Get your favorite bevvy, some good eats and settle in for the journey…
First things first; in going to the Timbers training session the previous Saturday I had a chance to take in watching some youth soccer at their facility. After one of the matches there were some players from the U-13 Somerset West recreation soccer team hanging back to watch the Timbers train. In seeing this and considering the continued popularity of this sport across our country I thought I’d ask them who their favorite player was that I should pay a little extra attention to the next game. A couple of names came up but the one they most seemed to agree on was Franck Songo’o. So with that in mind here a few thoughts and observations for the U-13 Somerset West soccer team to consider.
- A grueling day for Franck – his most productive area was up-high, left midfield that led to movement and penetrations atop and around the 18 yard box. It appeared the deeper left he went the less effective he became. This is not unusual from Franck – he likes to penetrate atop and around the 18 and with an overlapping Smith taking up the deeper penetration on the left this rotation works well. That comfort with Smith was not quite there with Rodney Wallace – not a bad thing but something to build from as time passes.
- In considering the upcoming change we have in head coaches I did notice that around the 76’ minute mark there was a nifty little rotation between Zizzo and Songo’o; Franck rolled out down the right wing and Sal altered his position towards the left. Rotations such as this are a good sign IMHO – PTFC should do more of this. Anything and everything PTFC can do to alter the run of play in the attacking third is good; the greater the variation the harder to defend.
- From a defensive standpoint what stood out to me more than anything was how little Franck had to do on the defensive side. I cannot recall a time where the pressure was so weak by an MLS team; Franck did track back but the need to track back deeply didn’t really manifest itself that much. Perhaps with Rosales on the pitch that might have changed but with Evans a threat down the left side was limited. And when it did occur David Horst was very quick to shut it down if Rodney was caught up field.
- So in wrapping up these thoughts on Franck Songo’o I would offer he had pretty creative stretches at times but IMHO he still must work towards varying his penetration to the 18. The more predictable he becomes in routinely dribbling to the top of the 18 the more defenses will cheat on him and make him less effective. Having Smith as a counter-foil, or a more clued in Wallace will strengthen that left side penetration.
- As a takeaway for Somerset West Recreational soccer players and other youth soccer players/teams (especially premier and select) to consider as they continue to learn this game. When playing one specific position in the midfield there is goodness in learning to vary your approach on how to get past someone… there are about 6 basic ball turns out there – get with your head coach if you don’t know them.
- Also, playing one position in midfield does not mean you are (or should be) anchored to that physical location on the pitch. Having the ability to rotate (and communicate that rotation) with other players in and around various other locations on the pitch is critical to your teams’ success in creating opportunities to get shots on goal. Get with your head coach and ask them about this to better understand; don’t just go out there and do it on your own. At the end of the day this is a team game and if you try it on your own and don’t tell anyone then you are creating a hole where the rest of your team doesn’t expect one.
That may be more than some wanted to know so here’s a quick reminder of my simplified WTWF in this game: Back-four, Midfield and Set Pieces. Normally I’d pare each down and offer up some observations in each category but not this week. Instead I’d like to roll out some general and specific observations that match the overall tempo of this match – “start-stop”.
- Set-Pieces win games – well PTFC didn’t win the game but that corner by Jack Jewsbury to Rodney Wallace got PTFC the goal they needed to ‘not lose’ that game. If you follow https://twitter.com/AndyGiegerich on twitter you may see an interesting tweet by him at 2:29 PM – 15 Sep right after the PTFC equalizer.
- Onwards to our forward. Like the last game against Seattle (even though Boyd scored) the apparent productivity from the PTFC striker this game looked anemic compared to Seattle. I’m not traditionally a numbers guy but when considering all the data that crops up on the MLS Chalkboard it sure does appear to me that there was difference between our strikers’ activity and that of Montero and/or Johnson. http://www.mlssoccer.com/matchcenter/2012-09-15-por-v-sea/chalkboard
- I’m not offering that this type of data is the only type of indicator about a players’ activity during a game; a decision maker, IMHO, never ever relies on ‘one data set’ to make a decision. But, for me at least, it does serve to reinforce a take-away I had after the game was over; PTFC continues to appear to consistently underutilize this position. The question begs – how can PTFC continue to have someone on the pitch for a full ninety minutes and not expect that player to contribute (across the “chalk”-board) as much as any other player; tika-taka (if I get-it) won’t allow that. Will there be additional moves up top the remainder of this season in preparation for Caleb Porter taking over in December?
- One final offering here about the forward position(s) for future consideration. Like our last game, perhaps PTFC considers that a different type of formation suits a different type of opponent. Given the width of the pitch and the overall pace of Colorado Rapids players it appeared to me that a 4-3-2-1 might better suit an away game in Colorado. When looking at the overall results and style of play against Seattle, in Jeld-Wen, it might be worth considering that a 4-4-2 formation may yield better results than the 4-3-3; after all PTFC won running a 4-4-2 earlier this year and lost running this 4-3-3. Results are tricky things to work from when considering decision making but it is a result and it is a valid data point.
- For me though, it’s not as simple as the fact that we scored two goals in June (one from a set-piece as well) but it has more to do with the offering about productivity from PTFC strikers. Montero and Johnson absolutely ran the Timbers ragged in both games; their distribution and possession and overall command of their area dominated when compared to Dike. Yet when PTFC ran two strikers in June that dominance did not surface quite as much. So in essence PTFC had greater productivity from more players using a two striker formation than a one striker formation.
- Perhaps this is food for thought as the transition towards Caleb Porter continues. Some might argue this also gets back to predictability; the more predictable PTFC is in running a specific formation all the time the easier it is for the opponent to defend against them.
- On to the back-four; PTFC held fast for the most part but I would offer that this was more about individual capability and capacity not a collective tight and flat back-four discipline. I’m not sure how accurate my counting was but it sure did appear to me that the back-four was far from being ‘flat’ and ‘tight’ inside or outside the 18 yard box throughout many parts of the game.
- If I had to use a keyboard symbol to describe the ideal shape I would offer that a “|” would be ideal. In other words flat and pretty much in a straight line to maximize off-side opportunities while working to win the ball when PTFC didn’t have the ball. What I saw yesterday was a back four in this shape “?”; seriously and a bit ironic really.
- Basically Kosuke Kimura was routinely up high and outside the standard line, Hanyer Mosquera would routinely drop back deep, as many as five yards behind David Horst and Rodney Wallace, at the first threat of penetration; thereby opening up both sides of the pitch. While Horst and Wallace pretty much held their shape throughout. A more talented team sees this drop back by Mosquera and takes advantage of it through switches and direct through-balls; PTFC is lucky that Seattle is not as talented as most other higher placed teams in this league. NOTE: Kosuke Kimura admitted he had a terrible game against Colorado last week and he expected himself, as a professional, to move on and perform better; he did.
- In considering the positional alignment of the back-four perhaps PTFC will conduct a more in-depth analysis at the end of the season to spot trends in the back-four shape? Bottom line here, IMHO, is that if not for some superb individual performances by David Horst, and some great central midfield tracking-back, this game could have been a run-away for Sounders.
- Forward into the past; awhile ago we saw the likes of Eric Alexander, Danny Mwanga, Kalif Alhassan, and Brent Richards getting playing time; with PTFC only having two games of ‘real importance” the remainder of this season (away to Seattle and Vancouver) when might we see these players get more minutes?
- It’s hard to imagine Danny Mwanga being less productive than Bright Dike this last game. And while I haven’t seen him a whole lot I would be willing to offer that Mwanga may give PTFC more overall movement in and around the entire attacking half of the pitch as opposed to Dike. Yes, Dike has energy but it appears to me he is getting caught up in the ‘target trap’ that has previously happened with Boyd. Others may have a different view, but (almost like Boyd) PTFC has invested a wee bit of budget for Mwanga; with all the play time Boyd received and the most recent play time Dike received wouldn’t it be reasonable to see Mwanga get some time as well?
- Likewise with Eric Alexander, the oft injured Kalif Alhassan, and Brent Richards; all have done reasonably well and all could afford some more top-flight action to get better. If the announcers were right (during the Akron Zips game last Friday) Caleb Porter likes to play with 8 midfield types and 2 center-backs; wouldn’t it be reasonable that these additional midfielders might get some more play time as the season winds down in order for Porter to better assess their playing skills at the top level?
- Finally we have two young defenders (Ryan Kawulok and Andrew Jean-Baptiste) that also could afford more top-flight action to get better. Baptism by fire where the risk / reward is small should provide additional learning opportunities for these two players. Might we see more of these two (when Baptiste is healthy) as this season winds down?
- To clarify I’m not advocating that all the remaining minutes go towards further developing the youth of PTFC as there still remain two very important games but weaving any of these players in (sooner than the 75 minute mark) may provide more benefit in the long term.
- The “coin flip”; this running commentary is along the same lines as the rotation of Franck Songo’o and Sal Zizzo on the wings; the greater the variation in penetrating the 18 yard box or the attacking half of the pitch the more dangerous a team might become. In this last game David Horst again won the “coin flip” with Hanyer Mosquera and Horsts’ penetration around the 83 minute mark directly led to a shot on goal by Jack Jewsbury. This is the second time a center-back penetration (outside of a set-piece) has led to a shot on goal (recall the almost goal by Nagbe, from Songo’o and Horst in the game PTFC beat Colorado 1-nil at home?); IMHO there is goodness in seeing more of this as the opportunity presents itself.
- In wrapping up this match analysis and attempting to process this last game I would offer that PTFC continues to make strides in getting better in the midfield; as noted earlier I would offer that this weakness, 3-4 months ago, has now become a strength. Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, and Darlington Nagbe look and play, IMHO, much more comfortably with each other now than in the past. That additional aggressive approach, I sense, will continue to develop with Nagbe; and with Porter coming in that should push him even more.
- Some additional offerings for your consideration after jotting down a few notes when I saw Akron played St. Johns on national television last week. 1) About 72% (33 of 46) of all balls from square one were played short, 2) Akron retained possession of the ball over 60% of the time – that is pretty high given the stop-start run-of-play for that game as well, 3) The fullbacks overlapped regularly and were sometimes found to be much further forward than the midfield wingers, and 4) With the fullbacks pressing so far forward there were occasions where Akron did lose ball possession in their defending half; if not for extremely athletic center-backs Akron probably would have lost that game. So in other words when in defense mode Akron played a 4-4-2 but when in attack mode they played a 2-4-4; a very aggressive approach to soccer and for now I’m not sure how that will manifest itself with PTFC next year.
- Given that Caleb Porter would sometimes lose his top players after only 1 or 2 years of play to the MLS draft (and given the consistent record of success and low goals allowed in defense) how might that translate to an MLS team where Porter isn’t losing players after maybe a year or two but actually keeping them for as many as five or more? At this time I remain stubbornly steadfast and steadfastly stubborn that PTFC will see much greater success over the years to come. Porter is patient, his teams are patient; it’s not proper-cricket to play Tika-Taka and not be patient. I would offer for consideration that there is goodness in PTFC having patience as Caleb Porter transitions to the Timbers and MLS.
In closing; while PTFC didn’t clinch the Cascadia Cup they still remain in contention for it while also climbing out of the western conference cellar. IMHO the final standings at this point don’t really mean anything; the only two games that have real value or benefit this year are the ones against Seattle and Vancouver. I offer that there is value and goodness in PTFC running some younger players the remainder of this season; if for no other reason than to keep one or two guys from not being suspended (league imposed for yellow card accumulation) for the Seattle/Vancouver games.
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