Match Analysis (Timbers 2 – Red Bulls 3) Exciting Game and plenty of action!

Well, talk about a crackin game; for those that enjoy goal scoring and goal scoring opportunities the Timbers, Red Bulls AND Referee definitely provided a show on Sunday afternoon/evening.
Here’s what Gavin Wilkinson had to say after the match on the Timbers performance and Bright Dike’s play on his debut:

Timbers Performance:

“I think this was possibly our best road performance in a year and a half. We came out, we had numerous chances. Their keeper came up with three phenomenal saves. We had a good chance at the end there.”

Bright Dike’s Debut:

“I think [Bright] Dike did well. I think he tired quite badly in the second half. He kept them honest. What we were looking to do was get in behind, cause some problems, relieve the pressure in the first fifteen and see if we could start to open them up and play. I think we had numerous corners, I think we had numerous chances, and the boys worked extremely hard. When you’re having the season that we’re having, the little things don’t go your way and you can either complain about them or try and fix them and we’re going to go back and try and fix them.”

In offering some initial thoughts on GW’s statement:

  1. I would completely agree that this was the best “offensive” road performance we have seen from Timbers but IMHO it again lacked that pedigree from the defensive end.

  2. It’s hard to show some disappointment when considering PTFC scored two goals in the first 33 minutes of this game to go 2-nil up but when viewing the defensive side of the pitch there is still a long way to go in consistently remaining tight in the 18 yard box. Defenders sometimes win you games but man-marking poorly in the 18 yard box can lose you games too.

  3. Again, don’t get me wrong, I am pleased to see the threats generated by PTFC throughout this game and I can only imagine what the score-line would have read like if the three 1-v-1’s we had against the Red Bulls had gone in. (Perhaps?) Sean McAuley demonstrates a Peter Beardsley ‘hip twist’ for our midfielders; a simple hip twist and little touch left or right as Zizzo and Chara penetrated would probably have resulted in their shots hitting the back of the net. As for Darlington Nagbe’s strike atop the 18 yard box one can only offer that in a year’s time he will slot that ball home with a wee bit of loft to the far post knowing that the goalkeepers hand will naturally drop when spreading wide left or right.

  4. As for the play of Bright Dike; really tough and really strong and good presence in creating and generating space for our wingers. A solid job and an ideal touch was applied to slot home his debut goal. He’s convinced me that he has striker written all over him and when considering the need to have a young player who can come in and replace a veteran who might get traded this team will be fine. This may not be the time or place for this but I would not be surprised to see Kris Boyd traded sometime soon. I would also offer that the substitution with Mike Fucito was also useful in helping to generate goal scoring opportunities.

  5. I won’t go OTT on this observation but it appeared to me that the on-field visual communication Dike had with others was pretty close to the best I’ve seen between our forward and midfielders. His linking with Sal Zizzo, Franck Songo’o, Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara; plus his overall pace and strength give this team a different dimension than having Kris Boyd on the pitch. And it’s not something I have seen from PTFC before in the attacking third.

  6. Speaking of all four of those guys, Zizzo, Songo’o, Nagbe and Chara. In considering how long I have been doing match analysis on the Timbers I can’t remember, at any time, where all four of those guys played such a great game together in the attacking third of the pitch. I have been patient in looking to see Darlington Nagbe step forward and provide a real presence on the pitch and yesterday’s game showed me that when he gets his motor running and he remains physically and well as mentally engaged he’s a true weapon for this team. I would fully expect to see the same game performance for the remainder of this season and on forward throughout his career.

Now on to my WTWF; my 1st WTWF was the continued development of communication and coordination by Donovan Ricketts and the back-four and how they remain tight, high, flat and most importantly how they man-mark better in the 18 yard box. Let’s separate out these four things and look at them individually and then, overall, collectively.

  1. Tight: I would offer for the most part that the Timbers remained in pretty tight formation above and outside of the 18 yard box. There were some occasions however where it appeared we seemed to lose shape but I don’t recall any instances where our back-four lost their shape that led to a real dangerous threat.

  2. High: In reviewing the footage there appeared to be a number of times when we probably sagged back to much in this game. That is a hard one to judge at times given the flow of play but it did appear we did yield a bit too much space around the 33’, 38’ and 42’ minute mark of the first half. I won’t offer that those occasions directly led to the goal scoring but it should warrant an alert from Donovan Ricketts that the back-four needs to push up and play even tighter. One would expect that as half-time nears an extra push to remain higher will help work towards ending the first half with the 2 goal lead still intact.

  3. Flat: No breakaway goals this game against the Timbers so the off-side trap was effective and the flatness of the back-four in their high position did well to mitigate seeing Henry or anyone else (like Cade) penetrating on a through ball that could have presented significant danger to Ricketts.

  4. Man-marking better in the 18 yard-box. This is a tough one to handle; constant communication is needed as well as a great understanding of who will be where in order to minimize open space for crosses from open play or set-pieces. I would offer that again we were very weak in man-marking within the 18 and 6 yard box. When a player (a known poacher) like Cooper comes into the game you should immediately know that crosses will start coming in more frequently and being 2-nil down in a home game is sure to bring out more aggressive play from the home side.

  5. It didn’t take long, 7 minutes after Cooper came on, Solli picked him out with a great cross into the 18. With Horst playing about 1-2 yards in front there was no chance to force Cooper off the ball. To make it worse, Cahill struck just about two minutes later off a deflection from an unmarked Dax McCarty strike atop the 18 yard box. So what’s needed is a stronger midfield presence in those last few minutes before half and that, on its own, should be enough to get some additional adrenaline flowing to reinforce the need to shut down the 18 yard box.

  6. If this team is going to get better there remains no question that taking greater ownership of that 18 yard box is critical. I’ve said it before and it remains true, set-pieces win games and in this case the set piece where Pearce scored won this game.

  7. When considering how things went I hope that there may be consideration in the future that when the home team makes a tactical substitution to bring on an extra attacked we also take time to consider the idea of bringing on an extra midfield defender. Bringing on Cooper was a clear tactical change at the 30 minute mark; unusual circumstances warrant unusual thoughts for unusual substitutions. A two goal lead is huge in an away game (especially for the Timbers!) and shutting down the box is an absolute must! The sense of urgency (without panic) just didn’t seem to be there as I watched this game.

  8. So when looking at all four areas I would offer that with three goals scored against the Timbers need to do a far greater job of defending and man-marking in and atop the 18 yard box. PTFC sees the offensive firepower of teams like New York and LA Galaxy and there is simply no way the Timbers can (or should) compete with them in going toe-to-toe in an offensive battle. Yes, the Timbers scored two goals and yes they had other chances but this team does not have the veteran pedigree to expect that they can counterattack on a regular basis on slot those chances home all the time.

  9. Finally, lots of opinions and write ups about the second goal and the saves made by Donovan Ricketts. Here’s my two cents on the second goal by Cahill. It is what it is. When I listened for the whistle I heard it as the ball was traveling towards goal but it doesn’t matter. The volley would not have been saved by Ricketts with or without the whistle and all indications are that Horst would have been booked, and perhaps sent off, for an apparent handball. I didn’t see it hit is hand outside the width of his torso so a hand ball call there would have been pretty poor. But, as much as you may not like it, there are games where the referee is great and there are games where the referee is down-right pathetic. In this case the referring this entire game was pathetic. I’m not sure if this guy should ever run a match again; a non-call on the “physical body slam” of Diego Chara earlier and the bad call when he showed the yellow card to Chara on a slight drive-by and dive by Cooper convinced me this referee was a complete nutta! Of all the outcomes from this game perhaps the most damaging will be the loss of Diego Chara in our next match against Vancouver.

My #2 WTWF was to watch how the ball was delivered from square one and the back-four. In setting the stage for this part of my analysis I would first offer that prior to the game John Strong provided thoughts from Gavin Wilkinson that clearly indicated the bottom line strategy for the Timbers this game was to get the ball up the pitch, as high and wide up the pitch as quickly as possible to relieve pressure in the defending half. Timbers did a great job of executing this strategy, and given the offensive fire power of the Red Bulls it was a good strategy.

  1. Now to the statistics on possession gained versus possession lost. Overall we did a better job of gaining possession in the first half than we did in the second half. My calculations show a possession gained percentage around 40% in the first half from long balls played by the back four with an overall 30% at full time. My calculations showed a possession gained percentage around 40% in the first half for long balls played from square one with about a 25% possession gained by full time.

  2. So when considering the overall strategy to “hoof and hope” as well as the strategy to “clear the defending third” I would offer that the Timbers were pretty successful in executing that game plan.

My #3 WTWF was to track what formation PTFC used in this away game with the return of Franck Songo’o. As anticipated Gavin Wilkinson ran the 4-3-3 in attack and the 4-2-3-1 in defense. It may not be real clear but that is how things played out to me. And again, with the return of Songo’o, we saw much more of Diego Chara in the attacking half; this continues to be a strong point in the further development of Timbers in attack. It also reinforces the continued work towards playing a more controlling midfield. But as we saw, given the long ball strategy of the Timbers this game we really didn’t hesitate too much in playing small ball across the center. GW saw more value in getting the ball as far forward as possible and you already know I agree with that strategy.

  1. And in considering our success in the attacking third, to include small ball and through balls I’m not sure, at this time, if we were more successful because we are getting better or because the Red Bulls really appear to have a very crappy defense. Watching how the small ball and through balls develop against Vancouver should help clear the fog on that issue.

  2. What was a wee bit confusing was the MLS Soccer identified the Timbers game time formation as a 4-2-3-1 yet John Strong opened the narrative on Fox by saying Timbers were going to run a 4-3-3. Some folks may wander why there is discussion about the 4-2-3-1 versus the 4-3-3- versus the 4-5-1.

  3. The real issue with those different formations is that some primary roles and responsibilities for some players vary depending upon that starting formation. For example in a 4-5-1 and 4-2-3-1 the primary target player up top is the striker; while in a 4-3-3 anyone of three players can take on the primary target role. This is important when considering where the long balls are intended to be directed from the back four or square one.

  4. In addition; with a 4-2-3-1 the intent is to sustain two defenders in the defending half until possession is gained in the attacking third. Once done then one of those two rotate forward. While with the 4-3-3 as many as two midfielders are given free rein to rotate in the attacking half before possession is gained and controlled in the attacking third. So when assessing the attacking formation and the movement of Diego Chara up pitch it would appear that the team ran a 4-3-3 and ‘behaved like a 4-2-3-1’ when they didn’t have the ball.

  5. The system of play, however, continues to work towards short balls, possession and control. For this game, given the dynamics of the Red Bulls, part of that system of play took a back seat from the ‘get-go’. Good call in my opinion. Staying in the game are the paraphrased words used by Gavin Wilkinson; to be honest we did stay in the game and even forced the game. Good job on the attacking side that could have been great.

My #4 WTWF was associated with Kris Boyd and our ability to play the ball to his feet. Well I must admit I was a bit shocked to see Bright Dike get the start this game; not because he doesn’t deserve to get a look in but it had more to do with another analysis I am doing about budgets and investment strategies by the Timbers.

  1. Nevertheless I would offer that within the attacking third the Timbers midfielders did a great job of putting the ball to the feet of Bright Dike as well as each other and Mike Fucito who came on in the 73rd minute.

  2. Bright Dike did not look apprehensive or uncomfortable and given the movement off the ball to put himself in a position to score he did; and he did it with elan’. Great shot for a debut goal.

A few final observations for your consideration.

  1. We were unlucky to see Kosuke Kimura go down (another missed call by the referee) when elbowed by Cahill. Not sure if anyone saw it by I did see Sean McAuley voice a view words to Cahill later on that I’m sure had something to do with his style of play. I’m sure they’ve had a chat or two before given their time in the EPL.

  2. Who slots in for Kosuke Kimura may present a problem for some but when viewing the movement and defending abilities of Lovel Palmer I would fully expect him to take that role against Vancouver.

  3. A final thought before closing; David Horst obviously won the coin toss between himself and Hanyer Mosquera on who got to go forward last night. Again, though, we failed to get the ball in the attacking third to take advantage of that penetration. I continue to see this as a good sign that this team is working to get better. That, though small, continues to speak volumes, along with the bringing on of young players, like Dike, in a huge hostile environment.

  4. My MOTM for this game goes to Darlington Nagbe and Sal Zizzo. Both played superb games and both contributed equally in the attacking third. I could easily justify selecting one or the other separately but, for me, both deserved the award this game.

  5. Bottom line at the Bottom line: We didn’t get the result (again) but we got two away goals again before faltering inside our 18 yard box. This team really needs to get better on minimizing mental lapses inside the 18. Timbers have a HUGE and WICKED game coming up this weekend and the only relief left for this team to plot success is through the Cascadia Cup. I expect we will see a packed house for this derby (pronounced darbee) against Vancouver!

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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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