Match Analysis – Portland Timbers (2) LA Galaxy (1)

Every time I go to JELD-WEN I look forward to hearing our National Anthem and the roar, the absolute roar of the crowd as it finishes; this game, in particular, I had a spine tingling feeling as I walked from the causeway to the press box after its completion.  I don’t get that too often, when in the press box, but last night it was sensational; a momentous night was upon us.

Having to wait 90+ minutes for that didn’t matter.

And if you were there, you knew, that on that corner kick, in stoppage time, with that deafening  noise of the Timbers Army, not 40 feet from the pitch, something superb was about to happen!  

Oh what a way to finish a marquee match-up pitting two of the top teams and top coaches in MLS, on National TV covered by NBC Sports.

So with that mammoth moment and monumental victory are there any other moments or mementos we can glean from this match?

To answer that here’s my routine post-match analysis for your consideration…

JELD-WEN – As advertised, no sticky pitch to work from and what an atmosphere from Soccer City USA!  There is simply no other stadium in the United States of America that generates the intensity, enthusiasm, or electricity of JELD-WEN; oh to be living in this City as a Soccer fan!  Oh to have JELD-WEN as a home stadium for a soccer player!

Weather – No impact what-so-ever, superb night with a great balance between temperature and humidity – a player playing soccer in this country really can’t ask for a better environment to play the game they love!  How on earth a top player in soccer, who’s of a mind to play in the MLS, doesn’t put Portland at the top of their list I don’t know!

Standings – With Real Salt Lake dumping Dallas in Frisco and Portland pushing past “the gals of Galaxy”, as my friend theaxepdx calls them, Portland has second place.

Formation – No surprises here, LA opened in a rotational 4-4-2 while Portland offered up their rotational 4-3-3.

At times it looked as if Zemanski and Chara both played single “pivot” and at other times it looked as if they might have run a double “pivot”.  The same appears reasonable for LA in that either Juninho or Sarvas would station themselves atop the back-four.

All told though, LA played more with 4 in the midfield and supporting penetration along the traditional wings; and with them offering up a record 36 crosses this game that kind of supports a traditional 4-4-2.

Bottom line; both coaches have their players rotate, poke, prod and look for weaknesses that can help create penetration and goal scoring opportunities while defending against the opposition.

Goals Scored – With 36 crosses LA got gold from one of them and while OPTA rated 8 of them successful I’d offer up that only one of them was – the one assisted by Jimenez and Franklin down the right side.

For me a cross is creating a goal scoring opportunity, nothing more, nothing less and the mark of successful cross is a goal scored or one that immediately leads to another assist where a goal is scored…

If it didn’t then either 1) the attacker took a shot that was on goal and got saved (unsuccessful); 2) that an attacker took a shot that wasn’t on goal (unsuccessful) or 3) the cross was successfully defended and cleared by the defense (unsuccessful).  Perhaps others can explain why OPTA offers up a cross as successful when the following execution resulting from that cross was not successful?

As for Portland, my wife watched the game on telly last night and didn’t get to see the first goal scored live, NBC, like many of us, to include LA, were expecting Valeri to get a bit more settled before offering up that free kick; surprise – Valeri took a quick kick and Portland got on the board.

Goal two – As Valeri lined up for that one, in stoppage time, the entire stadium, just simply ROARED with life.  I’m not sure that sentence does justice to the increase in sound coming from the Timbers Army AND everyone else but from where I sat the significant increase in volume was obvious.

As a player, whose given it their all for 90+ minutes, that injection of energy ,from the entire Stadium, must surely have added adrenaline to their bodies.

Duly noted, AJ Baptiste connects, the stadium explodes and a minute later the referee blows full time and LA are sent home with nil-pwa.

Curved Air – With 11 games gone I’m still not sure if there is a great pattern on how LA plays against their opponents in away matches but it is interesting to see that in games where LA have offered up large amounts of crosses they have lost or drawn while the fine line in games where they haven’t played as many crosses is harder to distinguish…



Note the far right bar in the diagram; the number of crosses offered up (36) by LA against Portland last night.

In comparing that to the 5-nil loss to New England, the 3-1 loss to Vancouver and the 2-2 draw against Toronto it does appear that when LA exceed a certain number of crosses (per game) they do worse, not better.

For me this speaks to the observation I’ve made before with some other data points, it’s not always about quantity – it’s more about quality.  And as noted earlier, scoring one goal from 36 crosses speaks to quantity, not quality.

Nothing of substance to offer on goal kicks from Square one; no patterns before and none afterwards…

With respect to headers – their average number of headers increased after this game, as did their average number of crosses – with that the correlation between headers played and crosses also increased; not by much but it did go up.

And while that correlation still hovers below .5000 it again reinforces that their headers are more associated with redirecting crosses than flick-ons from long balls.

The Capt. Obvious here is that their goal came from a header off a cross…

Possession – As indicated in my match preview sometimes less is more; and again, in this case less possession (not much but still less) was better.

MLS touts LA as a counterattacking team and the data simply doesn’t support that conclusion.  In 7 out of 11 away games LA have won the battle of possession (usually meaning they pass more than their opponent) and last night was no different even though Portland had “more passes” than LA; note the time of possession for LA was just over 50% while for Portland just under 50%.

There’s simply no logical way that a counterattacking team can have more possession; regardless of passes completed – counterattacking offers up the intent to yield possession in order to create chances on the break that will garner goals when the opponent is over-committed.

Portland did not over-commit this game; they played with intent and purpose to possess based upon driving quality not quantity; if anything Portland played the counterattacking game last night and LA played the game of possession.  MLS offers up some intriguing information, but for these two teams, they miss the boat completely.

To reinforce; here’s my simplified diagram for this game that points out what was offered up in my match preview; either of these teams can play to any system and style at any given time…



Note the significantly higher amount of defensive clearances by Portland versus LA (52 to 18), the significantly higher amounts of penetrations by LA (53 to 38), the significantly higher amount of GSO’s by LA versus Portland (45 to 27), and the higher number of shots taken by LA versus Portland (10-7).

Yet when looking at the single output that has the best correlation to winning Portland scored 2 goals from 5 shots on goal to one goal for LA.

If not convinced here’s what the PWP diagram looked like in the game Portland lost to Montreal earlier this season…



Note that the Portland outputs match the pattern of LA’s outputs and Montreal’s outputs match the pattern of Portland.  Against Montreal Portland dominated all outputs apart from Goals scored; just like LA exceeded outputs in their match against Portland.

So if you look at just one piece of data it might appear Portland are a possession based team – but through the course of this year Portland are more than just a possession based team…

What Montreal did to Portland is exactly what Portland did to LA…  Portland is not “just” a possession based team – they can play to any style, just like LA; and that is why they are dangerous and very tough to beat…

Before moving on to Defense here’s my regular offering on attacking efficiency rating, for the Portland Timbers and LA Galaxy, on the day…



Check out the far left bars in the diagram.  Portland edged LA in efficiency (2.9477 to 2.9235).  So with all that energy expended by LA (higher output in all those attacking categories but one) they were still less efficient in doing what they needed to do to secure those three points.  Note that Montreal also had a higher attacking efficiency rating even though Portland dominated some vital statistics.

Note also that teams with closer ratings might be expected to reflect a draw like the game Portland had against New England.  Not last night; the output in this one more closely matched that home game against Dallas; which was also a very close, and hard fought game that Portland won.

Others may have a different view but I would offer Portland controlled this game and played from a position of strength – yield but don’t break, bide time and work hard to make the most of your chances when you get them…

Defense – Bottom line up front – the inability of LA to defend against Set Pieces is what lost them this game – all told Portland had 6 set pieces and they scored on two of them; otherwise the LA defense did a very good job of shutting down the Timbers counterattacking style.

As for Portland, no early set-piece leading to a goal for LA.  The Galaxy got their goal from the run of play that included a phenomenal 36 crosses; their highest output ever in that statistical category this year…  All told Portland faced 12 set pieces from LA – with no goals scored – superb!

Here’s how the attacking data looks in 15 minute increments to reflect what sort of pressure the defense faced throughout this game…Clearly LA applied pressure throughout yet the back four did not yield.



What I would offer up for your consideration is that the first 15 minutes were a ‘feeling out time’ where both teams looked to measure weaknesses and tactics while also looking to ensure they didn’t give up an early goal.

In the second 15 you could say that there is a clear increase in output; showing Portland worked harder to get an equalizer after LA opened the scoring.  Portland did and again they pulled back slightly on the throttle while LA re-intensified their attack.

It’s only as the second half plays out where you can see the gradual increase in attack by Portland and LA; each successive 15 minute increment resulted in an increase in critical outputs for both teams.  The defenses for both teams were clearly under increasing pressure.

Bottom line here is that both teams did well up until that stoppage time game-winner by AJ Baptiste!

That’s not to forget the three superb saves by Donovan Ricketts; with that one at the 38′ mark being the most likely to win MLS Save of the Week.  Time and again Mister Fantastic has been there and continues to do that; wow!

Wild Things – As the first half ended I thought for sure someone would get a red card in the second half.  Amazing that Toledo, who’s a red card guru, didn’t pull one out.

All told Portland had 17 fouls and did a pretty good job of disrupting play from LA- only 1 foul inside the defending third (Ricketts Save of the Week!) while another was marginally inside; all the rest were outside that area or in the attacking half.  Mistakes made from last game were corrected.

For LA, they also did a pretty good job of keeping fouls against Portland out of their defending third; only one was made, on the edge, and it was this one that Portland used to get their equalizer. Here’s the OPTA diagram showing where number 14, Robbie Rogers, committed the foul that led to Johnson’s goal…

Substitutes – Porter made three substitutions this game and all were worthy; Alhassan was very ineffective this game and his touches were off, in some considerable fashion, and it didn’t surprise me to see Piquionne come on for him.

Perhaps we see Piq start with Johnson playing on the left next week in Philadelphia with Alhassan moving to the subs bench?

The second substitution again paid dividends; this one wasn’t about replacing an ineffective player; this one was about getting some fresh legs and energy on the pitch as the game wound down – Ryan had a very good game and his positioning to score that goal from Nagbe was spot on…

The final substitution (Zizzo) was to relieve a very tired Darlington Nagbe, who had worked extremely hard that game.  I’d almost offer (not yet though) that he’s beginning to take the shape of being a box-to-box midfield extraordinaire that won’t get the grueling physical tackle in but he will track back and work to take the ball away.

With respect to LA – Rogers, who really looked to “fall down” a bit to easily was pulled at the 70′ mark with Jimenez and Keane coming off a bit later.  When leaving the pitch it did look like Keane was nursing a groin strain.

I haven’t tracked the personal statistics for Keane and probably won’t again but I’d be willing to bet that he’s not used to having only two shots, one on goal, and a pass completion percentage less than 70%…  with only 33 passes attempted.  Perhaps that is something Mike Donovan has tracked before?

I think it would be fair to say that Keane was shut down this game – and the culprit from Portland who did that was, most probably, AJ Baptiste.  Again – reasonable information to support that Baptiste should really be considered a candidate to join a USMNT training camp.

On that note; AJ has been learning, on the job, under the guidance and experience of Mikael Silvestre, Futty Danso, Pa Modou Kah, David Horst and Donovan Ricketts.  It’s hard to imagine a center-back as young as he is where he has five world-class tutors…  For me, he’s certainly stronger on the ball and more tuned in to the game than Goodson; perhaps others have a different view?

Timbers Army – I’m not being cheeky here; I really sense that the final pulse of passion from the Timbers Army, less than 40 feet away, really did impact the outcome of this game. Perhaps others who have covered the Timbers longer than I can speak better to their presence last night; I don’t know – but for me the ROAR and anticipation was simply friggin huge!

In closing – All that said that’s one game completed and in the books as Portland look to travel to Philadelphia for another very tough away match.  Perhaps Will Johnson has returned by then; hard to say.  However it takes shape it’s one game and the next game and by Tuesday this game will be stored with the other 18 games — keep the highs low and the lows high…

As a side note; it was interesting to see Caleb Porter and Bruce Arena meet up in the center of the pitch at the end of the game last night; that wasn’t how they engaged each other in LA – nicely done.

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckptfc and join my facebook group possession with purpose.

Next Up Match Preview – Portland Timbers v Philadelphia Union – who knows between now and then we might see another player get added to the roster as the season progresses.


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.

Scroll to top