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Match Preview – Portland Timbers vs New England Revolution

Perhaps you are still buzzing after that stellar victory in Kansas City last Saturday, if so best to (fah-geta-bout-it) and prepare for another tough game.

Nothing ever comes easy in this game and an opponent who travels across country is not going to just show up – fanny about – and watch Portland score goals.

New England had a rebirth of sorts their last game and Jay Heaps has a new vision on how he wants his team to operate.

For the first time he ran Nguyen and Rowe in the central midfield area and the net result was a 2-nil win over rivals Philadelphia; on top of that Heaps employed a new 4-1-4-1 formation that seemed to fit his players combined skills and talents a bit better.

With that said here’s a link to the New England MLS web site you may find interesting (that includes a video of last weeks goals) as well as some thoughts for your consideration…

Bottom line up front here — This game is just as special for New England as the most recent road game against Kansas City was for Portland…

So what’s up with the Revolution attack this year?

To begin, their season pretty much started where it left off last year… goal drought; big time!

Very few teams found it harder to score goals last year than New England – Portland were in that same category and they’ve turned it around and while one game is not a trend setter their two goal achievement will have them brimming with confidence.

But the last game isn’t, for me, the indicator in change for New England.  Unfortunately Alston (their early season left back) has been diagnosed with Leukemia; in his place Tierney has come on to add a different dimension than with Alston.

Tierney is more inclined (based upon OPTA data) to push forward and get engaged in the attack.  That change looks to offset the more reserved defensive play provided by Farrell as the right back.   Hmmm one fullback pushing forward while one hangs in reserve; sound familiar?

With the new look that puts Cisse as a front sweeper and Nguyen and Rowe to run the attack.  So while looking like a 4-1-4-1 it’s really an inverted triangle in the center that matches up man-to-man with Chara and Johnson marshalling Nguyen and Rowe while Cisse shadows Valeri.

This midfield battle should prove very interesting in both attack and defense…

So what about some generic attacking bits of info?

With Tierney joining the first eleven the number of crosses by New England have doubled in the last four games compared to the first three.

Here’s a diagram to show that info along with the tendencies on where those crosses originate from …

New England Revolution Crosses to Date

New England Revolution Crosses to Date

Aye… not many crosses to begin with and those numbers are about 1/2 of what Portland regularly generates per game.

What is a bit interesting is checking OPTA and the away game against Seattle (a similar team in possession to Portland) a few weeks ago; they offered up 16 crosses with 14 of them originating on their left side – with Tierney being a major contributor.

For me not a surprise I guess – the Seattle right back is Yedlin and chances are plenty of space opened up for Tierney given how much Yedlin pushes forward himself.  I’m not sure we see an encore presentation of Harrington in the right back slot Thursday evening.

As for New England’s Curved Air Attack…

NER Curved Air Attack

NER Curved Air Attack

For the better part of this season their keeper, Shuttleworth most often, has played about 1/2 to 1/3 of his goal kicks into the attacking half.  With that ratio and the smaller number of headers compared to some other teams faced it would appear they like to keep the ball on the ground.

The oddity here though is (again) the game against Seattle (SSFC); here they played far more long balls into the attacking half.  With that the Revolution also had far less time of possession (29 minutes).

Might that indicate a turtle shell approach with a counterattacking philosophy?  A tactic played to great effect by Montreal earlier this year…

Hard to nail that one down with this new formation/system and a more attack minded left-back… the first 15 minutes might not be the best indicator either.

Portland have given up some early goals this year, none more fresh in the mind than last week, so New England could open up with full bore, full steam, in your face aggression – or – they could conserve energy and look to counter where appropriate.  A chess match for sure this game…

However it plays out here’s a chart offering up their shot takers and potential attacking targets…

NER Shot Takers and Target Players

NER Shot Takers and Target Players

First off – three goals scored in 7 games is pretty pathetic; that is not a good trend but this is just one game and one particular game right after they scored two goals… don’t be fooled by the low goal total; these guys are professional and they are coming here with huge confidence.

Bengston looks like the primary Forward target but again the data can be deceptive, Fagundez has got a look in recently (247 minutes in four games) and he netted his first goal against Philly last weekend.

Fagundez appears (in OPTA) to roam the right side of the pitch while Bengston seems to find a home anywhere in the middle…  with a ver rare – if ever – appearance on the defensive side of the pitch…

As for taking shots as a whole, Nguyen seems to be the primary player from midfield while Rowe and Toja offer the odd shot now and again.  That trend with Nguyen might change though with him pairing up in the center with Rowe compared to playing on the left side earlier this season.

A good bet here is that they look to play wide and then look to bring the ball back up atop the 18 for shots central to the six yard box…

As for set-pieces (corners and free kicks) those are always a tough one to consider – no doubt Conglaves and McCarthy (I think Soares is injured) will be targets if those chances present themselves… set-pieces were not good for Portland last game; man-marking on corners/free kicks should no doubt be revisited sometime before this game.  And McCarthy is 6’5″ so he will be a BIG target on set-pieces if he can head the ball.

What might we see in the New England Defense?

The deeper they play the more space created for Portland in the midfield; the higher they play the more space they create down the wings for Wallace and Nagbe to work in.

A difficult choice really and for New England one point might be a great victory; they got a draw against Seattle by ceding possession and clogging the defending half – it’s reasonable to believe they will take that same approach in JELD-WEN…

If so it could be a very chippy game with many start-stops, disruptions, and fouls… basically anything/any tactic to slow down/interrupt the possession based attack and lock down free space as Portland pushes forward.

Cisse will be busy and probably think defense first – as will Farrell; Conglaves and McCarthy are good center-backs and their heat indexs (OPTA) show they rotate out wide left or right to support their fullbacks.

Portland in Attack…

It’s never a good idea to worry about the next game to early but Portland have Dallas and Chivas coming up next and the starting 11 these last few games probably won’t have the energy to play 3 more full games in the space of eleven days; this is why teams carry at least 18-20 guys who can start if needed.

Given the upcoming schedule might this be one of those games where we see a new starter or two/three compared to the last few games?

I won’t be surprised to see Zemanski or Miller get a start at right-back, and perhaps we even see Alhassan, Valencia or Zizzo starting top right with Piq getting the nod as well in the center forward position; this arrangement could see Nagbe move to the left to match up again with Harrington while Wallace, Jewsbury and Ryan Johnson get a rest and start the game on the bench in case need arises…

A late substitution, if things go well, might be Nanchoff; he continues to make strides in the reserves and his brace the other week might see him get ten minutes or so if game conditions warrant…

Bottom line here is that it’s a long campaign and there will be times when some players just won’t be available given national team duties or simple muscle fatigue; trying a slightly different team mix can give Caleb more information on how his combined 18-20 are taking shape.  And while this is no easy game by any stretch the three guys offered up by me that might start can start and have started games before…  I don’t imagine any drop off in overall performance if those changes are made; perhaps others will have a different view?

Regardless of change or no change whoever the starting 11 is the Capt. Obvious here is that Portland will look to possess with purpose; vary where and how they penetrate as well as  where and how they deliver goal scoring opportunities… my guess is a set-piece does not win this game.

Final tidbit — As with every strength there is a weakness – McCarthy wasn’t starting at the beginning of the season for a reason and being 6’5″ means he might be a bit slow of foot (pace or touch) so a more diminutive Portland Forward/Midfielder might enjoy going up against this guy with the ball at their feet…

Portland in Defense…

Managing energy levels will be a big challenge this game; the lads will likely ride some early game emotion upon their return to JELD-WEN (and greetings by the Timbers Army) and the pace of this game should be different; using up too much energy early on could create defensive gaps and that’s not a good thing.

Minimizing fouls in the defending half is critical to limiting set-piece opportunities…  set-pieces have not been kind to Portland – the more opportunities the opponent gets in those the more likely they are to score from those.

From a slightly different tack it would be nice if Mister Fantastic could see a clean sheet without having to make a Save of the Week… boring really is good sometimes… – I hope that is not asking/wanting too much…   of course if he does make another stellar save appropriate kudo’s will be offered.

In closing…

Caleb uses words similar to these – ‘keep the highs low and the lows high’ – the balance (physical and mental) is critical in managing expectations and playing soccer both on and off the pitch; it was a great game last weekend – time to move on and hope for even better memories as this season continues to unfold.

Next up Match Report…

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.