Semi-Final Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Match Preview – Portland Timbers v Real Salt Lake

Bottom line up front = If you win you’re in.  No three points, no possible draw – in the end one team wins and the other doesn’t…  this is what the guys play for – oh to be in Rio Tinto to watch this one!

Some might offer it will be tight, some might offer it may be a little more loose – hard to say but with both teams liking to work the ground passing game it should be pretty quickly paced.; that said my routine match preview topics of interest that may or may not influence the outcome of this game:

Stadium – Rio Tinto – Kickoff 6:30 PM on ROOT – Kentucky Blue Grass with field dimensions of 120 x 75; slightly wider and slightly longer than JELD-WEN – with RSL being a team who likes to move the ball on the ground chances are the pitch will be sprayed with water before the match to smooth a short cut surface.  As for the capacity, easy to expect that the stadium will be at full capacity, 20,213.

Weather – Looks like a 20% chance of rain with highs in the mid 90’s and some cooling off as the sun goes down… if rainy the conditions should be pretty good… winds around 8 mph.

Standings – Don’t matter – win your in – lose your out…  with the winner playing at home against either Chicago or DC United…

Formation – In all likelihood both teams open up as they have for the better part of the year, a Diamond 4-4-2 for Real and a 4-3-3 for Portland…

Who all gets the head nod to start for Portland is hard to figure at the moment; Piquionne took a knock as did Jewsbury; and Chara has ‘turf-toe’ that may continue to impact is availability.

If all three are out then it’s most likely Johnson is up top with Wallace, Valeri and Nagbe, along with Will Johnson and Ben Zemanski holding the central midfield area while Powell takes the right fullback slot and Harrington mans the left side.  Kah and Baptiste to play the center-back roles while Donovan (Mister Fantastic) Ricketts works between the pipes.

Communication between Kah and Powell needs to improve dramatically for this game; there were a number of occasions in that Vancouver match where the right side looked dodgy.

As for Real – Rimando is obviously in goal with Borchers, Schuler, Beltran and probably Palmer in the back four; though others have time back there.  Grabavoy, Beckerman, Morelas and Gil have the most minutes played for Midfielders while it’s likely Saborio has Findley working off of him up top…

Goals Scored – Real Salt Lake are a bit like Portland with a number of guys who can offer up quality shots – Saborio leads the team with 8 while Morales, Garcia, Findley and Grabavoy have five each; Gil has 3 and Beckerman 2.

Their top assist provider is Morales with 7 while Plata has 6.  It should be noted that their defenders are not prone to scoring goals nor are they anywhere near the team lead in assists… It would appear that when these guys attack they rely on the forward positional players and withhold over-committing their back four.

This is a cup game though, so history doesn’t mean a whole lot as one set-piece can win the game…

With respect to Portland – A see saw battle for the goal leader with Ryan Johnson now leading the team on 7, Will Johnson and Darlington follow close behind with 6 while Piquionne, Wallace and Valeri have all shown they can net some goals as well.

As for assists; again like Real Salt Lake, the players working forward of the back-four seem to glean the majority of assists, with Valeri leading the team with 8.  Seven others have 3 or more so when it comes to balance both these teams have plenty of players who can directly influence the outcome of a game with one well placed ball or strike…

Curved Air – While this ratio is still new and under development I think it worthy to point out that the average Curved Air ratio (headers played to passes offered) is 7.96% for Real Salt Lake while in away games this year Portland’s Curved Air is 8.54%.  Another data point to submit that may reinforce how much this game might be played with ground based possession.

With respect to trends and tendencies in crosses and where they originate from – neither team favors one side or the other; with that it would seem reasonable to venture that whichever side Real and Portland favor is the side they feel or think is the weaker of the two, in defense, — or — whichever side they might like to counter on to minimze the attack from the opponent down that wing.

How that plays out with Powell playing fullback isn’t clear given he’s a new player in the back-four for Portland he has shown significant pace but I didn’t sense he was leveraged as much as he could have been in that game against Vancouver…

Possession – In a game like this where two teams take the pitch having pedigree in possession based attacking it is likely one team may look to favor a counterattacking style with some ceding of possession.  With Portland being the away team that may indeed be the case for them; others may have a different view?

For now here’s some limited PWP for Real Salt Lake in home games this year…


Two items of interest here…

1. Where Real Salt Lake have completely dominated time of possession (nearly 2/3 rds) they have not taken three points; they are more inclined to walk away with a draw.  I’m not sure exactly why that is as they’ve scored 4 goals in those three draws.  Something to consider and now that I will be tracking passing accuracy in three basic areas that may help.

3.  A more intriguing point to me is that where the opponent has averaged much higher defensive clearances Real Salt Lake have lost.  These aren’t defensive clearances in the defending half; they are clearances in the defending third only.

4.  This same pattern was noticed after last week’s game with Portland… here’s a reminder of what that diagram showed…



My intent, however, isn’t to dig into some detailed analysis at this time; it’s noted and I will move on and simply offer up that if Portland is looking to win this game they will need to think and play defense first and defense second while clearly making it a point to be accurate, with high quality, in the attacking third.

One final diagram before moving on to Defense…



Four observations here…

1.  When RSL wins they average about 50 minutes a game and the opponent averages 40 (red arrows).

2.  When Portland wins on the road they average just over 40 minutes of possession while Real Salt Lake averages just over 50 minutes (green arrows).

3.  For me this indicates there is a fine line between Real Salt Lake winning at home and Portland winning on the road – a potential indicator where a set-piece might be the difference in this game.

4.  As noted last week, Through balls appear to happen less when Portland play teams that ‘park the bus’; with Real most probably not parking the bus this game could hinge on Portland providing some quality through-balls to penetrate the RSL back-four channels?!?

Defense – Holding the line and playing tight will be important for either team – preventing a goal in the run of play should be a primary focus so maintaining position and not over-committing to the attack will help minimize risk in counterattacks; Portland will need to be focused for almost every second of this game.

An early foul in either defending half might bring the big guys forward to get that one-off set-piece goal; if fouling, Portland needs to foul in their attacking half or near the midfield line; the higher up the pitch the better – for Real it’s just the opposite – the lower and deeper the better for Portland – here’s hoping Palmer plays and fouls early/often.

Wild Things – Fouls conceded = Palmer  and Wingert (if playing) are the main culprits for Real while Kah and perhaps even Powell are the defensive wild ones for Portland – no Rusin or Lenhart in this one and after last week a better name for the “Whitecaps” is the Vancouver Kneecaps…

Fouls suffered = Two Real players to keep a keen eye on are Grabavoy and Morales; Ned has suffered 41 fouls this year and Javier has suffered 51…

For Portland, Darlington has suffered 50 fouls this year while Diego has suffered 34…  it’s likely that if a foul occurs in either defending third it will come against one of those guys for either team.

Substitutions – Unclear who will be available for Portland but it’s likely Alhassan, Valencia, Miller and McKenzie (if Futty is not available) along with Piquionne and Kocic and maybe Zizzo or Rincon?

In checking out Real players, it appears Plata, Garcia and Stephenson are leveraged the most in late game substitutions.

In Closing – Not enough hyperbole to capture the value of a win here for Portland – For me, as long as I’ve followed Portland, a win this game would be the single most important win ever for this franchise; perhaps others with more history feel differently???

With Harrison Crow putting me on to the new Golazo stats I will be offering up an adjusted Possession with Purpose attacking efficiency rating for this game in addition to my usual one.

I’m not sure how it will flow or show but there possibilities here to simplify some input data while not losing the strong correlation already existing with my initial PWP data points…

1.  Passing Accuracy for the entire pitch,

2.  Passing Accuracy for the attacking half,

3.  Passing Accuracy for the attacking third,

4.  Shots Taken versus Successful Passes in the attacking third,

5.  Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken,

6.  Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal.

From a defensive standpoint I will also be looking at ‘failure rates’ for passes for the above that also includes Defensive Clearances (both defending half and defending third), blocks and saves by the keeper to see if I can quantify a Defensive Efficiency Rating that also has relevance to the win or loss.

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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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