Preview – Portland Timbers travel to Colorado

Barring blizzard conditions the opportunity probably couldn’t get any better for Portland in this away game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

Colorado have taken just 1 point out of their first four matches and for two of those games it looked (based on statistics) like they didn’t even show up.

And the tale of woe doesn’t end there.

Rivero is out with a fractured foot, Buddle has a knee injury, Pickens has a fractured arm, Mastroeni has a hamstring injury and Calderon went one on one with the goal post (and lost) in a 1-nil loss to LA.

On top of that Moor got a red card against LA and he is out for this game… this loss plus the possible loss of Calderon to injury means Colorado will be sporting a new center-back pairing for this game against Portland.

Hendry Thomas, as well, has three yellow cards in four games; he’s fast approaching the first-five limit before being suspended – pressure on him in the early stages of the game might minimize his defensive capabilities as the game wears on.

Provided another snow blizzard doesn’t hit Colorado this weekend can the non-playing conditions be any better for Portland as they look to secure their first three points in a win this weekend?

Seems like their is a huge if not inordinately large opportunity for the Timbers…

So what about Colorado and their Possession With Purpose this year?  

A bit of Jekyll and Hyde really…  the first two games saw some pretty impressive attacking information on overall possession time but in comparison to the average for Portland this year their finishing touches (Shots Taken, Shots on Goal and Goals Scored) are left lacking.

Unfortunately for Colorado their high levels of possession netted nil-pwa…

And while I don’t have comprehensive data to offer it would appear that their first four games have similar outputs to the team Portland had last year during the Spencer/Wilkinson era; and we all know how well last year went.

Is this an early indication on who the bottom feeder will be in the Western Conference this year?

With all the injuries the go-to guys (Browne and Harris) remain healthy; the trick with Colorado might be figuring out whether or not they’ll revert to direct attack or attempt a possession game against one of the top possession teams in MLS.

Or perhaps Colorado trot out in a Montreal-like bunker formation and look for the counterattack as opposed to the direct attacking game???  …they are on home turf – even 1 point is precious to this team.

So what about how their defense has fared?  

Bottom line here is that after four games Colorado have only 5 goals against; this is one better than Portland with one more game played; the hard part for Colorado this game though will be the absence of at least Drew Moor and likely Calderon as well…

Irwin should be in goal and a bit later I offer up an example or two on what we might expect to see from him.

Mullen and Wynne remain healthy and will probably be asked to do a lot; if the Rapids play more wide open expect to see them push forward like Zemanski and Harrington; the 15 minute mark should provide a ‘good tell’ here as well.

While Portland did yield 6 goals already this season those familiar with the squad know that Porter changed his tactics and players last week and came away with only giving up one goal to Seattle.

Pundits might offer that Portland is on a defensive upswing while Colorado may be on a defensive downswing.

For now this is more or less ‘happy to glad data’ as opposed to being something a real statistician can sink their teeth into.


I continue to believe OPTA and MLS are missing some key data points to collect for the soccer population at large to enjoy.  Tactics have a significant importance in this game and knowing and recognizing (statistically) how they impact this game should really help some folks (adults and youth) better understand how complicated this game is.

Aye, it’s always about the bottom line on goals scored, but the nuances of Direct Attacking versus Counterattacking versus Ball Possession attacking make considerable difference in who plays where, how, why and what role those players may have in contributing to the team.

If the general soccer population doesn’t have an opportunity to understand some basic statistical data that highlights different tactical styles and formations/systems as well as key areas like the attacking and defending third of the pitch can we really expect our US Men’s National Team to compete (regularly) at the same level as Spain, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, England, the list goes on and on?

If the National Football League can track success or failure of a team in the ‘red zone’ – why can’t MLS do the same in their ‘attacking third = red zone’?

If Major League Baseball can track the success or failure of individual players getting ‘Runs Batted In’ when players are in ‘scoring position’ – why can’t the MLS track the individual success or failure percentages of players for ‘assists’ where failed assists are logged as ‘goal scoring opportunities not converted’?

Okay, now that I’ve got off my soapbox is there anything from OPTA that may be of value for this game?

After weeding through all the irrelevant data here’s an interesting graphic on the  ball distribution for the goalkeeper (Irwin) in the game against RSL and then the game against LAG.  Very few, if any, balls were played short.

Here’s the ball distribution for Colorado (Pickens) when they played at home against Philadelphia; a marked difference in strategy – or – was this a marked difference in approach given who the goal keeper was?

If Colorado play long ball deflections, rebounds and flick-ons will be critical to control as Portland looks to put the ball on the ground.  If Colorado go with the short-game from square one then the battle ground might be the middle third of the pitch.

The first 15 minutes should give us a pretty good clue on what the Colorado tactical approach to this game is.

Some final thoughts for your consideration…

If the Montreal-like bunker system is adopted might we see more crosses from on high and less penetration deep into the wings to better suit creating rebounds, deflections and second ball chances?

Or perhaps with two new center-backs on the pitch might we see more deep penetration by our fullbacks to pull the center-backs out of position?

Could we see a combination of both?

A good focus area might be to watch the interaction between Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe and Ryan Johnson if the bunker system tactic is employed.

This is not to minimize the importance of Will Johnson, Diego Chara, Michael Harrington and (most probably) Ben Zemanski – all will have a role in supporting the attack.

I would expect Portland to run the same system and formation that they used to great effect against Seattle; defense first and this is, after all, an away game.

My projected lineup for Portland is the same one that Porter used against Seattle; if there is a change it would be Porter going with an attacking midfielder (Alhassan or Valencia) versus sticking with Jack Jewsbury.

For the substitutes; the greater the overall variety of playing styles Porter puts on the bench the more variation he can leverage depending upon game conditions.  If Horst and Kocic are healthy I would expect to see them on the subs bench in lieu of Tucker-Gangnes and Gleeson; otherwise no change.

Perhaps this means Will Johnson and Diego Chara will tag-team him to free up some space for Valeri who can take advantage of the younger and less experienced Dillon Powers?

Might this also mean Valeri gets some early looks to try and pressure Hendry Thomas in just defending their back third?  Valeri has quick feet and great vision – an ideal scenario is a Portland set-piece and yellow card for Thomas just outside the Colorado 18 yard box in the first 15 minutes.

With Drew Moor out (Red Card against LA Galaxy) and Calderon potentially missing this game after kissing the goal post last week could Ryan Johnson enjoy a stellar day?

In attack; the go-to guys for Colorado have been Browne (who leads the team with 15 shots) and Harris (next up with 7) while Cascio works to create space for them.

Both Wynne and Mullen penetrated deep into the attacking third when Colorado had significant time of possession in their first two games but both have been very limited in the attack against RSL and LAG.

If Colorado bunkers down and works for the counterattack (and Portland have not got a goal in the first half) might we see Piq and Valencia early on in the second?  And what about super sub Rodney Wallace; I can see him coming in as an attacking boost as well as defending boost – perhaps the 75th minute we see Rodney on the pitch again?

The sidekick for Thomas this year has been the rookie Dillon Powers; I wouldn’t be surprised if Nagbe took him on with a direct dribble or two; getting past him should draw Thomas over and that might give Valeri that extra space he needs to get creative.

All for now – like any game of soccer – it should be a crackin’ good one.

You can follow me on twitter here.

In case you missed it here’s my latest on Portland Timbers PWP attacking and defending efficiency ratios;

If anyone is interested in joining me on this effort I am looking for some folks who can track PA3 and GSO for other MLS teams this year…






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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