Portland Timbers – Anticipating the Impact of Montreal

Game two of Port-er-land Timbers football kicks off tomorrow night.

In preparation for the game here are some thoughts and observations for your consideration as PTFC prepare for Montreal.

1.  How might this game take shape?  For me I don’t see the same level of ‘nervous’ energy unfolding in the first 30 minutes like the home opener.

2.  Montreal took three points to the surprise of many, to include myself, at Seattle last week.  I’m not sure what their tactical approach was in that game but the primary contributors on getting into the box (when viewing OPTA) appeared to be Arnaud, Di Vaio, and Nyassi.

3.  Bernier appeared to run the center with help from others.  So a three pronged attack that seemed to focus more down the Seattle middle and right fullback as opposed to left fullback area.

4.  What about Montreal and their defensive shape?  Here’s a snapshot showing the Distribution and Ball Possession of Ferrari (left center-back) #13 and Nesta (right center-back) #14.

Impact Defenders Distribution and Ball Possession against Seattle

Impact Defenders Distribution and Ball Possession against Seattle

Some observations:

1.  Notice the complete lack of activity occurring in the deep right corner of the Impact defense by Nesta; when clicking here you can see in OPTA that the only player who had to defend in the deep right corner is Camara; not Nesta.

2.  This is not the case in the deep left corner for Montreal – here Ferrari has activity going on in the same area where the left fullback might be.

3.  So what about the attacking side from the Seattle perspective?  What does OPTA show us about the penetrations from Johnson and Rosales?

4.  Indications are that Johnson and Rosales pretty much looked to penetrate down the middle and left side of Montreal as opposed to the right.  So who was trying to penetrate down the right side of Montreal?

5.  In all the various options the two players who appeared to try and penetrate down the right side of the Montreal defense most were Zakuani and Gonzalez.   Others contributed but it doesn’t appear they contributed as much as those two.

6.  Now that might not mean much but from a forward penetration scheme it sure looked like the real threat to Montreal was coming down their left and not their right.

7.  Bottom line here is that Montreal took it on the chin down their left side and came away with a clean sheet.

8.  When Camara and Nesta were tested it came from a Seattle midfielder (Zakuani) and a defender (Gonzalez) who was overlapping; not, in my opinion, the same level of atacking threat that Johnson or Rosales might offer.

9.  Was this approach driven by an attack strategy by Seattle; or driven by a defensive strategy by Montreal to channel one area versus another?


1.  Portland, most likely, will run three forwards with Nagbe being the primary threat down the left / the Montreal right; this should include occasional penetration by Harrington as well as rotational penetration by Valeri and Ryan Johnson.

2.  From the right (Montreal left) Portland has mostly relied on Alhassan so far this season but might we see Valencia get the head nod given his pace and direct attacking style?

3.  Alhassan has great finesse type dribbling skills and superb touch on crosses while it appears to me Valencia works more directly and is also blessed with much quicker pace; if there is an expectation that Montreal will work hard to clog the midfield then Valencia’s skills may better suit.

4.  Valencia’s skill set may also better suit a bit more direct play from the back four on switches and long balls into the penetrating third given his quicker pace and height he is more likely to have a better chance running onto the ball or flicking it on than Alhassan.

5.  However viewed both players give Porter different skills to maximize variation and penetration but with Zizzo being injured could we see the direct dribble approach from the get-go and the finesses; if needed a bit later?

6.  I would submit that trotting out the same eleven has good advantages as it plays to building an early team chemistry; but the team chemistry is about 18 not just 11.  A disadvantage to trotting out the same 11 is that other teams can more easily prepare since they can routinely see who Portland starts on a regular basis.

7.  If skill sets can be balanced and players interchanged based upon different conditions then Porter makes it harder to defend against his possession with purpose approach.

8.  Portland has had good balance in penetrating the attacking third; trends indicate 35% or so down either wing with a slightly less % down the middle; oddly enough though the goals scored against New York eventually found their path through the middle/top of the 18.

9.  If Montreal is expecting to try and channel penetration down one side that should present them a huge challenge.  On the other hand I wouldn’t expect to see Portland alter their penetration scheme just to stay away from Nesta.

10.  Subs:  Zizzo is not available and Piq is not yet in the fold from what I can see.  So it seems reasonable that the subs bench might include Zemanski, Tucker-Gangnes, Wallace, Nanchoff, (Valencia or Alhassan), Kocic (if healthy and ready – otherwise Gleeson), and a wild-card.

11.  In offering up the 7th sub the bench consists of one forward (Valencia / Alhassan), one midfielder (Nanchoff) two Midfield/Fullbacks (Zemanski and Wallace) one center-back (Gangnes) and one Goalie (Kocic or Gleeson).  So my initial thoughts are we might, just might, see Rincon if Jewsbury isn’t full fit.

In closing…

1.  Defense first, back-four needs to be tight and remain supportive of each other even as possession of the ball moves into the attacking third.  Risk probably shouldn’t exceed reward unless the score-line dictates a more aggressive style.

2.  Will Johnson and Diego Chara need to work closely to hamstring Bernier and his supporting cast; shutting down Montreal penetrations into the Portland defending third is just as important, if not more, than Portland penetrating the Impact attacking third.

3.  Ricketts made a great save against an on (off) side Henry in the second half and made a great stop on another coutnreattack earlier; is there a tactical change to minimize risk a bit more with a score-line of nil-nil?

4.  With additional time to get used to the environment and the JELD-WEN pitch do we see s stronger and more switched-on Silvestre teaming up with Baptiste in the back?

5.  Although I offer Ryan Miller can provide more precise consistency in his crosses I like his focus in defense.  And with no Zizzo to spell him late on might we see Miller penetrate less frequently early on to conserve some energy given a nil-nil score-line?

6.  However this game plays out the message has been delivered across the league; the fire power of Portland matches, if not exceeds, the huge firepower of New York.  What I am not keen on seeing is Portland having the same inordinately weak pedigree as New York when it comes to Goals Against.

Looking forward to Portland getting a clean sheet and three points in ANOTHER sold out game at JELD-WEN!

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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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