great we were good.

  4. It is interesting to review the tactical part of this game relative to the back four and what midfield scheme we ran in the 4-2-3-1. I believe Smith was probably faster than the Reds winger so that gave us an edge on the left. In considering the 1-v-1 where Kimura got beat he played well up until that nifty little fake crossover and well executed inside turn that left him behind. Perhaps a yard further back and Kosuke handles that inside turn a bit better.

WTWF #3 = Short balls and long balls: Well the flow and reasoning behind the short balls and long balls this game was different from the last game. Here’s why:

  1. Kris Boyd was the primary target for long balls this game and although our possession gains were about the same percentage as last game the odds were better we would get the ball more often than not if Kris worked to the side of Eckersley; where Kris had a size advantage.

  2. That being said we still played a number of short balls to the back-four from square one but here’s the head scratcher, for some, that maybe goes back to the target approach with Kris in the paragraph above. We played a significant number of long balls (not even switches) from our back-four this game. And with running a 4-2-3-1 I’m not sure why, with five midfielders, we would do that? Perhaps the coaching staff thought that as long as Boyd posted in front of 6’0″ Eckersley we would sling it up there. I’ll have to check my DVR to see if that was the case.

  3. Overall, our possessions gained versus lost with these back-four long balls was no different than the numbers against FC Dallas but there is continued effort to put forth short balls from square one. Perhaps their value will be seen when Franck Songo’o returns to the pitch this Sunday? With Gavin running a 4-2-3-1 against Toronto I would be surprised to see him run a different formation against a tougher NY team. A draw is always always always better than nil-pwah.

  4. But I digress, as the game turned pear-shaped in the second half the volume of long balls increased as the need to get the ball into the attacking third needed to occur more quickly. With doing that Toronto dropped back and played deeper; when they did that we increased ball possession and movement in the midfield as Eric Alexander replaced Rodney Wallace (77) and Mike Fucito replaced Sal Zizzo (66). As a matter of circumstance when Fucito replaced Zizzo we went to a standard 4-4-2.

  5. I’ve already mentioned this before but for me it’s worth mentioning again; players get tired around the 60 minute mark; it serves a team better to make substitutions on or around 60 minutes as opposed to later.

  6. Back to long balls; so with the drop-back by Toronto and the increased freedom in the midfield we saw perhaps one of the best build-ups to a goal (short passes) ever in the history of PTFC in MLS. Quick, rapid, one touch balls from Smith to Boyd to Alexander brought a through ball by Alexander into the box for Smith to penetrate and perfectly place a cross for Darlington Nagbe to head home. Superb and a well deserved goal!

  7. So although it may not be apparent at first or second glance there are tactical advantages to opening up the game by increasing the frequency of long balls. We may see increased long balls if we play a 4-2-3-1 against New York but I don’t see them making the same tactical error that Toronto made if NY goes a goal up on us.

  8. Finally, we did not starve Kris Boyd from the ball this game; there was a greater commitment to get him the ball. I’m not sure what he was thinking before he missed that sitter but to be fair I think he thought the keeper was lower and further out of position than he was and so Kris simply tried to chip him. Nonetheless – he needs to score there; that was a typical poachers spot and he knows it.

WTWF #4 = Tackles in the attacking half: This one, unfortunately, is pretty easy; there just wasn’t a whole lot of aggressive tackling in our attacking half of the pitch. My intent here was to focus a bit more specifically on Darlington Nagbe so I did.

  1. He had a large number of balls lost as the opponents tackled him. What does that mean; for me it means he is not making return passes quick enough or he is just dribbling far too much. Given his high rate of successful passes I would offer that he is probably dribbling too much into a congested area. I have some other thoughts but will offer those in my LOGJAM in the Midfield Part III blog.

  2. Dribbling has value to create space when their is space to dribble in to; but dribbling into two or three players is not ideal and it pretty much violates the short passing philosophy the team is trying to work towards. I suspect that will be a discussion during a video session before the game against New York.

A few extra game observations for the wolves to feed:

  1. I found it quite interesting that when Nagbe scored the equalizer the team didn’t circle him first to congratulate him; they instead closed on Steve Smith to congratulate him for that lovely piece of skill in the build-up. Wicked good play that was.

  2. I believe, in every instance where possible, PTFC played in-swinging balls on all corners and free kicks; consistency in sustaining the in-swinger is good!

  3. I’m not quite sure (yet) if PTFC ran the 4-2-3-1 because Franck Songo’o was missing or because this was an away game. IMHO I’m not a fan of that formation if it means not having Diego Chara in a more forward position on the pitch. He seemed out of sorts in his game performance tonight for some reason; maybe it was the return to the defensive half of the pitch? I remain stubbornly steadfast and steadfastly stubborn that playing Diego Chara forward in midfield has value and benefit to PTFC.

  4. Finally, Sal Zizzo played well today and worked hard on both ends; it was good to see Zizzo slot home the initial goal for Timbers. Rodney Wallace looked a wee bit rusty and, IMHO, needs to show he has better vision on the pitch; there were some good chances to penetrate the 18 yard box with a pass or two as opposed to him simply tucking his head and slinging a long distance weak shot towards goal.

Bottom line at the Bottom = All told; “good” game and “even better than good” result.

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I will post my WTWF this Saturday as prepared reading for the game with the Red Bulls.

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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