Match Preview Portland Timbers vs Vancouver Whitecaps

While Portland venture to the great white north, with fresh legs, for their second of 6 Cascadia Cup clashes this year Vancouver is returning home to an inviting atmosphere after a grueling 90 minutes of (nil-nil) football in Stade Saputo Wednesday evening.  

So does that downplay the value of this early season Cascadia Cup clash with Portland?  Most likely not.  If you have paid any attention to Vancouver this year you’ll know that Rennie very rarely trots out the same 11 every match; so while some players may be a wee bit tired others will be on fresh legs for sure.

To set the tone for this match you may find this recent press conference with Caleb Porter following the match against Chivas (in case you missed it) interesting…

So on to my usual items of interest…

BC Place – The tenor of the crowd will be riding high regardless of the result against Montreal – their capacity is 21,000 and chances are the game will be sold out given it’s importance to both cities; perhaps a few members of each supporters group might chat for a few moments to recall how well they worked together against the MLS in that small ‘trademark’ battle?  Like footballers though I imagine that friendship will be put-to-the-side once kickoff arrives.

Weather – Partly cloudy – with perhaps some chances of rain and 60 odd degrees – good football weather and with not much sunshine the weary legs might not be so weary for Vancouver…

Standings – Everyone in Portland pretty much gets it that the Timbers are second in the standings at this time – and some teams below them have a game or two in hand – one of those teams is Vancouver (one game in hand) and while they have only played 10 MLS games this year they will have played 13 by the time Portland arrive later this week.

History – Vancouver came from 2 goals down in the final 10 minutes to take the first leg against Edmonton a few weeks ago and then the next week beat them 2-nil to set up the Canadian Cup clash with Montreal tonight.  Make no mistake this team can score; while not as often as Portland they do have four players with two goals scored each… variation…  a theme for this weekend’s game perhaps?

Cascadia Cup Standings – Portland Timbers (1), Seattle Sounders (1), Vancouver Whitecaps (0) – first Cascadia Cup match for Vancouver – they have Portland at BC Place twice this year and they travel to Seattle twice this year.  Hard to imagine that this Cup Match is bigger than the Canadian Cup Championship.  This is really a tough stretch for Vancouver… 3 matches in a row and all have great meaning above and beyond the tenor of a normal match… at least for the fans.

Formation – Here’s where it gets interesting – Variation – Vancouver have run at least four basic formations this year and the use has varied not only when at home but also on the road… nothing appears standard but in peeling back some data perhaps this paints a picture on the ‘why’ and the ‘when’ Rennie has used one formation as opposed to another…

First off, Rennie has had his team work from a 4-3-3 (3 times), a 4-3-2-1 (once) the 4-2-3-1 (6 times) and most recently (tonight) a 4-1-4-1; no real pattern is apparent based upon whether the game was home or away or whether or not one player is starting in one position versus another.

To be clear; Rennie not only has changed his formation on a regular basis he has also changed his starting squad on a regular basis.  It would appear he has taken variation to a different level…  I didn’t say better; just different…

But there is some grist here when peeling back a few data points that may have meaning…

Rennie has opted to run the 4-3-3 against LA Galaxy, FC Dallas and Chivas USA (March 10th) roughly two games after Chivas defeated FC Dallas 3-1 on March 30th.  I would offer that it is this system that Rennie works to when he wants his team to be more patient and run a less aggressive style of play.

Is there any data that can support that?  Compared to the 4-2-3-1 averages (6 games) this year the opponent averaged 10 less defensive clearances in their red-zone; that usually translates to less attacking pressure applied by the Opponent (Vancouver) in looking to move the ball forward quickly; i.e. a more deliberate and more controlled pace and tenor that minimizes risk a bit more and can reduce chance for counterattack.

Perhaps more relevant is the significant drop in total numbers of crosses between the two formations; when running the 4-3-3 Vancouver have averaged 10 fewer crosses per game (4-2-3-1 average was 24 and 4-3-3 average was 14) than when running the 4-2-3-1.

Finally, and probably not a good indicator on it’s own the Vancouver goalkeeper also played (on average) 6 more long balls per game working within the 4-3-3 than within the 4-2-3-1.  This tactic, coupled with the other two lend themselves better to clearing the ball out and using less overall aggression in trying to push the ball from a position of danger when playing aggressive teams like Dallas, LA and Chivas (at the time).  On it’s own I wouldn’t offer it as a true indicator though…

So for me, that says he’s running a ‘stay at home’ type wing formation to control the run of play within the midfield and looking for a closed game as opposed to a wide-open one; perhaps others have a different view?  One additional tidbit is that when running the 4-2-3-1 Vancouver averaged 10 more crosses (7 of those 10 more come down their right (our left)) – so it could be reasonable to offer that if Rennie opts for the 4-3-3 we will see fewer crosses and overlaps than with a 4-2-3-1.

So who has Rennie run the 4-2-3-1 against?

Rennie ran this formation both home and away against Real Salt Lake, once against FC Dallas (home), away to San Jose, and home against both Columbus and Toronto.  While I’m not up on all those teams yet I would offer that Rennie is probably running a 4-2-3-1 when he thinks his team can go toe-to-toe with an opponent and he then runs the less aggressive (more slow playing) 4-3-3 when he’s up against what he considers to be a more aggressive opponent where going toe-to-toe might put his team at greater risk.

If that is reasonable then Rennie appears to be (like Porter) a defense first kind of guy… with the productivity and efficiency of the Timbers being quite high at this time I would offer Rennie could open in a 4-3-3 and at least two or three of those starters will be players who did not start against Montreal tonight.

Goals Scored –  Vancouver have four players sitting on 2 goals apiece; so like Portland they have a number of players who can put the ball into the back of the net.  In order to get a little more familiar with their players here’s a diagram offering up who is taking the shots, putting them on goal and scoring by position…



As noted before Rennie likes variation in who his Forwards are – six have had game time at varying degrees with Mattocks leading the Forwards in minutes played at 592, Sanvezzo is up next with 467 minutes while Heinemann trails with 134 minutes..  Bth Sanvezzo and Mattocks lead the team in shots taken as well as being tied with Teibert and Miller with two goals apiece.

Koffie, a midfielder leads the team in assists with 7 others sitting on one each.  As far as distribution of points goes his midfielders have nine points while his forwards have 11.  Again variation in where the danger on this team can come from.

The players leading the team in minutes played with all those differing formations used are Young-Pyo (900), O’Brien (899), Rochat (885) and Reo-Coker (850), four others have between 600 and 800 minutes played (all midfielders or defenders).

In considering this information it would appear that the Forwards used are a function of what opponent is being taken on as opposed to the midfielders and defenders.

As for the Timbers they have five guys with at least three goals while Johnson & Johnson co-lead the team with four each…   Valeri leads the team in assists with 4 while Chara and Ryan Johnson have three each.

Curved Air –  As noted it would appear that the long ball is played a wee bit more in their 4-3-3 formation as opposed to 4-2-3-1 formation but statistics are sometimes hard to judge when not knowing the context of actions occurring in a given game.

Possession – This is a really hard one to judge without understanding the context of the previous games Vancouver have played (given their variation in formations) but perhaps the data available, to date, can be compared with previous data collected for Portland and their opponents this year…

To check it out I took the average Attacking PWP (A-PWP) data for Vancouver (to date) and plugged it into my own A-PWP diagram; here’s what that looks like.



Note: TOP (Time of Possession), Defensive Clearances in the ‘red-zone’ by the Opponent, Shots Taken, Shots on Goal and Goals Scored is actual data and the overall linear relationship with those five points ended up being .9905; pretty strong and note the similarity between the Yellow Line (Vancouver Estimate) and Red Line (PTFC Opponent Actual)…

In reviewing that line it seems reasonable to me to estimate that their attacking penetrations and goal scoring opportunities would match closely with the real average from other PTFC opponents this season.

Bottom line here is who will be the best in putting the ball into the back of the net… we know that possession alone doesn’t support points in the league table; but efficiency relative to all these data points does have some relevance (.7780).  Execution is bottom line and the more effective a team is in creating space to create goal opportunities the more likely that shot taken will be a shot on goal and therefore a goal scored.

Defense –  If one thing has been steady and non-variant this year for Vancouver it is their back-four; as noted earlier the players who have seen the most minutes on the pitch throughout their first ten games are their defenders… Young-Pyo (right fullback) Rochat (left fullback) O’Brien (left center-back) and Rusin (right center-back) could start provided Leveron doesn’t get a start given playing minutes against LA.

Both Pyo and Rochat will get forward and will offer up crosses as needed but if they play to a 4-3-3 we might not see them venture as far forward if it were a 4-2-3-1…  Note – Young-Pyo did not start against Montreal tonight and Rochat played left midfield.

As for the midfield – it looks as if Davidson (did not start against Montreal) and Reo-Coker are the guys who will focus on Nagbe and Valeri the most but we could see Koffie drop back as well to lend support.  Kobayashi will probably line up on the right side (as he has most of the year) while any number of different players may fill in the spaces before seeing Sanvezzo slot into the left side.

NOTE:  Sanvezzo, Miller and Kobayashi did not travel to Montreal for the first leg of the Canadian Cup Championship game so it remains unclear if they will be match fit for this Cascadia Cup clash; Reo-Coker lined up as right back in the Montreal game and again Rennie ran a different formation (4-1-4-1) with Rusin moving up to play front sweeper with Harvey slotting in as left back.   Mattocks played alone up top while Leveron slid into the back-four to partner up with O’Brien… Watson, Koffie and Teibert filled in at the other three midfield slots.

As for Portland – most likely the same back-four with Harrington again on the left and Jack on the right…  Baptiste and Danso should return in their spots as well.

A huge challenge for these four guys and the rest of the midfield will be managing the speed of Vancouver, Manneh and Mattocks are lightening quick – so getting behind the ball is not the full story here in defense; getting in good position and anticipating through balls is even more critical to prevent a breakaway goal.

Wild Things – Reo-Coker has the honor of leading Vancouver in fouls as well as yellow cards; he’s on four yellows to date – the next in line for fouls and yellow cards is Koffie.  Both these guys will probably line up in the midfield with Koffie playing slightly further ahead of Reo-Coker and Davidson.

With few yellow cards of late the trends of last year with Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury are slowly fading… getting stoppages in play in ‘safe areas’ is a good thing provided it’s not a red card – with the speed of Vancouver I imagine their may be a foul or two in the midfield area to better manage positional play.

Substitutes –  Hard to say with Vancouver; the bench looks strong given how many different players have started this year – tactics can and probably will change given a change in scoreline for either team… this should be a great tactical match-up!

For Portland the rotation has included Zemanski, Alhassan and Piq of late; perhaps we see Zizzo?  That might depend on the scoreline or other tactical changes made by Rennie…

In closing

Variation, nuance, deception and some unseen tactics will rule this game; who’s better on the day both in planning and in execution?

What is known?

Portland will be poke, prod and push with pressure and fast paced possession directed down the middle, the right, or the left in this Cascadia Cup clash…

Vancouver will start any one of 15 different players in 10 different positions in one of four different formations…

What is unknown – the scoreline.  Should be a bloody brilliant game – they have all been great games to date; no need for variation there!


Next up Match Analysis Portland Timbers vs Vancouver Whitecaps…

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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