Crackin’ game – PTFC 3 – NYRB 3

I certainly hope each game this year doesn’t have the drama of this game… woe to the feint heart in Port-er-land if it does.  In hearing the beat of the drums and hearts pounding last night it sure did sound like Timber-Taka has arrived.

To be faithful to my prognostication earlier last week here’s what I offered for your consideration and how this game might take shape.

“So while each team is fielding a number of new players there will be a number of guys who are very familiar with each other (their strengths and weaknesses).  With this dynamic and it being a nationally televised season opener, at a sold out JELD-WEN, tension will be high.”  Furthermore…

“With all that nervous energy the first 15-30 minutes might be very wicked indeed.  An opportune time for either team to take advantage of individual mistakes that might drive an outcome (a win) more than controlled possession with purpose.”

I am not particularly keen on the idea that this offering ended up having some merit; I would have preferred no early mistakes and a simple two-nil win in favor of Portland.  But this game is better known for brutality on the emotions than it is simplicity of peace and tranquility.

So what were the stats behind the flesh and blood of this game?  My quick dive into those before my closing observations on some play, players and alas, the referee.

First here’s the overall chart showing PWP statistics for the Timbers game against New York:

Possession with Purpose Portland Timbers vs New York

Possession with Purpose Portland Timbers vs New York

Note:  As the season progresses I will continue to update this diagram while also:

1.  Adding an additional diagram against each Western Conference team (since we play them three times)

2.  Adding an additional diagram for each category of data as the sample group gets bigger; in other words by about game five I should be able to create a diagram for Time of Possession (TOP), PA3 (penetrations into the attacking third), GSO’s, etc…

In considering the data in comparison to the stretch targets; I think most would agree that this is perhaps the best offensive attacking game Portland have ever played in the regular season of MLS; I’m not sure if it will be the norm this year but it is encouraging.

And the numbers do parallel those seen against AIK somewhat.

So how did the variation in penetrating the attacking third (PA3) play out?

Here’s the Portland Timbers diagram:

Portland versus New York

Portland versus New York

While I won’t keep the numbers collected from pre-season I can reference them early on for comparison; as things played out this game the overall variation in PA3 appears to match that of the pre-season.  A slight inclination to penetrate a wee bit more down the right and left as opposed to the center.

Still a strong enough variation to ensure the opponent can’t hedge their bets one way or the other to any great effect.

As for New York; here’s how their penetrations played out.

New York PA3 against Portland

New York PA3 against Portland

Is it any wonder New York looked to penetrate down our left side?  For me no, Thierry Henry likes to work off the ball and use space created by others as the ball moves to the opposite side of the pitch.  With the ball primarily going down our left wing that opens up space for Henry in the center and the opponents right wing.

What will make this difficult to manage for some teams is exactly what Portland found difficult to manage; Fabian Espindola.  He clearly likes to run onto the ball and play a more direct dribble approach – a great counter foil to Henry.  If you don’t have Fabian Espindola on your fantasy team perhaps it might be a prudent move.  I know I will be adding him in my next transfer cycle.

Closing Observations on Plays, Players and the awfully dreadful and dreadfully awful referee:

New York had the third worst goals against in the Eastern Conference last year and by the looks of things in this game they were weak; very weak down the middle.

As mentioned in an interview recently with the Columbian Newspaper; passing completion only represents a pass made and accepted and Dax McCarty apparently had the highest passing completion percentage last year.

So how does a player with the greatest passing completion percentage really add value when the team he plays on gives up the third most goals in the Eastern Conference last year?

In short, it doesn’t add great value and the example of how weak McCarty was this game showed quite clearly.  Valeri penetrated into the top of the 18 yard box from an assist by Alhassan originating from atop the 18 yard box.

Darlington Nagbe’s goal came after a rebound on a shot by Diego Valeri originating from atop the 18 yard box.  Finally, a little less obvious but telling nonetheless.  Valencia’s shot that got an own goal came from a keeper deflection after a screaming shot by Nagbe who got there by penetrating from atop the 18 yard box.

All those areas were the collective responsibility of the New York center.

But let’s dissect two of our goals from the start.  The first originate from a throw-in by Ryan Miller to Baptiste, who played it to Silvestre, back to Baptiste, back to Ryan Miller, up pitch to Diego Valeri (center), on to Ryan Johnson, over to Darlington Nagbe (far left) back to Will Johnson (center) with a quick pass into Alhassan atop the 18 who feathered it to Valeri for a stunning, gob-smacking, goal.

All told that was 10 consecutive touches moving from right to center to left to center to goal scored.

If that wasn’t enough let’s peel back another goal; the one where Baptiste got yanked down by his arm in the penalty box on a corner by Valeri.  Yes, it started there…

Valeri takes the corner; Baptiste gets pulled down and Cahill captures the ball as it slides out back towards the end line.  Cahill hoofs it up the pitch to a central Michael Harrington (center), who passes it on to Silvestre (left), then on to Diego Chara (right), through to Alhassan, back to Diego, over to Will Johnson (center), on to Darlington Nagbe (left), back to Alhassan (right), over to Diego Valeri (center) who penetrates atop the 18, slams a wicked straight ball at Robles who deflects it into the oncoming path of Nagbe (left).

All told 10 touches from start to finish, or if counting the original corner and panic clearance by Cahill, 12 touches.  Ironic that such a brilliant goal came after one of the worst non-calls I have ever seen.

In considering PWP and the beat of the ball on the Timber feet it’s no wonder a team like Barcelona calls their approach tika-taka.  For me those were two clear examples of Timber-Taka. I don’t know if we will see many goals where Portland scores them on 10 consecutive touches but when the back-four get sorted out this could be one dangerous bloody team.

With the brilliant came the ugly and as I noted when kicking off this effort the first 30 minutes ‘might’ be a brutal affair.  They were.

Nerves hit us all one time or another for something.  This game must have been a throw-back for Mikael and his days in the Champions League and battles with Arsenal.  A wicked good crowd, the sound deafening and a new pitch to work with.

In hindsight Silvestre may have cleared the ball out for a corner as opposed to playing a back pass.

And in hindsight Ricketts may have also cleared the ball out for a corner as opposed to picking it up.  Neither did and the dreaded mistake occurred.

But that’s not the whole story here; what really happened is that PTFC broke the governing rules of Football by playing a back pass.  The referee either missed this or chose to overlook the obvious back pass?  (Edit – feedback from some retired referee’s seems to indicate that Jair Marrufo was not well positioned to see the back-pass).

The appropriate call here, from any professional referee, is to (edit – allow play to continue as opposed to) award an ‘indirect free kick’ from the spot of the foul.  Yes, in all likelihood New York would have scored from about 5 yards out but that’s not the point.

So let’s move on.  Again the referee may have missed it but everyone in the entire bloody stadium and across ESPN TV land saw the blatant arm yank against Baptiste in the Penalty Box.  Ironically it’s this non-call that eventually led (one clearance and 10 passes later) to PTFC’s second goal.

So is that it, no.  There were three strikes against this Professional (Full Time) Referee…  yes three…  not including what some consider to be the dubious dive by Espindola…

If you look closely at the free kick awarded to Diego Valeri just outside the 18 yard box at the 85th minute you’ll see the Referee begin to step out the obligatory 10 yards for where the wall is supposed to line up.

Slow down your DVR and check out the bite size steps Jair Marrufo takes in lining up where the Red Bull wall is supposed to be; I don’t think I was seeing things in how short that 10 yards really ended up being.  I did get someone to corroborate what I saw but perhaps others have a different view?

Another way to confirm the short distance is to stop your recording at the 85:10 game time and check out where the ball is in location to the top of the 18 yard box and then look at where the wall is in relation to the penalty spot.

The box is 18 yards from goal and the penalty spot is 12 yards from goal; with the wall being lined up almost at the same point as the penalty spot and the ball being just outside the 18 yard box it is clear, in my mind, that this referee DID NOT count out the appropriate ten yards.  From that point of view it’s probably more like 7 yards and not ten.

Now word has it this referee doesn’t call many fouls and in a game as physical as this (for both sides) it is stunning that no-one, not even Diego Chara got booked.  I am hopeful that this game was assessed, evaluated and this Referee was corrected as appropriate.

In my view if MLS wants to continue to get better then they need to be timely in their discipline and it needs to be appropriate to the action or actions that occurred.

Michael Kennedy (Kudos to @futboldaddy) was in the press box last night.  I’m not sure if he caught the ‘short ten yards or not’ but hopefully he caught the dubious dive by Espindola, the back-pass non-call and the blatant penalty against Baptiste.  I don’t like doing this but for me there is compelling information that leads me to believe this referee needs some remedial training if MLS wants to continue to operate at the highest level.

I hate to end this on a sour note so I won’t.

I will be offering up my player evaluations sometime tomorrow evening and to give you a hint I’ll let you know up front there will be at least one A.  I really thought it would be a rare day to see someone garner an A in my evaluation scheme but if this team continues to produce and execute possession with purpose like this throughout the year there may be more A’s than I thought.


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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