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Wallace late equalizer Soundly Sinks Sounders hopes of Three Points

To be sure – this team is NOT like the team from last year.

Wallace summed it up best for me in all the post-game match quotes provided in the Portland Timbers Official Press Release

On what coming back to tie means to the team…
“It’s a huge win for everybody involved with the Portland Timbers. Coming into this game, we obviously wanted to get a win, a first win here versus Seattle. A point, coming back, it means a lot, and shows again the character that this team has.”

Plenty behind all that to include a full 90 minutes with added time.  The pedigree this team is developing with variation in penetration and the creation of goal scoring opportunities is not getting wasted.

Even with a different tactical approach and lineup Portland controlled this game; a great accomplishment compared to last year.

Here’s how the PWP went for Portland especially since this was an away game in the home of our greatest rival!

PWP Portland Timbers 2013

PWP Portland Timbers 2013

1.  Jack Jewsbury started in what many might offer was a CDM role in a quasi shaped diamond 4-4-2; yea NBC Sports offered it up as a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1… whatever.  The point here though is that Alhassan didn’t start and a more defensive minded midfielder did.

2.  With that a reasonable expectation is that the attacking part of this game (especially with it being an away game against the hated enemy) should be different than what we have already seen this year against New York and Montreal.

3.  Bottom line here is it wasn’t.  Portland had nearly the same amount of time in possession (55%) with MORE penetration into the attacking third and just as many goal scoring opportunities created as they did against New York.

4.  The real difference was shots taken and shots on goal and the reduction there is down to Seattle having a better defense than New York, not a reflection of Portland having a weaker attack.

5.  Of particular note to me is the difference between what the average (PA3 estimated) output was for Portland in 2012 (red bar) versus what the output was for Portland away to Seattle was (blue bar) this year.

6.  With the exception of shots on goal this defensive minded team exceeded or tied all outputs (both home and away) that Portland had last year.

7.  While not enough evidence is there yet the average for 2013 continues to exceed the average of 2012.

8.  This specific average, along with final points total at the end of the season, will be the compelling evidence I’ll use to confirm whether or not Merritt Paulson has kept his promise to the fans about repaying them for the horrid season in 2012.

If that isn’t enough to convince you that this new alignment added value and gave Portland a better chance to win here’s how the attack of Seattle lined up against New York and Montreal.

PWP of Opponents against PTFC

PWP of Opponents against PTFC

1.  Not only did Portland yield more possession of the ball to Seattle, they also faced more penetrations and more goal scoring opportunities than they did against NY or Montreal.

2.  The difference maker here was reduced shots taken, reduced shots on goal and reduced goals; all of those reductions coming on a wider, longer and more volatile environment than JELD-WEN.  This was, after all, an AWAY game and simply stated Portland were bollocks in away games last year.

3.  So bottom line here is that the overall attacking scheme of Seattle was more intense and more aggressive and yet the defense held better.  No real bunkering by Seattle in this game; they were flat out the most aggressive team (even in the 2nd half) than PTFC have faced this year and Portland was better.

4.  And even with the much discussed lineup, Portland were (overall), more productive than any other game this year!  Even more sweet — this was a game against the hated enemy, in their own stadium… the timing couldn’t have been better.

5.  Final thought here before moving on… Portland have an extended break coming up and I would submit the continued focus during that break will be on defense.  Portland pretty much lost nothing in attack; especially when considering their outputs last year!

So what about penetrations; where did they concentrate and are there any trends that might surface?

Portland Timbers Penetrations

Portland Timbers Penetrations

1.  The data, again, continues to confirm that ‘variation’ is the theme and scheme on PA3 for Portland this year.

2.  Good distribution across the entire pitch; the greater this data resembles itself from game to game this year the better.

3.  For me what is just as intriguing is that even with Chara out right and Johnson out left there was balance; my gut before kickoff was PTFC would trend more left than right – didn’t happen…

So what about Seattle?

Seattle penetrations compared to others

Seattle penetrations compared to others

1.  Not sure if a trend (focus) on area of penetration can be any more clear than this.  Zakuani plays down their left (our right) and the data is pretty obnoxious in showing that Seattle was a one-sided attack.

2.  That tendency is a great scouting point for other teams to focus on when figuring out how to SHUT down Seattle; snuff Zakuani and snuff the Sounders attack.

3.  Pretty simple really and since I’ll be logging particular detail on all western conference teams this year it will be intriguing to see if this focus changes the next time we play them.

 So what about the goals; the Portland Timbers Official Press Release offered earlier gives you the specific details but what it doesn’t include is the turn-over that got the goal scoring opportunity started.  

I’m not speaking to the Chara turn-over – most already know a poorly timed pass to Zemanski that missed the mark and fell nicely to the speedy Zakuani.  Seven seconds later Seattle led 1-nil. – I’m speaking to the other turn-over.

Most might offer that it was a clearance by Yedlin out to Baptiste who played a lovely chest ball to his feet and looped a cross into the box that got Portland the equalizer.  I agree but for me it’s not quite as simple as that.

For me the real start on getting this goal came when Will Johnson got a turn-over in the attacking half of Portland; he laid the ball off to Valeri (in an attacking midfielder role not stuck way out left) who played it to Ryan Johnson for a shot taken that resulted in a corner kick (bringing our center-backs up the pitch for the set-piece).

Diego Valeri played in the corner that resulted in back to back throw-ins.  The second of which ended with a cross by Valeri that Yedlin cleared (with both center-backs still in the attacking third) into the path of Baptiste who got the assist.

What else is missing though that has bearing on this goal is the play of Johnson and Piq in the box just prior to the cross by Baptiste – both were far/mid post and man-marked by the Seattle center-backs.  With that the near post was vacant and with the looping cross by Baptiste to the near post Wallace had acres of space to run into and slot home the equalizer.

All told that intuits that Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, AJ Baptiste, Ryan Johnson, Freddie Piq and Rodney Wallace all had a hand in how that goal came about.

Great teamwork and again a sign that this team is beginning to develop a strong chemistry in working together (in their various roles) to get goals scored and maximize space creating opportunities to get those goals.

Some final thoughts for your consideration…

Superb result in this maiden defense of the Cascadia Cup!

The tenor of the team changed with Jewsbury starting and Miller being replaced by Zemanski.

There was no appreciable change in output as a result of this change in input; especially with this being 1) an away game, 2) against the hated rival Seattle and 3) playing on a wider and longer pitch.

Even in an away game where a ‘bunkered defense’ might be an option – Portland did not adopt that style advocated by Montreal.

Adjustments were made and the defense got better and that getting better was against a team that had more penetrations than anyone else.

Next game is away to Colorado; I haven’t tracked them a whole lot this year but they’ve played three games and only have 1 point to show for it.

The pressure to win and get points on the road will continue to mount on Portland.

I’ll need to dig into the dimensions and player capabilities of Colorado in the next week and peel back some OPTA stats as a pre-scout – like Seattle we play them three times this year; twice at home.

Given we have them twice at home it is likely Colorado may try to copy the success Montreal had against Portland even at home…  it’s week four coming up and already Portland is setting a clear tone that even when thinking and acting ‘defense first’ the team can still generate a ton of penetrations and goal scoring opportunities.

Finally, whether or not Portland got this draw with a goal in the 65th minute or the 90th minute; a goal is what they got and 1 point is always better than nil-pwa.  It is good to bask in this point won and two points dropped by Seattle!

Next up Player Evaluations.

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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.