Match Analysis – Portland Timbers (nil) Philadelphia Union (nil)

For some this game might have been a letdown; not for me – this was an extremely tough road match against, what I feel and think, is one of the best direct attacking teams in MLS.

To be sure the Timbers won the battle of possession and in hindsight; along with the stellar play of the lads in the defending third, that is what got Portland their point.

As noted by Acting Head Coach Rob Vartughian in the post-match press conference on the play of Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts:

“The save he made on Conor [Casey] is world class. We felt, to get to that point in the game, when we were on their end and we were pressing, it was a disappointment to not find a way to get a goal. You have to tip your hat to the guy, he makes an unbelievable save.”

To remain fair and balanced here is what Caleb Porter had to offer up about MacMath:

“I thought our best period of play was after halftime. Those first 10 to 15 minutes we were flying and just disappointed not to get the goal because I thought we had a couple chances and [Zac] MacMath stood on his head a couple times. I thought he had a tremendous game.

With that here’s my walk-through on things that may have had some influence in the outcome of this game…

Stadium – Not quite filled to capacity (18,500 – wikipedia) but apparently 18,740 tickets were purchased based upon some match reports.  So it’s unclear how many rainy sets of eyes were turned to the pitch as this battle for soccer purists took place.

Weather – Definitely an impact on the game – not only with the long thunderstorm delay between halves but also the overwhelming heat and humidity… incredible the physical fitness of these guys to work that hard – no doubt some very tired legs and minds after that one!

Given the weather it was very good to see that a “one-off” (fluke goal) didn’t mar the outcome of this game for either team…

Standings – Real Salt Lake got beat by Sporting KC so Portland gained a point, with one game in hand, against RSL.  No hyperbole on the tri-fecta in August – next up is an away match to a revived San Jose; a team also well trained in direct attacking.  This game, now over, was a good warm-up, (n pun intended) for the match in Buck Shaw Stadium.

As for the Union; they creep up one point but lose two to Sporting KC…  I will be looking forward to watching the nationally televised game between those two teams in early September.

Formation – As advertised Portland opened up with Johnson on the left side and Piquionne up top – in the post game interview Vartughian indicated they were a bit surprised by that move and with over 30 minutes of halftime they made adjustments to compensate.

The Union didn’t start out in a 4-2-3-1 but they did start the match with the same eleven offered up in my match preview; for all intents and purposes though Carroll and Farfan did bucket up in the middle and Letoux ran the right with Cruz down the left while McInerney and Casey rotated up top.

Goals Scored – None; both teams managed 4 shots on goal with one each being dangerous.

On the road this year Portland average just under 13 shots taken with just over 4 shots on goal… Portland hit their average.  Overall Portland had 6 corners and two free kicks in threatening areas – 5 of those set piece opportunities came in the first 30 minutes.

For Philadelphia a different story; they were two shots on goal below average while exceeding their shots taken by one (17).  As for corners, free kicks and throw-in set pieces the Union had 12 of them with 9 of those coming in the second half and five of those nine coming in the last 15 minutes…  this was not an easy game for Portland to defend…

Curved Air – I offered up quite a bit on this topic in my match preview and will do my best to touch all thoughts in retrospect…

Crosses – Twenty four in all offered up by the Union with 66% (16) of them coming from the right; as expected the Union lived up to what their previous pattern had been…    As a whole, 42 % of their penetrations came down the Portland left and even when the Union may have penetrated elsewhere they ended up having 58% of their Goal Scoring Opportunities originating down our left; from their right.

If you’re a future opponent of the Union it is likely you will see your left side pounded much more than your right defensive side…

All told the Timbers played 18 crosses this game with the larger majority coming from the left – this isn’t the approach that proved successful for LA Galaxy or Sporting KC but Caleb may have been working a different approach.

Consider this – Le Toux and Williams have a combined 16 assists so far this year; a great way to minimize the attack of those two players is to create an attack down that same side to keep them ‘at bay”.  Given the Union went scoreless this game you could say that approach by Caleb was very successful…

And as much as we’d like to think so we don’t have players of the same individual talent as Donovan and Zusi who can work the right side like that – so working the attack down our left side probably worked better in occupying their right side than attempting to penetrate with less skill down our right.

In battling Portland, and their possession based approach, the Union exceeded their average in Headers, Flick-ons and Long balls from square one; that info coupled with the Union totaling only 253 passes, when their home average is near 400, should really drive home how direct they tried to play.

Put another way; they had 22 Long balls from square one, 24 Crosses offered, 38 Headers, 14 Flick-ons, and 34 Throw-ins.  So out of 253 passes attempted 132 of those were through the air; that’s 52%.   I’m not sure how that stacks up with other teams yet but with San Jose coming up soon it should provide a good benchmark to go from…

For now I’ll call that percentage “Curved Air Efficiency %”; and I welcome any comments or thoughts others have on that efficiency rating…

As a quick comparison, Portland had 386 passes attempted with 12 Long balls, 18 Crosses, 32 Headers, 9 Flick-ons, and 19 Throw-ins for an 23% Curved Air Efficiency rating…

I think this efficiency rating will be helpful when trying to draw a line on what teams are more or less direct when also viewing their PWP.

Possession – A whopping 54 minutes of possession for Portland; not the highest amount of possession this year but pretty close – what was unusual about this game is that the increase in TOP did not result in a corresponding increase in penetration or creation of goal scoring opportunities.

My gut is telling me this was a ‘quality driven approach’ geared towards possessing with the intent to possess (first) and then possessing with the intent to penetrate (second); this doesn’t mean 3 points wasn’t the target end-state but as the year gets shorter every bloody point is critical.

For me, a ‘quantity driven approach’ would have looked more like the game against Montreal where Portland had 60 minutes of possession with 58 penetrations into the attacking third; as opposed to 54 minutes of possession with only 30 penetrations into the attacking third.

Overall, this looks like a great example where quantity was sacrificed to increase the chances of getting at least one point without sacrificing the opportunity to try and get three points.  With the Montreal game I’d offer the drive to get three points far exceeded even getting one point… perhaps others have a different view?

In case you missed it Caleb did indicate he had the intent to go direct a wee bit more in the first 15 minutes (exactly the same approach Klinsmann used to open up Costa Rica) but that the lads probably played a wee bit more direct than he wanted as the first half continued.  In hindsight the first 30 minutes presented the most problems for Philadelphia even though the best chance to score came on Valeri’s shot later on.

To give you an idea on how the game took shape here’s my traditional diagram showing the 15 minute increments…



Note the significant increase in pressure applied by the Union in the last 45; Portland did open up the second half with some good pressure but overall, the Union, (although playing more direct) had more chances – quantity versus quality…

In looking at how things worked with Ryan Johnson and F. Piquionne; I think that combination worked well and they will compliment each other as they continue to partner up for San Jose.  I found it intriguing that the change-up by Portland took the Union by surprise.

Here’s what Vartughian had to say about seeing Johnson and Piquionne… “They’re a good team and we prepared for them well. I think the only look we were thrown for was [Frederic] Piquionne and Ryan Johnson starting [together]. ”  Amazing…… even more so that he would admit it!

Defense – From Caleb Porter after the game…

On the team’s defense:
“We’re proven to be a stingy team defensively. That makes me happy because there are going to be games where you just can’t find the goal, but at the very least you shouldn’t lose. And if you get a clean sheet, you’re not losing. At least you get a point, and on the road, it’s not all bad to get a point.”

Not much else for me to offer on those words apart from reinforcing how well Pa Moduo Kah played as he stepped back into the fray; he – like Baptiste, more than held their own against McInerney and Casey — nicely played lads and even better no Yellow cards!

Jewsbury and Harrington were pretty much run ragged down their wings and Johnson, Chara and Zemanski did a great job supporting those guys… what a very hard game to play given the tremendous heat and humidity…

With respect to the Union; a clean sheet on their end as well as ours… There were obviously four shots on goal but the one standing out to me was the save by MacMath on that short range blast by Valeri…  both teams played very good defense to go along with a very challenging attack – no goals but certainly not boring… a great game for a purist.  For a good story-line on some detailed scoring chances suggest you read my friend Kip’s article here

Wild Things – Danny Cruz was every bit the diva in diving as anyone I have seen this year; Salazar did a pretty good job, in my opinion, in weeding through the chaff.  Farfan also contributed but the bottom line here is that Portland came away from this game without a Yellow card and without giving away a free kick in a dangerous position…  In this case a set-piece did not win a game…

Substitutes – Ben Zemanski came on to relieve Diego Chara as the second half opened and in my view he did a stellar job in working his role; having three guys who can hold their own in the center of the park is a nice option for Caleb.  And, as expected, Ben added value in the attack as well as the defense…

Next up was Valencia and he too added a good bit of energy to the left – Ryan had worked his tail off down that side and seeing Valencia come on added that wee bit of extra speed to minimize Williams while also looking to create some late energy juice in the attack.   With respect to Kalif – he got on with about a minute left in stoppage time; not really enough to impact the game.

As for the Union – I was surprised to see Cruz get pulled; to be fair he had pretty much done a great job down his wing penetrating and exposing Jack a number of times – perhaps Hackworth doesn’t make that substitution?  If anything the weak point last night was not our left side – it was our right side.  And perhaps Hackworth sees that as well.

I won’t go into great detail down that wing because my friend ‘theaxepdx’ did a great job of that already… this is a very worthy read getting into some grist about the right fullback position – I like Jack but the summer months are wearing and tearing…

I suppose pulling McInerney had to do with match fitness – can’t imagine any other reason to pull him either — and the same goes for Farfan.

To be honest, I was pretty much taken aback by all of the Union substitutions… they had pretty much dominated the entire second half (with the exception of the first 10 minutes or so) and had created far more chances against Portland than most other teams.  While I don’t know the pedigree of Hackworth or his assistant it’s seems amazing those guys got pulled – perhaps others in Philadelphia have a different view?

Timbers Army – Kudo’s to those who braved the weather and made the trip – quite a bit of chatter on the East Coast Platoon facebook group – Connor Cox uploaded some great pics if you get the chance to check them out click here

In closing – Another point on the road – recalling those days of futility with John Spencer and the Timbers road woes are long gone by now…  expectations have changed and that’s a good thing provided they’re not OTT.

The Union were a tough challenge for Portland and if you feel or think my attacking efficiency numbers have been reliable in the past then you should see how those overall outputs compare against other games this year…



The difference between this game and the loss to Columbus isn’t much – all told the Columbus loss, the LA Galaxy draw in LA, the draw at Chicago, the draw in Frisco v Dallas and the loss to Montreal stand out as games somewhat equal, in output, compared to this one – getting one point was a superb result!

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckptfc and are welcome to join the Possession with Purpose Portland Timbers Face-book group…

Next up my Match Preview on Portland versus San Jose in Buck Shaw Stadium…

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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