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What to Watch For (Timbers vs Rapids) 6:00 PM Wednesday) NBC Sports Net

You may need a bevvy but this is short enough it won’t need to be pint sized.

A run of two wins on the trot and now Timbers make a return visit to the Rapids, who swapped last place with PTFC on Friday. Can Timbers make it three? Hard to say but when turning on the telly to watch the game Wednesday evening here’s some WTWF’s that may have relevance on the outcome.

WTWF #1 – Midfield and command of the midfield.

  1. Rivero, Lorentowicz and Thomas will be quite dangerous in this return match and critical to the success of PTFC is nullifying their midfield control. I’m not sure they will open up with a 4-5-1 (4-2-3-1) like they did in the away game here but with a full squad, and everyone returning in the midfield the advantage we had over Hendry Thomas not knowing us that well is gone.

  2. I would expect to see just, if not more frantic play in the first 15-20 minutes than in Portland. Getting a one goal lead early on will be crucial for either team (especially Portland) given the altitude issues.

  3. How well we penetrate atop and alongside the 18 yard box will need to vary and remain unpredictable. Occasional dribbles into the box by Franck Songo’o (even though he loses the ball a few times) keep the defense on their toes and prevent them from sagging back into a tight 18. We can always rely on Sal Zizzo to work the wings for deep crosses but he too should consider the need to vary and penetrate (when he can) atop the 18. All of these moves make Bright Dike, Darlington Nagbe and a trailing Jack Jewsbury or Deigo Chara more dangerous.

WTWF #2 – Long Balls versus Short Balls from Square one and the back-four.

  1. I had a great conversation with David Horst on Monday after training and he reinforced the importance of sustaining pressure within the midfield by working towards delivering more short balls to the midfield from square one and the back-four. It is a system of play they work towards but they also need to take advantage of openings as they become available for penetration by themselves or through switches down the wings.

  2. So a great indicator tomorrow night will be how effective the back-four and Donovan Ricketts are in helping the midfield to penetrate the attacking half of the pitch.

WTWF #3 – Sustaining a high, tight and flat back-four.

  1. Both Casey and Cummings can be dangerous when they slide up and out to the wings; maintaining pressure while sustaining a tight 18 yard box will be critical. Key to that will be how effective our midfielders are in getting behind the ball as well as filling in, as needed, within the 18 yard box.

  2. This doesn’t mean losing sight atop the 18 either; both Nagbe and Chara or Nagbe and Jewsbury will need to close and physically shut that space down as Zizzo and Songo’o look to support the fullbacks.

WTWF #4 – Darlington Nagbe.

  1. Why do I keep bringing up Darlington? Simple; he’s on a roll and he has really stepped up his game; this is not to say others haven’t. For me there is clear indication that everyone has continued to step up and play their roles effectively. But for me, the most critical area where PTFC can do the greatest damage is penetration atop the 18 yard box. The key player in that area is Nagbe with a trailing role from Capt. Jack and Diego Chara. But with those two I submit that keeping an eye out for Lorentowicz and Hendry will occupy most of their energy.

  2. Counterattacking in an away game also fits in with Nagbe’s strengths and an aggressive Rapids team should open up some great counterattacking opportunities for Nagbe, Zizzo and Songo’o.

WTWF #5 – The coin flip on which center-back penetrates forward deep into the attacking half of the pitch.

  1. Pay attention (as time permits) to when and where one of the two center-backs can push forward into the attacking half. While not critical to a successful attack it does generate space for others to attack and we nearly saw Nagbe net a goal from just such penetration.

  2. In all the games since Toronto, PTFC have penetrated deep into the attacking half at least once. As this does occur also keep an eye or two out for Jewsbury or Chara to see if they rotate back to take the vacated center-back role. Again, it’s not critical, but it provides variation and usually creates an unplanned response from the defense that PTFC might be able to capitalize on.

Bottom Line At The Bottom (BLATB): The full 90′ minutes will be, perhaps, the biggest test this team has faced all season. Aye, every match has been or is important but IMHO the grace period is over for Gavin Wilkinson and Sean McAuley. There has been sustained “role playing” improvement on this team (with each player) since Wilkinson and McAuley started this transition; this game, at this time, is a real test as to how well the players execute their developing roles in this new system of play.

You can follow me on twitter at: https://twitter.com/ChrisGluckPTFC

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.