To be sure… regardless of the nondescript nature of the words prior to this game it was a must-win for Portland!
Aye… the Timbers weren’t in the throws of a do-or-die situation but you really can’t get any closer where a team who possesses the ball as much as Portland does (while writhing with pain from injuries) going up against a team like Toronto (who is writhing with pain in the front office, as much if not more, than on the pitch).
So no — it wasn’t game 33 or game 34 where 3 points were needed to secure a playoff position but it was game where if Portland doesn’t get three points it becomes one of those ‘look back and think’ if we’d just won this one we’d be in the Playoffs…. well the Timbers won this one and are that much closer to securing a spot in the playoffs.
Before going into some thoughts on this game a few things to consider…
- Colorado continue their push by taking 3 points from LA… (somewhat surprising)
- Seattle pull one at their arse and take 3 points from Chicago… (bollocks!)
- FC Dallas continue their resurgence while Vancouver continue to slide…
- The West is not yet won – Seattle are now second with two games in hand while both LA, Dallas and Portland all have one game in hand.
- Too many “if-thens” with 6-7 games remaining – one game at a time and a hope that those with injuries continue their speedy recovery to help get this team ready for a 15-18 point push in the final seven games.
With that here’s some thoughts and analysis for your consideration about last night…
- Valencia showed some superb game management tactics last night and in my view was just as energetic in the first 30 as he was the final 30… he is a weapon on the pitch and showed his vision and ball handling skills.
- A welcomed surprise to see Diego Valeri return to the pitch last night in the final 30 or so… complete change in how well the middle opened up for Portland – true – Toronto have been a team that have shown weak defensive tendencies but still; his injection for a well played Kalif really routed the Reds.
- Kocic got the start with Ricketts out and he did superb – he made some crucial saves none more important than the one at 14:23 as Wiedeman took a well placed strike from just atop the 18 yard box on the left…
- Not done there he also made a superb close down in the 64th minute again as Weideman came close during a slight defensive lapse and loose ball in the box…
- Given his play he certainly stepped up and filled the gap with Ricketts on National team duty… nothing lost there.
- Sal Zizzo also took his turn in stepping up but I’m not quite as ‘rose tinted’ in my view of Sal last night versus Milos…
- There were times where I didn’t sense the right side was near as ‘flexible’ as the left side – the side bar work that Rodney and Michael perform down the left is incredible and while Kalif and Sal haven’t played that much on the pitch together they have played on this team for at least two years – longer than Rod and Mike…
- So with all that practice there should be a communication level nearly on par and there isn’t.
- This isn’t a knock on Kalif or Sal it simply is stating my view that the chemistry on that side needs to change in ‘attack’… as far as defending goes Sal didn’t look at of place and for me, at least, it looked like the right side was held back a bit to minimize defense gaps.
- On the other hand that attempted little back-heel by Sal at the 86′ mark almost saw Toronto score on a counter so there may be a tender underbelly there that needs fixing as the Timbers travel to tackle the Goats next weekend; perhaps Jack or Ben are ready to step back in with Alvas (still?) on loan to his National team.
- Everyone knows that Portland has had woes with set-pieces this year and Toronto took as many opportunities as they could to set those conditions.
- In the first half alone 70% of all Toronto goal scoring opportunities (7 of 10) came from set-pieces that included long throw-ins.
- And although the second half was slightly different (more attacking pressure from Portland) in the last 30 minutes 7 of 17 goal scoring opportunities came from Toronto set-pieces…
- All told Toronto had seven corners and seven free kicks/throw-ins (14) compared to 30 overall goal scoring opportunities created (nearly 50%)… they certainly tried very hard to take advantage of a Portland weakness…
- It was good to see Toronto didn’t score on a set-piece and a clean sheet speaks as much to the Timbers getting better as Toronto simply being a team that get put a shot on target.
- As a side bar; when are we going to see Darlington Nagbe participate more in taking free kicks; this is not a diss on Will – he’s a great free kick guy but top strikers/midfielders need to have different shot taking capabilities and learning to hit free kicks is one of them.
- Kalif looked more engaged last night and Paul Danzer and I both looked at each other when Kalif made a blinding good tackle in the midfield last night… hmmm… has this added playing time in the last few games helped Kalif turn the corner and mature a bit more on the pitch – I sure hope so!
- Worthy yellow – while I like the grit and grist that Will brings to the pitch there is simply no way that a referee is not going to book a player, right or wrong, for pretending to step off ten paces on a free kick.
- There’s no question it wasn’t ten yards 🙂 and that is the second time this season where a Referee, in a Portland match has failed to execute the ten most basic steps in soccer!!!
- It was interesting to see that as the game opened it appeared to me that Portland worked a two-pivot system with Will and Diego until around the 30 minute mark and then they switched to a single pivot.
- During that two-pivot time-frame (and others may have a different view) Toronto were much more aggressive (or) were provided the opportunity to have more of the ball given the defensive “ilk” of Portland?
- In that time-frame Toronto penetrated 13 times and in the final 15 minutes of the half only 2 times (when it appeared Portland rotated to a single pivot?)
- It didn’t appear to me that Portland ever rotated back to the two-pivot until (maybe?) the 60 minute mark, but when they did sink a bit deeper in the final 30 minutes it appeared to me more as a trap approach to try and work on the counter as Toronto looked to step up their attack.
- Indeed Toronto did increase their penetrations; in the 60-75 minute marks Toronto penetrated the Timbers Final Third 10 times – and 7 times as well in the final 15 minutes.
- The big difference here was the substitution of Alhassan for Valeri – so while the gist of the move hinted at a defensive adjustment the outcome was twisted and turned to yield a very impressive attacking adjustment; I’m not sure an approach like that works against a Western Conference team…
- Diego Chara – oh my good sir! Sooner or later that golden goal will come your way – no-one, and I mean no-one deserves a goal more for all there hard work on the pitch – holy cow it is good to see you and Will back in tandem again to manage the defensive midfield of this team… what a superb player and play from the little guy with the big heart and shoes!
- Will Johnson also made his long awaited return and the juice he and Diego squeezed out of the opponent last night was just incredible – this may not carry much weight for some but my father in law, visiting from England, offered these thoughts to me — “a proper ground, with proper supporters and a couple of midfield guys who can play pretty good football in the middle of the park (Johnson and Chara)… even with a rather short pitch.”
- Throughout the game I watched Earnshaw a bit more than other Toronto players and it seemed pretty clear to me that he’s a ‘moaner’; on many occasions I saw him flailing and flinging his arms about while appearing to spit vitriol at his teammates – clearly the vitriol in the front office has spilled out onto the pitch; why doesn’t this team move to St. Louis?
No Statistics today – I’ll offer up a few of those a bit later this week after all the games are played and the muddied waters clear a wee bit…. for now though I’ll leave you with this.
- Not since the home games against Colorado and Chivas have we seen the attack click so well… energy carries over from game to game and the positive energy from this game should suit the team well as it prepares this week for Chivas.
- I’m not going to diss this result because Toronto hasn’t played well this year – it’s true they haven’t but every player always goes onto that pitch wanting to perform their best… Toronto did try but the train engineered by all 11 on that pitch last night simply had to much steam for Toronto…
- David Horst is making his way back and hopefully we also see Piq and Jack make a return as well as Ben comes back from suspension.
Next up my MLS Final Third Power Rankings
- Expected movers up the ladder should be Portland, Dallas, Colorado, Sporting, Seattle, and either New England or Montreal (that should be a good game today)…
- Those taking a drop could include LA, Vancouver, Chicago, and perhaps Philadelphia?