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Match Analysis – Portland Timbers 2 – Vancouver Whitecaps 2

The dust has settled – Game one of three against Vancouver is in the past – Great result and perhaps one Timbers fans can look back on as being a pivot point for Portland this year?  

I don’t say that tongue in cheek – there are some indicators in this game that may be cause for concern but more later.  For now bask in the sun of another point, on the road, and an unbeaten string hitting double digits.  These players and these coaches continue to repay “the fans” as this season continues to unfold!

Before walking through my routine I would suggest you take in a very good match report from Kip Kesgard with the Oregonian and another fine offering from theaxepdx

With that here’s my match analysis working from my match preview in particular order…

BC Place – 19,823 fans turned their 39,646 beady eyes to this game with anticipation and most walked away disappointed; not unlike Timbers fans early last year when Mattocks scored a late equalizer on a long ball in JELD-WEN.  The days of the past now haunt Vancouver – not Portland – as Valencia turned a last ditch long ball from Will Johnson to a stunning (easy-peezy-lemon-squeezy) equalizer…

Weather – a non issue this game though if you read the article from theaxepdx you should note that the pitch did have some impact in this game…

Standings – two views here; Portland has dropped to third in the standings (game in hand) in the Western Conference while also (very early days) slides atop to lead for that chase in retaining the Cascadia Cup to Portland.  Not remarkable for anything more than that at this time – too many games yet to play (in both) and too many points to be had or lost as well…  consistency in grabbing away points is a good thing – Portland got an away point and that’s good.

Formation – As opined in my match preview Vancouver would open in a 4-3-3… if you read my offerings you’ll know why.  Also offered up in my preview was the potential for a tactical change given a change in scoreline – indeed that was the case; not only for Vancouver but for Portland…

But bottom line up front here was slow play from the get-go; there were changes to be sure but the initial tactics got what Rennie wanted – an early goal and a chance to secure three points in back-to-back games against Western Conference foes.

Goals Scored – A cracker – Sanvezzo hit a screaming curler that could be a goal of the week contender; superbly placed free kick that was a dead give-away in my view.  Rickett’s position, albeit somewhat shaded left to start, was more central when Sanvezzo put his boot to the ball but not central enough; even with that early adjustment Rickett’s wasn’t going to get there.  It’s no wonder Sanvezzo leads the team in shots taken and now goals scored…

So Sanvezzo not only can offer up great free-kicks he also showed his vision with a nice pass to Koffie after seeing the overaggressive reaction by the back-four and central midfield players…  overplay is what got Portland in trouble here – alas hindsight is 20-20 but at least one person marking the space atop the box would have better suited than four Timbers players trying to surround the ball.

That is somewhat harsh but in reality too many players closed on Sanvezzo instead of marking an area where he might release the ball.  Koffie duly did his job in getting free and netting that quick reposte to Will Johnson’s worthy Penalty Kick…

Last but not least – Valencia – in case you missed it he was +3 going into this game and is now +4… last minute goals by substitutes are why substitutes are brought on.  Wallace had a healthy +/- rating before gaining starting minutes on the left wing and Valencia is doing the same.

He adds a worthy dimension to this team – he has foot skills and pace and can (and has) tracked back.  It was his nifty display of quick touches in traffic that got him that goal.  I would hope that Valencia continues to garner more playing time; we saw an increase in playing time for Wallace as his +/- was strong – it seems reasonable to me that the chemistry brought to the pitch by Valencia will result in the same for him.

Tidbit… In case you missed it Sal Zizzo scored the equalizer (Reserves) on Sunday and continues to gain match fitness; so there are two quality players in the pen waiting to get on if Nagbe isn’t ready and Porter wants to run a slightly different look than with Kalif…

Curved Air – No diagrams on this one just a few observations.  As again offered in my match preview Vancouver played far more long balls (24) than short ones (6) and Portland played more short balls (16) than long ones (9).  While those are the stats it was clear in watching the game that the tactics of those stats changed as the scoreline changed and time drew down…

To confirm; after the red card to Futty, Rickett’s played all his remaining goal kicks long and from the opposite end Knighton played all his goal kicks short…  so while one overall pattern was obvious to start with that pattern had completely swapped places in the later stages of the game.

Possession – Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF)… here’s how the Attacking Possession with Purpose (A-PWP) efficiency rating stacked up for Portland and Vancouver…

A-PWP Attacking Efficiency Portland Timbes vs Opponents To Date

A-PWP Attacking Efficiency Portland Timbes vs Opponents To Date

You may be surprised (perhaps not?) that Vancouver actually dominated much of this game.  If previous analysis has been reasonable then this conclusion remains so as well.  Why?

Well even though Portland had more ‘possession of the ball’ that possession lacked efficiency and effectiveness in the final third.  Portland penetrated more, created more and only through the grace of a long ball (direct attack) in the final minutes did they equalize; otherwise Vancouver did more with less…

Even more ironic is that the first attack leading to the Penalty kick goal came in the one fifteen minute stretch (seen below) where Portland had the fewest penetrations and least amount of goal scoring opportunities… and no need to belabor it too much the other goal game via “route 1″…  so yes Portland got their two goals but no – they did not come as a result of ‘possession based attacking’…

Of additional intrigue is that (to date) Vancouver are unsurpassed by any team Portland has played in overall efficiency; this one point draw in retrospect was, indeed, a superb result.  In viewing that data is it any wonder that Vancouver beat LA Galaxy three – nil; it shouldn’t come as a surprise and I would offer Vancouver will continue to remain a tough team throughout the remainder of this season.

And from a point of variation; the ability that Rennie has to run different formations and different tactics with as many as 20 different players makes this team even tougher.  The flexibility for Portland to do this is ‘not there’ yet…

With this improvement and the thrashing of FC Dallas 4-2, by Seattle, this years’ Cascadia Cup competition should be wicked good and perhaps even a precursor to the MLS Western Conference playoffs???  An opportunity for a truly superb Playoff match…

So attacking efficiency offers up one point of view; what about some other things influencing/impacting possession this game?  Here’s how penetrations and goal scoring opportunities played out in fifteen minute increments for these two teams…

Penetrations and Goal Scoring Opportunities by Fifteen Minute Increments

Penetrations and Goal Scoring Opportunities by Fifteen Minute Increments

NOTE:  A new feature in this diagram will include Yellow and Red Cards.  As usual the star indicates when someone scored and the white/gold bars indicate frequency of goal scoring opportunities created while the green/blue bars indicate a penetration into the opponents red zone.

As a reminder – note PT60 (the fifteen minute increment with the lowest PA3 and GSO) is the time-frame when Portland got their first goal… ironically the time-frame for Vancouver’s first goal also came during the fifteen minute increment that was their lowest as well…

Overall, t’s clear Portland dominated first half possession; they had more penetrations and more goal scoring opportunities created – that didn’t equate to shots on goal though.

When looking at all the data for both sides these same inputs generated roughly the same outputs (15/16 shots taken, 4 shots on goal and 2 goals scored); so with less attacking work Vancouver created the same output… Lean Six Sigma types would like that…

Next up Defensive Clearances (here’s where I think things begin to take shape on Rennie changing tactics to start the second half).

All told Vancouver had 45 defensive clearances with 32 of those coming in the first half (let the opponent penetrate and then shut down lanes and clog the 18); again that pattern on clearances matches statistics in previous games when Rennie has run the 4-3-3.

So what about Portland and the approach Rennie was taking in attack?  Portland had 9 defensive clearances in their first half and 14 in the second half; this indicates a transition from less attack to more attack for Vancouver (a shift from the 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1?).

Is there anything else to support this transition?

If you recall my match preview I offered up that Vancouver would generate fewer crosses running to a 4-3-3 as opposed to a 4-2-3-1.  In the first half Vancouver generated only four crosses (three from the right and one from the left).

That trend changed in the second half; Vancouver generated an additional 13 crosses in the second half with nine coming down the right side and 4 down their left – (the right side increase is again another indicator on moving to a 4-2-3-1).  So that is four indicators that Rennie changed tactics…

1.  Higher levels of VWFC defensive clearances in the first half (indicating passive / aggressive 4-3-3) to fewer defensive crosses (10) in their own defending half (aggressive/passive)…

2.  Increased clearances by the opponent (Portland) from first to second half…

3.  Increased numbers of crosses from the first to the second half…

4.  Increased crosses down their right side (as the 4-2-3-1 pattern previously indicated.

With all that change going on what did it get Vancouver; it got them 1 point…  so Rennie had three points in the bag (first half) with a 4-3-3 approach and he pretty much botched it up by shifting to a more aggressive 2nd half strategy…

I’d be willing to bet that doesn’t happen again.  And don’t say it won’t because that info is here… bollocks; Rennie and Porter know their stuff regardless of what punters and pundits offer; Porter has got to be well and truly pleased on getting a point here and Rennie is no doubt rankled he ruined the chance for three points…  the after the match handshake probably says it all…

Possession – defense second – although Portland has not been the best at converting goal scoring opportunities to goals they are doing a good job of possessing the ball.  The more they possess the ball the less time the opponent has to score goals; so while ineffective in efficiency that time of possession is helpful on the defensive side.

As time passes I will also develop a defensive efficiency rating working off of possession; more as the year progresses on that one…

So how about the A-PWP Estimate for Vancouver I offered up in my match preview compared to the Actuals for this game?

Here’s how game one of this three game set played out on actuals…

Attacking PWP Estimate and Actual for VWFC vs PTFC

Attacking PWP Estimate and Actual for VWFC vs PTFC

While the actual numbers (blue line/bar) don’t match the estimated (yellow line/bar) the overall linear relationship of those seven data points does…  in comparing data points for the estimate to the actual it would appear Rennie is running a direct attack approach (less possession with higher PA3 and GSO) while fielding a formation that better suits a possession based approach???  I don’t recall seeing that in previous opponent data but will look for it more as the season develops.  Perhaps there is a way to trend ‘direct attacking styles’ to other styles with this analysis too???

Of interest is how closely the estimated linear relationship ended up being to the actual linear relationship – and even more intriguing for me is how that ‘actual’ matched up nicely with the opponent averages (red bar/line) to date…  I will continue to offer up these estimates for Western Conference matches…

Defense –

If you recall in my match preview I offered that “getting behind the ball” would not be the issue – it would be “managing the speed of Vancouver players relative to being in good position and anticipating through balls to prevent the breakaway goal”.  Too true for Saturday and the heart of a concern after watching this match as Portland prepares for two more road trips (DC United and Chicago) – these are bottom feeders (no disrespect) and the pundits going in should be betting Portland wins those games by 1.5 goals or more…

1.  Harrington got a Yellow from basically being out of position from a through ball…

2.  Will Johnson got a Yellow from basically being out of position from a through pass and dribble that led to a Yellow card and the first Vancouver goal…

3.  Valeri also got a Yellow from being out of position to stop a counterattack by Vancouver, and

4.  Futty got a red card for also being out of position on a through ball to Sanvezzo… three of those bookings occurred in the defending half and one led directly to a goal scored; not good…

5.  If that’s not enough the right defensive side also had issues against Vancouver as well – on two separate occasions in the second half Vancouver had an open left wing to penetrate and cause havoc in the Timbers back-four.  In recalling those plays it was like a tale of wounded soldiers lying on the pitch from misplaced tackles and good passing.  It was this breakdown on our right (their left) that led to their second goal.

 As for Vancouver – Davidson’s name was not called much but he was present and did a good job of filling in the gaps where Reo-Coker wasn’t – no stats here just my impression.  Plenty of other info to file away for the two remaining matches this year and perhaps a playoff match as well?

As for their other players; while Vancouver only got the draw I am pretty impressed with this team; the variation (fog of war) generated by Rennie and how they rotate and move about the pitch.  Shame I can’t watch them a bit closer to glean more from this enemy…

Wild Things – As advertised in my match preview Reo-Coker was the one to watch for Vancouver; he’s suspended for the next MLS game given his combined Yellow cards (5) over the early course of this season.

As for Portland – again noted in my match preview getting stoppages in ‘safes areas’ is a good thing provided it’s not a red card; well Portland had three yellows in their defensive area and one red in their defensive area – they are lucky, really lucky only one player got sent off and only gave up one goal based upon that large number of Yellows.  Attempted sliding tackles and yellow cards are great indicators of defenders being out of position; there were many sliding tackles this game and four bookings…

Substitutes – The chemistry of the players that go into the mix are just as critical as the strategy and tactics to support it – Valencia was the right substitution at the right time… I was a bit dubious about seeing Johnson get pulled for Piq; that was a like for a like and the previous ‘like’ had not generated much attack with any great effect… Piq has been subbed on a number of times and his +/- is not near as impressive as Valencia with just four appearances…

I hope we see more of Valencia and only see Piq come on when Porter wants to revert to a two-striker formation (if that 4-4-2 ever makes an appearance?).  I did recall Caleb indicating he wasn’t just a 4-3-3 guy but to date he continues to run with one standard ‘target striker’ as opposed to two – so however you slice it he’s running a basic 4-5-1 with rotation that sometimes mirrors a 4-6-0.

It’s not fair on Piq to come in and work with midfielders who have tired legs and his positional sense is not that much different to Johnson.  Piq doesn’t change the makeup of this team that much to warrant a straight swap for Johnson that will lead to a goal – it hasn’t to date and in the small amount of time Valencia has seen his injection HAS altered this team…

As expected Alhassan made an appearance with the injury to Nagbe – I continue to like his nifty touches and vision but the work rate mystifies me; there were a few times where is was better at ball watching than tracking back… Zizzo continues to see playing time with the reserves – he is working to get a better left peg and his vertical pace is quicker than most on this team.

In closing…

Variation, nuance and deception did rule this game – both ended up being strong in planning and executing what they needed to do to get a draw; neither were sharp enough to take three points…

What was known – Portland did prod, poke and push with pressure and fast paced possession (perhaps to fast) down all three parts of the pitch; no PA3 location exceeded 38% and no GSO location exceeded 41%…

Vancouver did start in a 4-3-3 and did convert to a more aggressive approach in the second half; there was little variation in where they went; the looked to penetrate down their left (our right) 51% of the time and generate their goal scoring opportunities from their right (our left) 45% of the time… the middle was pretty much shut down except for that goal by Koffie and that free kick by Sanvezzo.

Next up Match Preview Portland Timbers vs DC United…

 

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.