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Tepid Timbers channel poor performance for 1 Point versus changed Chivas USA

Aye… quite tepid indeed; the word most often used last night as the family watched the game at home was lethargic, but thankfully so, there’s no L’s in my alliteration today as they didn’t lose.

I’m not sure what happened between the locker room and white lines of the pitch but the translation of what was intended to be executed and how things played out didn’t come off.

But is all of that down to the Timbers not being ‘on the razor’s edge last night – did the changes in Chivas impact the Timbers more than expected?

Here’s some thoughts on the game for your consideration…

  • A compelling outcome of last night, for many, may have not been the score-line, but a perceived drop off in Yellow cards and aggressive tackles that this team is noted for.
  • That isn’t to say the guys didn’t try but it was odd not to see Caleb Porter roaming the sidelines (on telly this game) trying to inject some passion in the first half.
  • For myself, I don’t recall making notes on any tough tackling triumphs for the Timbers apart from seeing Darlington Nagbe, of all players, making one in the defending third in the first 30 minutes of the game.
  • From a different point of view no Yellows is also a good thing as the race heats up and key players will be needed to maximize chances for points…
  • Perhaps another striking statistic about last night was that Pa-Madou Kah had the most touches; usually that honor goes to the central midfielders and/or fullbacks with the fullbacks getting a boost from throw-ins.
  • Not last night – in retrospect I sense this game was played a bit more narrow than Caleb would have liked and while Chivas may have ‘parked the bus’ I’m inclined to think it was more than that.

Pitch conditions?!?

  • While I don’t advocate this as ‘an excuse’ it did appear to me that there were times where simple balls were just played too short or too slow.
  • I don’t know how uncut the pitch surface was or what the dryness/stickiness of it might have been but the ball just didn’t seem to move on the surface of the pitch as quickly as I have seen it with LA or even here at JELD-WEN.
  • Perhaps those playing the game can answer that better than I?
  • And no, that’s not intended to let anyone off but sometimes a sticky pitch will impact a ball possession team who likes to play on the surface.

Accuracy and passing and Shots on goal…

  • In the two games to date against Chivas, Portland have had an overall 82% passing accuracy across the entire pitch.
  • Average time of possession has been ~60% at home and ~64% in Stubhub
  • Average passes completed in the Final Third compared to Passes completed across the Entire pitch have been ~27% at home and ~31% at Stubhub.
  • Average passes completed in the Final Third alone have been ~68% and 74% (last night).
  • So across the pitch, within and outside the Final Third Portland have been pretty sharp; the BIG difference comes when viewing the average Shots taken vs Completed passes in the Final Third; last night it was just 9.6%; whereas when they played Chivas in JELDWEN it was 19%.
  • That 9.6% is the second lowest shots taken to completed passes in the Final Third for Portland this year… oddly enough the only game with less shots taken versus passes completed in the Final Third was the 3-nil win at home against Colorado.
  • Finally, in game 1 Portland put 7 shots on goal with 19 shots taken while in game 2 they put just 2 shots on goal with 12 shots taken.
  • The difference here really comes down to the number of shots Chivas blocked per shots taken; at JELDWEN they blocked 21% of the Timbers shots; while in STUBHUB they blocked ~42% of the Timbers shots.

So what might that say???

  • While it’s not a strong correlation it would seem that teams do better (take more points away from Portland) when they shot block better…
  • In other words Portland (may?) have more success a less ‘packed’ defenses play in the 18 yard box; be it from a counterattack and the defense is out of shape, or a more widely spaced back -four.
  • In considering that I did look to see how some other games fared where the Timbers defensive opponent had blocked five or more shots by the Timbers; in those games the Timbers have only taken 5 out of a possible 21 points!
  • The opponents in those matches were Montreal (home), Seattle (away), Colorado (away), Vancouver (away), San Jose (away), Real (home) and Chivas (away).
  • In games where the opponent has blocked 0 or 1 shots, Portland have taken 17 out of a possible 21 points!
  • Those games were against Houston (home) Sporting (away) Chicago (away) LA (away) Colorado (home) LA (home) and FC Dallas (home).
  • That appears to be some pretty compelling information…
  • And, oh by the way, the goal scored by Diego Valeri was a deflected shot that caromed off a shin before finding its way to the back of the net.
  • So while the headlines, to include even mine, might read that the Timbers were not quite as energetic as they have been in the past a lot of credit needs to go towards Chivas and their much improved defense…

Are there approaches that (might?) be leveraged to get past that?

  • For some,  a general approach is to work towards a 4-4-2 system of play where a few more long balls/switches are offered up to spread the defense around a bit and open up more gaps (play a wee bit more direct)…
  • This might include opening up the wings a bit more and when doing that some teams opt to have a target striker and a more agile (somewhat diminutive) striking partner; something along the lines of a Casey and McInerney type combo.
  • Late on the Timbers tried this approach by bringing on Ryan Johnson and Maxi Urutti- my guess is a mix with that kind of combo will get better, but for last night it was perhaps too little, too late, or maybe not executed to plan that well?
  • In taking that approach that I can see how Pa-Madou Kah might end up with more touches than a fullback or central midfielder; but for some reason, last night Pa-Madou Kah got more touches when Johnson and Urutti were not on the pitch than when they were?
  • Here’s the graphic from OPTA – note the red and green bubbles at the bottom – the frequency of touches for Kah were very heavy in the first 60 minutes and very light in the last 30 minutes?  That’s not quite as direct as might be anticipated…

Another option is to run the forward line a bit higher and wider to try and draw the back-four apart and further up the pitch.

  • Unfortunately, with a guy like Bocanegra in the back-four, that really didn’t occur too much as he tried to sustain a very tight line (from what I could see on Telly) no more than 10-15 yards above the 18 yard box with his fullbacks not much wider than the width of the 18 yard box.
  • Again, if that approach doesn’t work, then deeper wing play might occur.

So how did things work in that area last night?

  • In the final 22 minutes Wallace had one touch down deep left before Ryan Johnson came on; Ryan Johnson had just 3 unsuccessful passes/touches deep left, while Harrington had just three touches down the wing, late on, see this OPTA link.
  • As for the right (deep wing) Zizzo had just two attacking touches while Diego Valeri just three
  • All told that approach really didn’t manifest itself last night either…

Bottom line in Closing…

  • The Timbers didn’t get three points last night but they did get one… and it’s always – always – always a good thing to get at least one point on the road…
  • And yes, it was a must win in as much as the team was expected to go in and take three points – as always – but credit should be given where credit is due…
  • Chivas are not the doormats they were at the beginning of the season and while their home crowd and atmosphere are pathetic by all other MLS standards they did enough to shut down the Timbers in a more effective way than some imagined.
  • The change from running a 3-5-2 has continued to impact the results for that team; it was noted that Head Coach Real made systematic changes almost immediately and I do not expect those changes to be taken lightly.
  • To put some context to that, in the first game Chivas had 17 tackles won, 11 interceptions and 24 clearances in their Defending Final Third against Portland while only having 8 tackles won, 10 interceptions and 28 clearances in game two.
  • As noted in my match preview – Chivas would play a bit less tight and rely on closing gaps for minimizing goal scoring opportunities {(~9%) versus (~19%)} with the change of a 3-5-2 to 4 at the back.
  • In both games Portland dominated possession (~59% and ~63%), so what changed and what was executed well, was the Chivas defensive alignment; this game was not all down to Portland not performing well…
  • With the addition of Urutti and a bit more practice/playing time Portland should be better prepared to handle the much tighter defensive schemes as the playoff race intensifies.
  • 6 games remain in what is a superbly tight and exciting race for the Timbers this year; four out of those six games are at home where the Timbers will no doubt feed off the electricity of their supporter base…. and three of those are on national telly – what a great finish to a season that has been full of great football!

Next up my MLS Final Third Rankings — and oh by the way how about that surprising draw for LA in DC and Philadelphia sliding behind Chicago for the playoffs in the East…. if only Chivas or Toronto could be moved to St. Louis – the fan base in that city would surely swell a soccer stadium with more than 5,000 people!

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.