JELD-WEN – Sunday – PTFC vs San Jose – Some thoughts for your consideration

A great test for Portland Timbers this Sunday against one of the top teams in MLS last year…

You don’t need to be a “details” fan in MLS to know that San Jose was a superb team last year; tons of shots taken, tons of shots on goal and plenty of goals scored…  superb midfield play and a grit and determination led by the ever-present Chris Wondolowski.  No team in MLS last year was better in converting shots on goal to goals scored.

With that said it should be a great game to take in for the fans that have waited “ages” to get back into JELD-WEN.  Likewise it should be a superb chance for the newer players to get a “feel” for what it is like to play in our packed house this year.

Fair enough that this game is just a ‘friendly’ and the result doesn’t count… but from what we have seen already Caleb Porter does use these games to make adjustments on who starts and what types of formations he might consider as the regular season approaches.

Does PTFC open in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3; for me it really doesn’t matter too much at this point because as the game kicks off most players will have just about the same role in either formation; defend and get behind the ball when San Jose has it (close down quickly and apply pressure as appropriate) and attack, with controlled ball possession when having the ball.

A notable difference in the 4-4-2 is that that there may be more of an obvious one-to-one relationship between the two center forwards versus the 4-3-3 where anyone of maybe 3-4 players might rotate in and out to ‘work-off’ the target center forward.

Alignment within the attacking half/third could remain roughly the same, possess the ball, make space, use space and look to create goal scoring opportunities (GSO’s) as gaps appear.

On the defensive side the center-back situation, with David Horst still nursing a groin strain and Silvestre now training with Seattle, continues to remain unclear.  With that said though, the fullbacks should remain unchanged for now; Harrington and Miller.

In working back to front here’s my initial expectation on the back-four.  The center-backs will continue to see the ball quite a bit as the team builds from the back.  In doing this, eventually, both fullbacks will push higher to spread the defense.  With that we might see them overlap but I won’t expect them to overlap extremely deep into the corner. 

For those familiar with the attacking formations you might call it a 2-6-2 or perhaps a 2-7-1.  As the ball moves forward the midfield shape may (when working from side to side) see 5 or 6 (or even 7) players working in a small sided game on one side of the pitch while one or two of the other players (the off-fullback and perhaps the off-forward) will hang back in open space or or near the other side of the pitch.

So on to the back-four and moving the ball into the attacking half of the pitch…  Porter runs a tight ship and will want to minimize risk and maximize opportunity; the deeper his fullbacks penetrate the greater the risk in being out of position if there is a turnover.

While San Jose wasn’t as good as Sporting KC last year (in goals against) they more than made up for that in attack and taking advantage of goal scoring opportunities (GSO’s).  Therefore, maintaining the ability to sustain a tight back-four will be a concern.

Given that, another consideration, a bit more complicated than the first, is that if/when the fullbacks do penetrate deep into the corner (and deliver out-swinging crosses) (those that bend away from goal) those crosses ‘must’ have a low trajectory, be near/mid center of the 6 yard box and be accurate.

The higher and deeper an out-swinging cross coming in from the corner the easier it is for a defender / goal keeper to deflect the ball outside the area and get a turnover where a teammate might get a quick jump on it for a devastating counterattack.

And while I have seen strong defensive play from Ryan Miller and Michael Harrington I have yet to see routine ‘quality’ in delivering near/mid center of the 6 yard box, low trajectory crosses from deep in the corner.  Hence an expectation that when crosses might come in from the fullbacks they will be from higher up and pitch and more towards the far post – similar to those delivered by San Jose last year.

If, on the other hand fullbacks are two-footed then a Cryuff turn, putting the ball on the opposite foot, might enable a fullback the option to penetrate deeper on one side of the pitch and slot home an in-swinging cross.  I believe Michael Harrington is two-footed and I have yet to see Ryan Miller deliver a cross with his left foot; perhaps others have?  So it might be reasonable that if/when PTFC does penetrate deep into the corner it will be Harrington and opposed to Miller.

Note:  Since in-swinging crosses have a ball rotation going towards goal it is far easier to deflect them on goal as opposed to up and out of the 18 yard box; meaning that there is less risk in seeing a turnover if the cross is not as accurate. 

Anyway, crosses delivered from a higher point on the pitch are easier and can be higher and deeper given their trajectory.  Last year San Jose, to good effect, burned Portland a number of times on crosses delivered to the far post from high on the right.   That was a regular poaching area for Wondolowski and with Kimura being a bit diminutive (compared to Wondolowski) it was easy for him to dominate in the air.  How will Ryan Miller deal with the far post against Wondolowski?

With those thoughts here’s some additional grist for the mill.. 

If PTFC do get behind, and wholesale changes are made, there is every chance that the Timbers will not change strategy or tactics in this game.  Sustaining ball control and possession with purpose (PWP) is probably the first priority for this team in pre-season matches – a win here doesn’t mean as much to Caleb; he has said that in post-game interviews already this year.  

To paraphrase… He’d be more happy with good control and good ball possession and even a loss; than poor control, poor possession and a win.  I would offer that means we won’t see PTFC simply, willy-nilly, lob the ball up the pitch into the attacking third.

I submit that pressure leading to turnovers and possession leading towards control of this game will be the benchmarks.  That and a close eye on what forwards/midfielders do when given a GSO. 

Wondolowski provided a great example last year of a player who was superb in converting GSO’s to goals.  Will we see a player for PTFC provide that stand-out type of productivity this game? 

Hopefully both teams put out their top (near top) eleven; apples to apples comparisons always provide greater value in the pre-season. 

It might be too early to see Ben Zemanski get a look-in but I do imagine the last 30 minutes or so might get the home fans a chance to see some of the newer / younger players.

In considering the recent signing of Ben Zemanski, the acquisition of Michael Nanchoff’s rights, and the draft pick, David Meves, this brings the total to four for previous Akron Zips players in the fold of Caleb Porter.  I hope I haven’t missed any – I did it earlier this week and thank you Barrett Olafson for your patience!   

Some may feel uncomfortable with this many ex-Zips players; others may not.  For now I’m not uncomfortable at all and here’s why. 

Throughout professional football most, if not all teams, have Academies.  Within those academies younger players are ‘brought up’ to work from a system/style of play that is advocated by the Head Coach/philosophy of the team. 

So when looking at Nagbe, Zemanski, Meves, and Nanchoff one thing is certain.  All these players are familiar with the system/style of football that Caleb Porter is bringing to PTFC. 

In essence, each one of these players is pretty much on par (or higher) with the same type of player who would have been brought up by the PTFC Academy if Caleb Porter had been here for a few years.

And that is a good thing; many have applauded the promotion of Brent Richards and Steven Evans.  If folks are pleased with that then the same level of goodness should, at this stage, be reasonable for those Akron Zip players who are gaining a foothold here.

Like any new players there remains the test as to whether or not these guys can or can continue to ‘cut-it’ in the MLS.  That same question comes up for Academy players as well; some get-it, some don’t.

Those that don’t, I expect, will get moved on and those that do will get more playing time, make this team better, and gain additional experience in playing in this league.

All for now – really looking forward to the game this Sunday; I will work to expand what data I gather for this next game; especially with San Jose being a Western Conference team…

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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