Portland Timbers host Real Salt Lake!

That’s pitting the two most efficient attacking and defending teams, in the final third, across all of MLS while also noting that Real Salt Lake sit on 41 points while Portland are just 3 points behind with 2 games in hand.

It’ll be midweek in Portland… is should be a packed stadium that participates in a classic match-up of possession based powerhouses.

To be clear – the empirical data is unassailable – what separates these teams in the attacking third is about (on average) 8 passing attempts per game and 4 passing attempts completed per game; about 30 seconds of possession time most likely.

RSL average 115 attempts in the opponents defending third with 81 passes completed; while Portland average 123 passing attempts in the opponents third with 85 passes completed.

Not much of a difference… and when narrowing the focus on the attacking side it really comes down to total goals scored.  Real Salt Lake average 1.64 goals per game while Portland average 1.48.

So what about these two teams in defending their own final third against the opponent?

Portland, on average, disrupt the opponents passing attempts that lead to turnovers, or restarts outside the defending area, 50% of the time while Real Salt Lake have a disruption percentage of 49.7%.  Again, it would appear that both of these “teams” work quite well on the pitch.

So is there any separation at all in the defending third?  Not really; even when it comes down to Mister Fantastic, Donovan Ricketts, versus a very stellar USMNT goal keeper in Nick Rimando.  There just isn’t much room to spare between the two.

All told the RSL keepers have a save percentage of 74.76%; while Portland keepers have a save percentage of 78.32%.  Note that these percentages are not for the individual keepers noted; they are for the ‘teams’ as a whole for all MLS games.

In total not much separates for either team in either category so what might make the difference tomorrow night?

Does it matter that RSL are on the road and Portland are in the friendly confines of JELD-WEN?   The empirical answer to that is yes…

Portland average 142 passing attempts in the opponents defending third with an average of 99 passes completed for a 69% rate of accuracy.  So Portland does bring more quantity to bear at home since RSL average only 98 passing attempts in their attacking third with 69 passes, on average completed.  That’s also a 69% rate of accuracy in the final third.  Less quantity but just as much quality.

Can that edge in quantity be transferred to an edge in quality?

For me, there’s not even a clear edge on average goals scored at home (for Portland 1.73) versus (for Real Salt Lake 1.69) on the road.  Just a touch lower…  Would a draw here be unexpected?  Probably not – nor would a 3-2 blinder  as both teams can score with RSL and Portland both in the top four across the entire league.

So what about defensive performance at home for Portland versus RSL road defensive performance?

Truth be told, both teams have been successful at disrupting their opponent upon entry into their defending final third

Portland’s disruption rate (at home) inside that area is 49.39% while Real’s disruption rate is 50.74%.

Again pretty bloody close – the biggest difference however, and perhaps a telling one when viewing overall performance for both team is the 85% save rate for Portland keepers at home versus the 76% save rate by RSL keepers on the road.

That doesn’t scream out a solid “one” goal difference between the two teams this game but it does give an edge, in my view, to the Timbers.

And with the Timbers Army in full force that slight edge might produce a stunner in stoppage time that brings 3 points home for Portland like what happened with LA.

While all of this information talks to the ‘team’ part of this game, as well as the goal keepers, there are some individual players missing from both sides that could also influence the outcome in this tightly contested match.

Ben Zemanski should be starting in place of Will Johnson, and according to an article offered up by Michael Orr at Stumptownfooty, it is likely Yordany Alvarez replaces a suspended Beckerman.  Both guys midfielders, and both guys in an area where direct influence may occur in how either team penetrates the final third.

I haven’t watched any video or recall any games of significance where Yordany Alvarez  stood out and most already know Ben is a tough guy who has a great motor in the midfield.

The challenge that seems enticing on this one is how well Alvarez competes against Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe (and) Rodney Wallace as they rotate within the midfield.

In case you missed it last game against Dallas, Rodney did rotate, at times, to the right side; here’s the diagram from OPTA to confirm he was active on the right…

This isn’t the first time, as he also swung out right a number of times against Vancouver…

What is interesting is that prior to Rodney working with his National team he had little to no activity out right; here’s an OPTA chalkboard diagram against Chivas (that 3-nil crusher) where you might expect him to venture out right. — didn’t really happen —.

And here’s an OPTA diagram where he had very minimal activity out right against Colorado (another 3-nil crusher) where you might expect to see his presence out there a bit more.

If this trend continues; plus the advancing threat that Powell now offers we could see a good boost in attacking efficiency.  That may be hard to imagine given how effective the Timbers are now but consider a move like this might lend itself more to better ‘quality’ with the same amount of ‘quantity.

So while many might consider Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri as potent threats to punish the Salt Lake middle there is always the ever present, and dangerous Rodney moving about on the left – but also looking to rotate right.

This should put Schuler, Salcedo, (perhaps McDonald?) (working from the same article written by Orr) Wingert, Borchers and Beltran on edge… My guess is the defensive answer for Real Salt Lake is an ‘attacking approach’… and if Wallace begins to be a greater threat than Powell then perhaps we see Real push up their right.

For now I would have thought their primary approach might be to push up on their left to try and minimize Powell’s influence…

On the Timbers defensive side…

The addition of Powell has simply opened up the right side for more action and overlapping – as noted a few days ago having Powell at right back is like playing a flat back four while also having 6 midfielders… the upside is huge.

The hard part is is continued development in working with Kah and Baptiste (as both interchange given the opponents speed on the wing).

Ricketts, Kah and Baptiste should all help him position-wise so it all comes down to execution and staying on his feet.  He had a clean sheet with no yellows last game and that bodes well if he can continue to minimize those sliding tackles and trying to stay a bit tighter on the far post when play works towards Harrington.

In closing – I expect a tight game even if there is an early goal – both teams could ‘wait each other out the first 45 minutes’ but if half a chance presents itself for either team I would expect complete commitment by as many as five attackers in the penalty box… set-pieces aside.

All for now – next up my match analysis….





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 PossessionwithPurpose.com, PTFC Collective and Prost Amerika.

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