Match Analysis – Portland Timbers (1) Real Salt Lake (2)

In the words of Senator Clay Davis in that brilliant show “The Wire” – “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit”…

A superb run at the Cup this year and, by far, a whole hell of a lot better than that paltry and pathetic play put in by Portland in the previous year. 

Quite cool to catch the turn around this year and although Portland took it on the chin last night they did give it 110% effort.

I’m not going to weave in bits and pieces of the quotes offered up by Caleb Porter after the game; to take the three primary responses out of context (for me) minimizes the value on his comprehensive and collective thoughts after the game – instead – I would highly recommend you read the complete offering here first provided by Portland Timbers…

So where to begin; for me this game was about Possession with Purpose…

In the first 6’22” of this game Portland had possession of the ball 15 times and only twice did Portland control that ball for more than 1 touch; they had a 7 pass string around the 4′ mark and a 2 pass string just afterwards; otherwise they simply didn’t possess the ball.

On the other hand Real had the same number of possessions (15) yet they penetrated the Portland defending third 5 times while creating 6 goal scoring opportunities; with the 6th one being the cross from Beckerman to Saborio.  I won’t say it was a goal from a set-piece but it might as well have been…

The original corner was cleared to atop the 18 yard box but before the back-four could reset into their normal positions Beckerman received it out wide and delivered the killer cross.

To me though I’d be more concerned about the communication between the back-four and perhaps the keeper.

On the initial strike that started the whole sequence Ricketts made the save and the rebound swung to Miller.   Ryan Miller did not hesitate, he simply cleared the ball out for a corner.  (Perhaps?) in hindsight Ryan hears something from Kah or Ricketts that indicates there is no pressure and that Ryan could turn with control.

I don’t know but from the view on telly it looked like he had time and the body motion by Kah seemed to indicate he was trying to communicate that hard to say – the game is a split second reaction game sometimes…

With that said some other thoughts before looking at the other two goals….

Caleb spoke to getting better on individual skills inside the 18 yard box and I non-violently agree 100%.  The interplay and ball movement from box to box is very good; and it has been for this entire season.

What is missing is the finishing ‘and’ the back-four unity in supporting the keeper.

First the back-four unity. 

In looking at Donovan (Mister Fantastic) Ricketts some thoughts for your consideration.

1.  He has won the MLS Save of the Week 8 times this season.

2. In those 8 games Portland have won 2, drawn 4 times and lost twice; that equates to 10 points in the league table that are down to some superb play by Donovan Ricketts.

3. If those 8 saves are not made Portland is left with 2 draws and 6 losses; an 8 point difference in the league table and the difference between being tied for second and in second to last with 27 points.

4.  If you include last nights goal coming as a result of set-piece goals against that is now 5 in the last 6 games – communication and positional play needs to get better in set-piece conditions.  A team cannot, simply cannot win by attack alone – there needs to be solid defending.

5.  Hard to know how things would be if the back-four had been playing together, week in and week out since day 1; lots of interchange with the center-backs and some occasional swapping with the fullbacks – playing together is a good thing and chemistry may impact team play.

6.  But overall, Portland have just 21 goals against in 22 games – this is not a bad team on defense -but when they make mistakes the punishment has been harsh; panic should not set in.


In using MLS Regular Season data only…

1.  Ryan Johnson has the most goals compared to shots on goal (23.33%); next up (1000 minutes played or more) is Rodney Wallace with a 15.38% conversion rate of goals scored to shots on goal.

2.  Will Johnson follows up at 14.63%, Darlington Nagbe at 13.95%, AJ Baptiste at 8.33% and Diego Valeri at 7.55%

3.  The player with the best percentage of putting the shot on goal versus shots taken is Rodney Wallace at 44.44%; followed by Ryan Johnson at 41.18% and Will Johnson at 40%.

4.  Others in the queue are Darlington Nagbe (33.33%) Baptiste at 25% and Diego Valeri at 21.05%.

5.  Diego Valeri leads the team with 8 assists while Frederic Piquionne and Rodney Wallace each have 5.

To contrast here’s the percentages for Real Salt Lake in finishing this year…

1.  Ned Grabavoy has scored 5 goals from 7 shots on goal for a stunning 71.43% conversion rate; next up is Saborio at 57.14% and then Garcia and Findley both tied at 41.67% conversion rate.  I wonder what Grabavoy’s goal scoring plot is?

2.  For shots taken versus those on goal Garcia leads with 50%, followed closely by Findley (44%) Grabavoy (43.75%) and Morales (41.18%).

In summary – Clearly when it comes to finishing Real Salt Lake are doing that (while also dominating possession) – at this stage the more efficient team is at the top of the table.  But… Portland have an 11 goal goal-differential and are tied for third in goals scored for Western Conference teams…  panic should not set it.

Back to the goals scored…

Joao Plate scored a blinder on a quick counter after a lay off by Saborio at the 78′ mark.  The diminutive striker did well to place that ball inches from the outstretched arm of Ricketts – a superb strike and nothing to do about it; turned out to be the game winner as well.

There is goodness in being little on a big pitch; just ask Messi… quicker touches and quicker movement and harder work for the keeper to see you through the big-bodied center-backs; well played Joao.

With respect to Diego Valeri; all game he was determined and not an inch was left on the pitch.  He looks good, very good, as a late runner in the box and he split the defenders perfectly before heading it to wide left of the near post.  Due diligence eventually paid off in poking that header home off the keeper rebound from his deftly developed shot about 1 second earlier.

Now for some stats on this one… no diagrams yet…

PWP Attacking Efficiency:

Portland = 2.8229   Real Salt Lake = 2.9118

As a side note; Portland have yet to win a game this year where their efficiency rating is lower than the opponent, on the other hand, Portland have not lost a game where they have been more efficient.

All told Portland have drawn 8 of 12 games where the opponent had better possession with purpose output – and where Portland has won PWP, they have had only 3 draws to go along with 8 wins.

When Portland are more effective and efficient, from post to post, they usually win… finishing and defending in the 18 yard boxes are part of that dynamic; no need for panic to set in…

Donovan Ricketts save percentage is 76% with a .90 GAA; Nick Romando’s is 78% with a .89 GAA…  Portland have a great keeper, as do Real Salt Lake; no need for panic to set in…

As promised I would have a look at Passing Accuracy statistics as well as the percentages of shots taken versus passes completed in the attacking third, shots on goal versus shots taken, and goals scored versus shots on goal.

For Portland the combined percentage efficiency was 2.99 (299%) while for Real Salt Lake it was 3.09 (309%).

Here’s the raw data for your consideration:

TOTAL 299% 309%

That said there looks like a significant data relation gap between successful passes completed in the attacking third (101 for Portland versus 85 for Real Salt Lake); note 70% passing accuracy for 145 passes is 101 and 62.5% accuracy for 136 passes = 85.

To see that gap a bit better here is the diagram for those percentages; when viewing the R2 it’s would seem reasonable that the main reason why the data points have poor overall relationship to each other would be down to the percentage gap between successful passes made in the attacking third and shots taken.

For me that represents quite a bit of critical activity that is not captured here.



For a comparison, below is my traditional data outputs for this game.



While the difference in percentage between shots on goal and goals scored is not as apparent in this one compared to the other this selection of data points seems to reinforce the value of collecting ‘goal scoring opportunities created’ as well as physical penetrations as opposed to passing accuracy.

Bottom line though there isn’t enough data to reach a specific conclusion but I will continue to try and figure out what value comes from knowing the passing accuracy percentage in the attacking third; for now it appears it has no relationship to shots taken.

In Closing – To say the least I was disappointed that Rio Tinto had so few watching their home team…  kinda makes me wonder if they will even be half-full to watch the downtrodden DC United slither in with such a pathetic regular season record…

I doubt very much I will find myself watching that one… seeing Stringer Bell get shot down (for the third time) in The Wire will be much more exciting.

The remainder of the regular season awaits – I prefer to view this part as the second half of the season – it’s a great time for leadership and players to regroup, refocus and re-energize.

12 games remain, one at a time, and the business of this game is to make the playoffs… these guys have never stopped trying and it’s my expectation that every game, from this point forward, will have an edge, a wicked edge where there’ no pity…

You can follow me on twitter and the dialogue continues to grow on the Possession with Purpose Facebook group – all are welcome.

Next Up some more research sometime next week on Passing accuracy in the attacking third – if others wish to offer comments/suggestions please do.

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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