Portland Timbers Player Evaluations

Portland Timbers FC took on New York RB in a blinding game this past weekend where Timber Taka put its stamp at JELD-WEN field.

No more giving up like the slap in the face against FC Dallas last year.  When PTFC took to the field in the second half it was clear Porter’s influence had impacted on field performance.

When offering up my Player Evaluations my intent is to submit what I feel is relevant information, ahead of time, to support the underlying opinions.

I do not take offering up individual player evaluations lightly.  You know my approach but in case not here is a link to help you better understand my rating system: http://blogs.columbian.com/portland-timbers/2013/02/25/individual-player-ratings/

On to providing what I feel is relevant information to support the teamwork, leadership, goals scored and goals against categories; no red or yellow cards issued this game.

1.  In watching the game Sunday there were many opportunities for both teams where they controlled possession 20 yards or so around the center-line; what is critical to that however is whether or not possession in that area resulted in a corresponding penetration into the attacking third.

2.  In the majority of the cases New York (especially in the 2nd half) had the ball in the middle third but couldn’t get it past the closing down of our defense.  Yes; there was an odd occasion or two (only 8 actually in 49 minutes of play) where New York got through… thankfully Ricketts was engaged and he singlehandedly saved a goal or two with his quick thinking/reactions.

3.  So when a team still has good possession of the ball but fails to penetrate the attacking third at least three things could be going on.

a.  The team possessing the ball is considering the need to kill time or,

b.  The team is working patiently to look for gaps and moves the ball around to try and create those gaps, or

c.  The team not possessing the ball is closing down and working hard to win the ball back before the opponent penetrates their third.

4.  When Portland didn’t have the ball it was clear to me (this game) that c. was going on as opposed to New York doing a. or b.

5.  The crazy part of this game is that two goals came from individual or combined individual mistakes and only one goal could really be attributed to the back four as a whole.   So when looking at the defensive role by the midfield in this game it was almost the dog’s bollocks.

6.  Productivity for the attacking scheme increased from a very strong first half to a pretty superb 2nd half.  Here’s the PWP diagrams laying out the team statistics leading up to goals scored for each half:

PWP 1st Half

PWP 1st Half

PWP 2nd Half

PWP 2nd Half

Green indicates where PTFC exceeded New York, Blue is where they tied in statistical info and Red shows where New York exceeded Portland.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that for this entire game Portland was the better attacking and defending ‘team’ on the pitch.

7.  Tactical changes were made (at least) by halftime; as the second half began I noticed that both Harrington and Miller were penetrating deeper and more frequently into the attacking third than they have almost all of the pre-season.

8.  Three substitutions were made; Valencia for Alhassan, Zizzo for Miller, and Wallace for Chara.

9.  Goals for were by Valeri, Nagbe and an own-goal coming off a low, hard slam into the box by Valencia.

10.  Goals against came down to individual play by Silvestre, Silvestre and Ricketts and then a low cross coming from a corner that slid unscathed to the far post for Olave to slot home.

So on to Player evaluations…

As promised in yesterday’s article someone would be getting an A for Sunday’s game.  I’ll get to that person in a bit but first the rough part – what to do about Silvestre and Ricketts?


There is no question to me that his two second half saves (the breakaway where Henry really looked off-side in particular) really kept Portland in the game given the change in tactics for the second half.  those tactical changes increased risk in giving up a 4th goal by a wide margin.

So what about the first half?  Complete fumble (school kid error) on not only attempting to pick up that back-pass with his hands but also in his ungainly touch on letting the ball squirt out when he did attempt to grab it.

Apparently the referee missed that back-pass so bad luck that is squirted out in one respect while also unlucky in that the referee didn’t whistle for an indirect free kick.  As others have commented on Referee blog sites and on my previous blog, even if the referee did see the back-pass it was unlikely that he would have stopped play.

A tale of two halves for Ricketts; this game is not about 45 minutes; it’s about a full 90. And although his school kid error may have cost Portland Timbers three points it’s not just down to him; others were involved in conceding three goals to New York.   Final Grade C.

Mikael Silvestre:

Like Ricketts his mark was on this game; but not just for the untimely back-pass (that was probably better suited for a clearance) but also for misplaying the long ball that put Espindola on goal for his brace.

TV announcers indicated this faux pas had more to do with learning how the pitch plays  than a complete balls-up by Silvestre.  I agree and his second half performance showed his grit to make things right.

To make my point, it was his penetration deep into the left corner (in stoppage time) with a brilliantly placed (left-pegged) cross that got Ryan Johnson within 18 inches of scoring a stunning game winner.  It takes an on-field leader to completely turn around a poor performance in the first 30 minutes into a well played defensive game in the final 60 minutes.

As a separate flutter; if  / when Horst gets better seeing Silvestre motor down that left wing deep into stoppage time is a great sign of endurance.  There is more to his game than we are seeing or saw against New York.

He will add additional flexibility by being able to play either center-back or fullback (especially in the high game fullback role that Porter works too).

Bottom line though is it takes a leader to know when they need to get better, take one for the team, and move on.

Silvestre knows he made mistakes, is accountable for those mistakes, and should take the appropriate punishment for those mistakes.  Final Grade is D.  Turn the page…

AJ Baptiste:

A bit hot and cold for me this game; clearly he needs more work in positioning and making sure he man marks tighter in the 6 yard box on dangerous crosses.  He was very unlucky to not get a penalty kick awarded and clearly his big body presents many problems for the opponent during out set pieces.

Still, AJ’s primary job is helping to run the back four and while Henry may have been off-side on that jaunt down our right in the second half letting Henry get that far behind him was ‘not good’.  Final Grade C.

Ryan Miller:

An odd game for Ryan at times; he continues to impress in supporting the attacking role down the right wing side and his defensive activities this game were strong but on occasion he was out of position.

That was probably more to do with the increased distance he had to travel in getting back behind the ball during a turnover as opposed to bad positioning.  Still, when in attack I remain unconvinced that he is developing pedigree in his crosses, some were good but some were also low, high, wide or off-target.

I sense the real strength with Ryan will be his defensive mindset; there is value in having a defensive minded fullback who is asked to play a bit higher.  But to truly maximize his value I would submit he needs to get better at crossing and / or penetrating into and atop the 18 yard box to better facilitate Alhassan and his great touch with crosses.  Final Grade C.

Sal Zizzo:

Mixed emotions here since we just learned today that Sal went under the knife to get his meniscus fixed.  Nevertheless Sal came on and also did exactly what his role was.  Replace a tiring Miller, engage the right wing and his his direct dribbling skills and crossing ability to energize the right.

The combinations were a wee bit rusty to begin but he got his legs and worked well with Valencia, who also came on at the same time.  For me there is not much difference between Miller and Zizzo and would offer that Zizzo is probably more of an offensive defender while Ryan is more a defensive attacker.

Both good options and a great combination for a late game substitution given certain conditions.  I don’t see Ryan Kawulok providing that same grist that Sal does.  Final Grade C.

Michael Harrington:

In considering Harrington I am also seeing him working to a slightly higher level than Miller to facilitate ball movement on his side.  The movement I am seeing is more on the ground then through the air.  In the second half I counted at least 7 crosses coming in from the right that just missed for one reason or another; while down the left side the crosses were less frequent as the ball was played more on the ground.

I see this as a good thing when considering how Harrington gets engaged with Nagbe.  Final Grade B.

Will Johnson:

Again Will’s leadership was apparent and get those bloody water bottles off the pitch!  There was simply no give with this guy when PTFC went down 3-1.  The grit and determination was superb and his control of the midfield center, along with Diego Chara, will be just as devastating to our opponents as the tandem being developed between Valeri and Nagbe.

There was a reason Juninho and Cahill and McCarty were just about useless this game and the reason pretty much came down to how well Chara and Johnson closed down the center.   Not wild running but controlled aggression that put a stamp on shutting down the middle.  Final Grade B.

Diego Chara:

Like Will Johnson, Diego Chara also put his stamp on this game.  The two combined for some wicked-good tackles and limited Cahill to second class citizen.  Twellman offered up during the telecast that it was time for Cahill and Henry to put their stamp on the game as DP’s; didn’t happen Taylor.

And while much of the attention got drawn towards elsewhere Diego made it through a brawling good game without a yellow!  It’s offensive outburst games like these where Diego and Will are at their best; each provided relief valve opportunities and both were linked into the 10 pass combinations that lead to two stunning goals by Portland.  Final Grade B.

Rodney Wallace:

A late substitution for Rodney but his job was clear; get Diego off the pitch without a yellow; relieve him from a wicked hard game and provide some late energy to spur on the team.  It was Rodney’s little toe-poke forward that got the ball rolling for Darlington to rip off that stunning strike that deflected over to Valencia.

Kudo’s for Rodney getting engaged and holding up the back of the center with Will Johnson as the game minutes wound down.  Rodney did what he was asked.  Final Grade B.

Darlington Nagbe:

A stellar game really; dominating on both sides of the ball.  Worked hard tracking back as much as he worked hard pushing forward.  To be honest I was gob-smacked at his motor this game and am really looking forward to how the final four (Nagbe, Johnson, Valeri and Alhassan) engage as the season progresses.

I can’t find fault with any aspect of Nagbe’s game today from either side of the pitch; and with a goal to boot as well as a screaming shot that got deflected and eventually led to the own-goal from Valencia’s low rocket; in short Darlington Nagbe was on-game Sunday.  Final Grade A.

Kalif Alhassan:

There were times again this game where Kalif made some nice touches or strong moves/good crosses.  But in all it seemed to me like every time KAH made a wicked good move he turned right around and gave the ball away.  I think that trend started in the first few minutes when he played a really short pass that resulted in a quick turnover to NY in our defending third.

That said Kalif feathered a brilliantly touched ball to Valeri who tiptoed through the back-four and scored what might be the GOTY for Portland.  Final Grade C. 

Ryan Johnson:

A wicked tough game for Ryan; sometimes in the action and sometimes starved.  Hard slog being a center forward sometimes and the role of being elsewhere to drag the defense one direction is just as vital as being somewhere open to slot home a winner.

Johnson didn’t have many chances this game, a glaring opportunity went by the wayside when KAH took a shot atop the 18 instead of sliding a through ball to Ryan.  So goes it sometimes; forwards got ego’s and they will do things to feed them.

The personal frustration on getting blanked probably hit home when he finished that brilliant wheel kick 18 inches wide of target after having seen Robles turn away his crackin’ strike from the left side about 10 minutes earlier.  Final Grade B.

Jose Valencia:

An early substitution brought on Jose along with Sal.  The two seem to be developing a chemistry together and with Sal being out four weeks it will be interesting to see how that late game substitution combination takes shape.

As expected Jose came on and engaged his talents into the game pretty quickly.  I really liked to see him slice that ball through the goal mouth on the outside part of his right boot.

While not necessarily having the best left-peg that slice offers the same spin and twist as a left footed cross.  Nicely played and some great weaving in and out on both sides of the pitch as the game wound down.  Jose came on and did what Porter wanted.  Final Grade B.

Diego Valeri:

The superlatives will probably come strong and long for Diego throughout this entire season if he continues to produce great teamwork and individual skills like he did in the home opener.  One can only hope that his continued strength here might convince another Argentinian or two to venture up to Port-er-land as well.

I can’t say enough about what I have seen from this guy since day 1.  WOW.  Consummate professional, consummate teammate, consummate individual skills that will likely take this league by the by storm…

The star DP this game was Diego Valeri, he outplayed Cahill and Henry and is likely paid 1/5th their salary!  Final Grade A.

In closing… at the end of last season Merritt Paulson made a promise that he ‘would repay’ the Timbers Army – bottom line for me is that with this first game he is well on his way to completing that promise.

You can follow me on twitter at: http://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.

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