Match Preview – Timbers vs Dynamo

To start…

Just a whole lot of grist for the mill this week from the MLS articles by Firchau; three of them to read… in case you’ve missed them here is the link to Part 3; Part 2 and 1 can be linked from Part 3.

With this being Thursday chances are Merritt Paulson, Gavin Wilkinson and Caleb Porter have had their off-site and have come back with an approach in mind for this weekend.

I’m not a betting guy but it’s a good bet that the starting 11 (barring late injuries) have already been picked out for this game…

I’ll get to my thoughts on that in a few; for now some food for thought about Houston. 

The latest article from MLS about Houston traveling to JELD-WEN is here; a worthy read that looks to capture the tone of the Dynamo for this Saturday.

So what might we expect from Houston?

In using my previous diagrams on PWP here’s a snapshot on available data from MLS and where their Possession with Purpose numbers fit in against Portland so far this year.

Limited Possession with Purpose for Houston vs Portland

Limited Possession with Purpose for Houston vs Portland

The one away game for Houston has been against FC Dallas this year and that is the only game they have dropped; a last minute goal by Cooper that some considered a hand-ball…

All told Houston is not behaving like a possession based team and another striking difference is the overall play of their fullbacks versus the style that we see from Portland.

Although TOP (time of possession) is lower than Portland (on average) Houston are efficient in creating shots (roughly the same as PTFC) and shots on goal (on average more than PTFC).

Their goal scoring average is 2 per game; the same as PTFC’s goals against average… this could be  a tough game for Portland.

The primary shot takers are Barnes and Bruin but the majority of goals come from their midfielders (5 in total for midfielders) with 3 coming from the forwards Bruin (1) and Barnes (2).

The team leader in assists in Sarkodie; one assist looks to me like a cross from deep right (So Sarkodie does penetrate) against FC Dallas (an away game); while the other assist can’t be found in OPTA but it is confirmed in the MLS stats sheet for Houston.

Just another reason for suspecting the quality of data in OPTA I guess… I have queried them about getting ‘red-zone’ penetrations by all the teams in MLS this year as well as ‘failed assists’ (those balls delivered in an area that DON’T result in a shot taken – where they should) but no response.

Their attack appears balanced in OPTA – the fullbacks remaining higher in the attacking midfield and usually just penetrating deep when given throw-in set piece opportunities.

Four examples for your consideration on who and where the crosses get delivered by Houston…

Here’s the Opta breakout of successful and unsuccessful crosses by Houston against DC United…  In this game crosses came from on high as well as deep; the primary players delivering those crosses were midfielders and forwards.

For FC Dallas…   In this game the crosses came from deep (except 1) and primarily from the midfielders.

For Vancouver… In this game the crosses (apart from 2 by Sarkodie) came from deep and primarily from the midfielders.

For San Jose … Broken record here… in this game the crosses came from deep and primarily from the midfielders.

As noted (with the exception of DC United) the trend and tendency for Houston is to leverage their midfielders in delivering crosses which means he is packing the fullbacks up high to limit counterattacks…

Perhaps that DC United approach in attack has something to do with them being an Eastern Conference foe?   — FC Dallas, Vancouver, San Jose and now Portland all play in the Western Conference…

So what might we expect to see from Houston?

If going by OPTA it seems reasonable that Houston will have their fullbacks play a bit higher and not penetrate as deep.

Kinnear is a crafty bugger though so I wouldn’t be surprised to see an overlap or two in the first 15 minutes to see how Portland respond.

This is an away game for Houston and Portland have impressive attacking numbers at home; perhaps Houston looks to weather the first 75 minutes and then tries to get the one-off late goal to steal three points?

Hard to say, but given the first four games, it ‘s likely Houston open up with Bruin and Barnes as a tandem while Davis and Moffat will probably look to shut down Nagbe and Valeri respectively.

What about Portland?

If Silvestre is healthy I’d like to see him on the right and paired with Horst on the left (Silvestre has played right fullback before so being on that side of the pitch should suit him).

How the midfield and forwards take shape is difficult to say but fouls in the defending half have simply got to stop – maybe we see Zemanski (who had far fewer fouls and yellows than Chara last year) trot out in right midfield with Miller back as the fullback?

With that alignment maybe we do see a two-striker formation with Will Johnson, Valeri and Jewsbury filling out the midfield and Nagbe pairing with Johnson up top…

I could also envision Wallace getting the nod at left midfield, Zemanski in the right, with Will Johnson as CDM and Valeri as CAM; I’d like to see how that diamond 4-4-2 matches up with Houston’s 4-4-2…

Perhaps another approach is to pair Valencia or Piq or KAH (early on) with Johnson and give Nagbe a break to come on for the final 30 minutes or so; his dribble penetrations may have more use when the opponent is tired…

For me I just can’t get over how Nagbe neglected to put a shot on goal when he was so close last game and only one defender near him… no killer/striker ego instinct there.  To be a striker you gotta have an ego…

Plenty of options for Porter and this season is still young – 3 points from four games is not bad, it’s not great but it’s not bad but the goals against need to stop.

Bottom line at the bottom:

Defense first and defense second – Houston are a team with pedigree and really top-notch on inter-weaving and rotational play; Portland really needs to be switch-on when they don’t have the ball.

A draw against this team is a very good result; a win and three points would be great!



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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