Match Preview – Portland Timbers v Colorado Rapids (Game 2)

The last time Portland took on Colorado (March 30th) the Timbers start had not indicated the things to come.  After four games Portland had given up 8 goals with three draws and one loss.  Fast forward to now, 12 games later and Portland sit on a 14 game unbeaten string and a tidy goal differential of +9.

With respect to Colorado; an enigma really in playing on the road versus at home.. more later on that but for now let’s just say that the idea of Colorado being a possession based team that can translate that possession to points in the league table might be deceptive.

JELD-WEN – Packed house again no doubt with the ever uplifting Timbers Army in full force.  I remain, and probably always will remain, “gobsmacked” at the spine tingling atmosphere that people from this part of the country generate in that Stadium!

A recent organized addition (about a year old) to that atmosphere are the “Timbers Army Covert Ops” headed by some top secret fans embedded deep behind enemy lines.  Apparently it got started in a pub of all places, usually where resistances begin I suppose, and has grown from there.  I won’t offer up the exact count of members nor the location of the pub. (top secret)…

But will offer this; they enjoy feeding frenzies on a favorite type of fish that rhymes with a team name somewhere in the northwest and they have additional (volunteer) opportunities, like the 107 IST as a whole, where they look to spread the message and tenor of Portland Timbers soccer.  They will meet regularly and are always looking for new members to join their community (erh.. resistance).

Bottom line, like other squadrons across the US, it has developed into a close-knit community of expats that enjoy each others company while enhancing the value of Timbers and Timbers Soccer and what the 107 IST is all about!

Weather – Portland likes to keep a slick surface on the pitch to enhance their ground passing game and with rain expected tomorrow there should be a pretty slick surface to work with.

Standings – Colorado have faded a wee bit in the last couple of weeks and are looking to rebound from their latest away loss to Chicago.  If you like, here’s a few links to check out about this match tomorrow from the Colorado viewpoint.  Backline issues with Colorado & Expect lineup changes for the Rapids in match against Timbers…

For Portland this presents an ideal opportunity to take three points and continue their move up the league table.  Dallas have a very tough match coming up against Sporting Kansas City today while Real Salt Lake go head to head with the Flounders…

Formation – Given trends over the last month or so it is likely we see Colorado open up in a 4-2-3-1 with Buddle, Harris and Brown rotating around to poke and prod for weaknesses while Powers and Hendry, with assistance from Sturgis or maybe LaBrocca? lending a hand in the midfield.  O’Neil is away with the U-20’s so the back-four might consist of Mullan, Wynne, Moor and Klute.

With Portland it is likely Porter opens the Timbers in a rotational 4-3-3 with all six midfielders taking on various roles as the game progresses.  More later on some potential lineups.

Goals Scored – Here’s the diagram for Colorado pointing to their target players, goal scorers and those who provide assists (from front to back).

Shot Takers and Targets for Colorado Rapids to Date

Shot Takers and Targets for Colorado Rapids to Date

Their leading shot taker with shots on goal is Brown, followed by Harris and Buddle… interesting in that all these guys are classified as forwards; more later in Curved Air on that bit of juice.  Also note that the top player in assists is also Brown.

He is a dangerous player with speed and a good sense of position; the back-four will need to be just as clued in to where he roams as they were against Donovan and Keane…

And it’s not wise to count out Harris in all this – he has height (6’3″) and a great leap – given that height he will always be a danger on set-pieces (to include throw-ins)…

In terms of Portland – Wallace returns and now the full impact of the Timbers offensive threat can be felt since almost a month ago.  Deception, nuance, and rotation should be in full force tomorrow and if all goes well it would be good to see Portland push across at least three goals.

Some may feel that is a bit much but if patient and able to open up Moor and Wynne this could be a wicked exciting game.

Curved Air – Colorado have averaged just over 14 crosses per away game with about 7 per game from each side.  But that’s not the takeaway here.  As noted in the diagram below the eight games they have played on the road have varied considerably in their use of crossing.

Colorado Away Tendencies in where the crosses are generated

Colorado Away Tendencies in where the crosses are generated

Clearly their matches against Real and LA are significantly different than their matches against Dallas, San Jose and Chicago.  While some may disagree I would offer that crossing against Portland this game may work more towards matching those of games against other possession based teams like Real and LA.

A good indicator of that might come in the first 15 minutes while tracking how their outside “3” play up top in support of the lone striker.

As for Portland – I’m not sure for this game other than to offer that if-when crosses do come in they will come where the opportunity best presents itself given current conditions.  That’s not etching in stone much of anything but for me it speaks to how versatile this team is in creating chances based upon the opponent in hand.

In terms of Goal Kicks from Square 1 Colorado have been Capt. Obvious on this one.  To highlight, here is the diagram showing distribution in away games this year:

Colorado Away Tendencies in playing from Square 1

Colorado Away Tendencies in playing from Square 1

All told Colorado have averaged almost 9 more long balls from square 1 in away games than at home and almost 7 fewer ‘short balls’ in away games than at home.  Direct attack anyone?

Bottom line here is both Baptiste?/Footy? and Kah will be busy against either or both Harris and Buddle.  For me this aerial battle will be the key to the game for Colorado; shut down their direct path forward and Portland should take three points provided they can put one past Irwin.

To further illustrate here’s the ‘more later’ on Colorado as an enigma when it comes to the rest of MLS…

Two Diagrams for your consideration…

MLS Average To Date vs Colorado Average in their Away games

MLS Average To Date vs Colorado Average in their Away games

In this first one note the differences between the correlation of points scored versus the various Possession with Purpose data points.  Throughout the league there is a positive correlation between time of possession (far left darker blue bar) and points in the league table (it’s not high but it is positive).  In other words the more you possess the ball the more likely you are to get points.

This is simply not the case with Colorado; it’s “the less they possess the ball” the more likely they are to get points in the league table.  In other words Colorado has better results when losing the possession battle than winning it.  Of additional note is that in the other categories they match the the rest of the league.

Hence the importance of Portland being able to win that aerial battle to minimize that obvious trend where Colorado look to score on counters, set-pieces and route 1.

Colorado Average in Home games vs Colorado Average in Away games

Colorado Average in Home games vs Colorado Average in Away games

To drive the point home even further…  this is not an ‘away’ trend of Colorado.  In this diagram above it further supports that Colorado are really a ‘direct’ attacking team and that neither possession, nor “accumulation” of shots taken, or shots on goal have any relationship at all to them winning points in the league table.  In fact its’ just the opposite – the fewer they do those things against their opponent the more likely they are to win!

Some might call this dysfunctional or perhaps offer up that Colorado are “one lucky team” in scoring goals when they don’t show the usual outputs that other teams show resulting from penetrations and creating goal scoring opportunities.  For me it’s a very clear example of how ‘direct attacking football’ can be defined (by data) when assessing overall possession with purpose.

Possession – No need for rocket science here but I will offer up another intriguing characteristic about Colorado that appears to be another outlier compared to the rest of MLS and even compared to their home games this year.

Colorado Possession with Purpose in Away games this year

Colorado Possession with Purpose in Away games this year

Away games – In all my research to date, this year, this is the first time I have encountered a team with outputs that don’t have a strong correlation between themselves.  And to prove this isn’t a fluke here’s the Colorado data for their home games this year…

Colorado Possession with Purpose in Home games this year

Colorado Possession with Purpose in Home games this year

For me this indicates that the general theory on possession with purpose data points having relevance to each other holds true for Colorado; except in away games.

Might this be an indicator of Colorado having no tactical strategy in their approach to away games compared to those at home?

In other words Pareja says let’s go out there are work with what they give us knowing our primary intent is to go via ‘route 1’… and whatever falls in from there great.   Hard to say but for a data kinda guy the blue bar diagram above is certainly an outlier compared to all other teams we’ve played this year.

Another offering for your consideration — awhile ago someone in MLS was trying to offer up a way to track ‘luck’ in this game… for me this huge disparity between overall possession with purpose “plus” the individual disparity between those points and league points indicates this set of data might also be one to track “luck”???  Perhaps others have some thoughts they’d like to share on this?

With respect to Portland.  Earlier in this season I offered up a “stretch goal” as well as what an estimate might have been based upon last year for Possession with Purpose.  Here’s the latest on Portland that includes a (red) line, offering up last year’s estimate, plus a (white) line, offering up a “stretch goal” for this year.

Note that the “stretch goal” was developed after assessing overall performance in these same data points from teams that made the MLS Playoffs last year.  The stretch goal is higher than the average of averages for MLS Playoff teams last year.

Portland Possession with Purpose To Date

Portland Possession with Purpose To Date

As noted – the Yellow stars indicate an estimate based upon real data for Time of Possession, Shots Taken, Shots on Goal and Goals Scored.

So that’s how things stand today given progress this year.

With respect to this game – Given the trend that Colorado do better when ceding possession Portland should have the better of possession – the challenge is converting that possession into possession with purpose, penetrate, create, shoot with accuracy and score… Timber-Taka should be in full action today and Colorado will do it’s best to disrupt and dismantle the ball movement forward.

Defense – Miller will most probably slot in as the fullback to replace Harrington (ankle knock) – I would imagine the speedier fullback will look to track Brown and try to minimize his impact against teammates in the back-four.

Bottom line here is minimizing set-pieces (to include throw-ins) and fouls in the defending half/third while also looking to track down ‘second chance’ rebounds from long balls out of the back.

With O’Neil away Wynne, Moor, Mullan and Klute should probably get the call.  I would imagine both Thomas and Powers will work hard to bottle up the ever-moving trio of Wallace, Nagbe and Valeri.

For some history here’s where Colorado looked to penetrate and create goal scoring opportunities in the first match…  the takeaway here is that Colorado did look to penetrate down their left (our right) but that didn’t mean that’s where they created their most goal scoring opportunities.

What this might indicate is that Colorado were rotating the ball left to right once inside the attacking third…

Colorado penetrations and locations on creating goal scoring opportunties in Game one

Colorado penetrations and locations on creating goal scoring opportunities in Game one

Wild Things – Harris {37} and Thomas {24}  (in that order) lead the team in fouls conceded with Powers and Brown a little bit less.   As for Yellow cards Thomas has the lead with 4 while Powers follows up with 3.

Diego Chara leads Portland with four Yellows while Will Johnson sits on three.  As expected from those guys and it is good to see that both are not sitting on the same number – it would not do to see both Diego and Will have to sit a game at the same time.

Substitutes – Unclear with Colorado but given minutes played and even their press indicating some players might sit out we could see Sturgis, Mwanga, LaBrocca, or Cascio start or as substitutes.

With the return of Wallace and the loss of Harrington Porter has a number of options.  We could see the return of Wallace up top left with Miller and Jewsbury playing the fullback tandem in the back.

Other options might include seeing Miller retain his starting position with Wallace beginning the game on the subs bench and Alhassan starting.  That gives Porter a number of options to change things up both defensively and offensively in the second half knowing that a tough game against Dallas comes mid-next week.

All told Porter could trot out with Piquionne, Johnson, Valeri, Wallace, Nagbe, Alhassan, Zemanski, Chara, Johnson, Miller, Jewsbury, Bapstist, Danso, or Kah and not lose traction in pushing his style of play and control on the pitch against Colorado.

This is a team that has 14 very strong field players even with injuries to Harrington, Horst and Silvestre.  Who starts isn’t the critical thing today; I think who is available as the game plays on has just as much value, given another quick turn, with the Cup match in Dallas next Wednesday…

In closing – Seems like I say this before every game… I can’t wait – should be exciting and wicked good with an atmosphere that simply rocks!  Geez I love watching this team play football!!!

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckptfc and feel free to join my newly created Facebook Group called Possession with Purpose.

For official Timbers details about this match here’s a link for their preview.

Next Up Match Analysis Portland Timbers v Colorado Rapids.

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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