What a tremendous night of football in Portland last night!  

Put another way…  Foundering flounders flaccid and flat as Timbers fillet their fish flanks and ferociously feed on a fantastic one-nil finish.

The Capt. Obvious for most is that Portland sit atop the Western Conference standings, with the top teams all square on games; worthy to enjoy but not lose sight of the end-state.

Sorry for that sobering thought but much work remains and while the Timbers have been superb this year, in what is shaping to be a world-class turn-around, I’m sure these guys want more than just a fleeting moment atop the table.

As such, I do have some thoughts for your consideration as The Timbers prepare for Real Salt Lake this next weekend…

The game….

As advertised, this one was a complete, 95 minutes of gut twisting, heart thumping, sitting on the edge of your seat, leaning closer to the telly, bring me another pint, ripper!

The early stages…

Seattle opened the match with a flurry around the 12 minute mark… in the span of just three minutes Seattle had three shots on goal with Ricketts making a Save of the Week save against Neagle while Dempsey made a Miss of the Week header off the crossbar soon thereafter.

As for Portland – an interesting outcome in this one at the end of the half.  All told Portland had 55% of the possession but only 26% of that possession was in the Seattle defending third.

This game, unlike some others against strong teams, took more of a controlled ‘midfield’ possession-based approach as opposed to a penetrate the final third type of approach.  A slight tactical change is not clear but overall the Timbers penetrated ab out 25% of the time as opposed to higher outputs earlier this year.

From my view this represents a more conservative approach that better suits the tension and pucker factor as the playoffs approach.  For me this game showed more about Possession with the intent to Possess and Control as opposed to Possession with the intent to Penetrate and Score.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think for one second that Portland laid off the throttle; they didn’t – but what they did do was present a more patient and responsible possession based attack from the midfield than they have previously.  Tactically, this continued evolution of possession, in my opinion, will make this team even harder to break down!

The goal…

While the goal didn’t come from a set-piece it might as well have.

Near stoppage time in the first half Jack Jewsbury was in the open field, unmarked, about 10-15 yards inside the midfield line out right.

He played a lofting cross to just atop the 6 yard box, on the left, Seattle attempted to clear and a fortuitous second chance ball fell neatly to Alhassan who slammed home a ‘top of the laces’, picture perfect, technical stunner; low – to the near post.

If you are a youth footballer you can’t find a better example where the laces meet the ball while the head stays forward an atop the ball – wow!

The Red Card…

Clearly the elbow was thrown and, rightly so, the player was red-carded.

Pure, unadulterated frustration that rose to the top – this game is as much, if not more, a battle of wits and mental capacity as it is about physical endurance…

And finally, after all the nippy play by Alonso this year, his deviated play finally caught up with him; sit down son and not just this game but your next one as well!

I wonder how long this losing streak for Seattle could last?  Wouldn’t it be ironic that the two teams who spent the most money in the Western Conference this year finish 4th and 5th!

And if your going to complain about the Referee Sigi;     Leeeeave it!……..

The injury…

Max Urruti appeared to have strained his hamstring last night but it remains unclear to me how severe that injury is; as soon as I hear anything I’ll pop it on twitter or on my facebook site.

Without knowing more it’s hard to offer up the impact but with Johnson returning, Piquionne now at match fitness and Valencia continuing to get better it is likely the Timbers will press on, without missing a beat.

That’s not to dismiss Urruti’s value and presence on the pitch – it’s just an offering that the game is played with 11, plus those on the bench, and as we have seen this year many players have come off the bench, stepped up, and added value.  Now is the time for that to happen again!

The quotes…

As usual here are the entire quotes, provided, uncut, by the Portland Timbers, to the media, for your reading pleasure.

Quotes: Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders FC

Portland Timbers Quotes

Timbers head coach Caleb Porter
On his emotion during Seattle’s late-game push and overall thoughts on the win:
“Your heart goes into your stomach, but I believed we would win the game. There are times – I’m not trying to sound like I predict things – but there are times where you just know you’re going to win. It was just one of those days where you knew we were going to win the game. We dodged some bullets for sure, but in the end, I just think it was our game to win. I said to the guys before the game, ‘the evidence is there over the 31 games that we’ve played that we could and that we should win the game.’ If you look at losses for the two teams, you look at goals scored for the two teams, you look at goals against for the two teams, you look at all those things, we’re just as good a team as they are, and we’re capable of winning these games. And when you believe that you can win the games, you put yourself in a position to win these games.”

“It was interesting. One of the things I realized today prior to the game is that a year and a week ago, I was sitting on the couch. A couple months prior I had been named the head coach and I was getting ready to watch the Timbers play Seattle at Seattle, and Alexi Lalas texted me and I hadn’t commented, made any comments or hadn’t been introduced officially, and he said, ‘do you have anything to comment on about the game?’ And I said, ‘one thing, the Portland Timbers will no longer be inferior to the Seattle Sounders,’ and that was no disrespect to Seattle. It really wasn’t about the game that day so much, but it was about the future, and there’s no reason why we would be inferior. There’s no reason why we should be the little brother. We should be a legitimate contender. We should be capable of beating the Sounders, and it not being a miracle. So I think it is very satisfying, a year later, that here we are getting a result, three points, against the Sounders, and I think it says everything about how far we’ve come as a club.”

On the overriding factors that led to the win:
“I think we defended well. Like I said, we dodged a few bullets, set pieces. [Donovan] Ricketts made a few saves again, surprise, surprise. But I think overall, they didn’t have a ton of good looks from the run of play. We still need to do better on set pieces, box defending, late, when they dump some balls in. The coach in me wants to still get those things cleaned up, and those are things we will get cleaned up, and we will address even though we won the game. But the reality is our mentality overall, I thought, was very good.”

“I thought we started the game well again, got the first goal again, that’s now four games in a row where we’ve gotten the first goal. I thought we managed, overall, the game very well, especially at the end. I thought we had moments where we played some very good football. We had our foot on the ball, we possessed the ball and had some nice combination play.”

“We need to find a second goal. For me, that’s big. I don’t want to be in the situation where we’re 1-0 if we can help it, but the nice thing is that when we have been in that situation, we’ve managed to get out of the game with three points.”

“I think overall, it’s just that our mentality is good. We’re a cohesive team. These guys fight for each other, they work for each other, they have great chemistry. That’s a common thread in every successful team at any level. You look at the best teams in the world, teams that raise trophies are teams that have good chemistry, teams that remain humble. One of the things that’s very good about our guys is that we remain humble. When I fail, I know it, I admit it. I look at it, I correct it; same thing with these guys. I think that’s a big reason why we’re winning these games now. There was a time when we were losing these games and we never made excuses and we could’ve. We corrected the things and now we’re winning these games. I think that’s a big part of continuing to win games and peaking at the right time. I think that’s why we’re peaking at the right time, because we’re willing to look at ourselves in the mirror and change things, things that aren’t right, and we’ve done that.”

On the growth of Kalif Alhassan:
“There have been so many guys that have transformed as players. The talent was always there – Rodney Wallace, Kalif, some of the guys, Darlington [Nagbe] – the talent’s there, but it’s getting them in the right role, it’s getting them bought in, it’s allowing them a bit of freedom. At the right time, if there’s trust, getting a little bit more out of them, pushing them, telling them we need more. Kalif, it’s not just on ball, it’s his defending. Watch how hard the kid works. He didn’t even know the word defend, I don’t think. I think it’s a product of having these guys bought in. They’re good guys, they have good characters. You get good guys that are talented and have character and you get them bought in, and get them together and get them in the right roles, this is what can happen.”

On his mentality toward the team’s position in the standings and final two games of the regular season:
“My mentality is the same mentality I’ve had all year. It’s literally every game is important. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but every game we’re going for three points. We’ve not gone into any game, home or away, even though we’ve had draws, we’ve not gone into any game, home or away, trying to do anything other than get three points. Some of the games we haven’t gotten three points, but it’s not because we’re not trying to get three points every single game.”

“We’ve followed a process where it’s literally business as usual. Training prepares you for the game, you go into the game prepared and you should be in a position, if you’re in the right mind frame, to execute and make plays. You make plays, you’re in the position to win the game, and we’ve been following the same approach. We’re locked in. We’re very business-like right now and we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We know we’re two games away from doing something special, but we’re going to focus on Salt Lake, that’s it. We’re going to focus on getting three points, that’s absolutely it.”

On responding to the physical nature of the game:
“Our team, if there’s a fight, we’re up for a fight. We have no problem with that. We can out-football teams, but also we can out-fight teams. This team’s not soft. They’re mentally tough, and if there needs to be a fight, we have no problem with that. So I thought they made it a fight and, you know, that was no problem for us. We’re not going to back down. We’ll be up for that and I thought that we were. And yet, we still were able to mix in some good football and you could still see, for periods, our way of playing. Maybe not as much as I would like, but it’s hard to be disappointed when you get that result.”

On whether he prepares the team for one style of play or has a plan B:
“No, you have to have a plan B, always. One of the things that I’ve tried to do with this team, especially in the last six games, is we want to be a team in the front half. We want to be pressing and locking teams in and on the ball, but I’ve also prepared them to be in the back end as well. So basically I’ve prepared them for plan A and plan B, and I think when you’re playing good teams, you’ve got to be prepared for that because Seattle, and teams like them, they want to be in the front half and they want to be dictating the game. And the reality is that when you have two teams playing each other and they’re both trying to do the same thing, they’re going to have moments where they have us deep. I’ve tried to prepare these guys to be composed and mature when we’re playing the lower block and not able to push the game and not able to get forward and not able to press and not able to keep the ball, and I think that’s been a big reason why we’re grinding out results because earlier in the year we were either up the field, pushing and playing well, or we were just getting run through. So we’ve kind of downshifted just a little bit, balanced our team just a little bit so we’re a little bit more set up to win games, and this time of year, it’s going to be tight games most likely.”

Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts
On defending Sounders FC:
“Sometimes you need a little help from the crossbar, but I think we defended well. I think they only had two really good looks at goal and we were able to deal with that. Apart from that, I think we defended well with Maxi [Urruti] up top straight to the back four.”

On weathering the early pressure from Seattle:
“We weren’t surprised. When you come off two defeats like they have, you have to try to push and keep us back at home because they know we are a strong team at home. We were expecting them to push and we weathered the storm and then we settled down and started playing football. It was a pretty intense game. When you play a derby game like this, you don’t get good soccer, you just get people flying about with all that emotion. It was a really intense game.”

On the physical nature of the game:
“I think our team is built to weather any type of game. If you want to play football, we can play football, if you want to get physical, we can get physical. We just play whatever the game brings to us. Sometimes its about playing good football, sometimes it’s about fighting as we did tonight and I think we fought well, fought hard and we came out with three points.”

On getting results at home:
“In anything you do, you have to defend home. Defending home is always important. We’ve been doing that all season, hopefully we don’t get complacent right now because we see the end of the season is near. We keep on fighting until the last game of the season.”

Timbers midfielder Will Johnson
On the team’s depth and Kalif Alhassan’s performance:
“He seems to get big goal in big games for us and that’s great. He’s evolving as a player, he’s defending more and he’s becoming a more complete player. From time to time, he produces something very special in the box and tonight you can’t put a price on a guy that can finish like that in the box. That’s the ultimate prize in the game we play.”

On if the team was surprised by Seattle’s physical nature:
“No, not surprised. They’ve lost two in a row. They’re fighting for their lives. We knew they were going to come in and try and fight us and turn it into a scrum from time-to-time. We were ready for that and we’d expect nothing less. Sigi [Schmid] coaches his guys really well and they’re always up for it — especially in a derby game, everything goes out the window, records, points. That was the most intense atmosphere I’ve ever played in. I thought it was fantastic from both sets of supporters and that leads to two teams competing very hard.”

On the atmosphere at JELD-WEN Field:
“Nothing compares to that. That was intense. The fans were into it, we could hear it coming through the locker room from an hour before the game. I’m not blowing smoke, that was the real deal.”

Timbers defender Jack Jewsbury
On the Timbers team defense:
“It starts up top. You mentioned the four in the back and Donovan [Ricketts], but the reality is this team takes a lot of pride in the pressure we put on teams up front and that starts with Maxi [Urruti] and Kalif [Alhassan] and those guys today. It’s the whole group. We’re going to work hard for one another and whatever it takes we’re going to do it to get the job done. The game was pretty at times, it was ugly at times, and when we needed a big play from somebody, they came up with it.”

On the intense last couple of minutes:
“It gets a little hectic at the end. We knew they were going to throw numbers especially set pieces, throw-ins, those are the things where they’ve been dangerous especially in the latter part of the year — where they’ve picked up a lot of points. We knew we had to be sharp with our marks, a little fortunate maybe that they hit the crossbar twice, but at the end of the day I think we were in good spots. The one at the end when it comes off [the crossbar] and I think Rose didn’t get much of it, but it was coming towards me and luckily enough I was in a good spot to able to clear it off the line. At the end of the day, no one is going to remember all that and when we look back at the end of the season it’s three points and three points we needed to get where we want to be.”

On the team’s depth:
“I think we’ve said throughout the course of the year, it’s not just the first 11 guys. It’s a deep, deep team, probably one of the deepest teams I’ve ever played on in terms of when guys step out for international duty or injuries another guy is ready and willing to step into that role. They’ve gotten chances and done very well with them. I think we’re happy it’s not only the guys that have started the games, Ben Zemanski was incredible off the bench tonight as were other guys. It’s a group effort and that’s one reason we’ve been so successful.”

Seattle Sounders FC Quotes

Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid
Thoughts on the match:
“I thought we didn’t deserve to lose this game at all and we deserved to come away at least with a tie. The early foul on [Clint] Dempsey with [Diego] Chara fouls him, and he ends up with an AC joint sprain/dislocation that he tried to play on and play through it. Chara commits I think four fouls in the first half and never gets carded; I think that was a key turning point in the game and obviously look at the time that Dempsey got fouled… that crap’s gotta stop. Referees got to protect him and they don’t. It doesn’t matter if a foul is early in the game or late in the game. The first time we committed a hard foul was immediately a yellow card on [Adam] Moffat, so I think that set a tone for the game as well. So obviously in the second half I think it got a little more physical because we realized that they weren’t going to call stuff, so we talked about how we needed to be more physical, which we did, I thought, in the second half. Overall, I thought the game was, at the very worst, uneven.”

On the decision to play Marcus Hahnemann:
“We just felt with Michael [Gspurning] it was just a situation that sometimes you just got to step back and view it from the outside. I thought Marcus did well, I didn’t think Marcus had a lot to do. I can’t remember a real difficult save that he had to make over the 90 minutes. The goal we weren’t tight to guys at the top of the 18 and the ball slipped in. But outside of that, I didn’t think Marcus had anything to do.”

On losing their third straight match:
“Right now I think we’re a little bit snake bit. I think tonight again, like I said, the ball that [Adam] Moffat plays across that Dempsey heads off the post, there were scrambles that we had in the first half and Lamar Neagle’s header that [Donovan] Ricketts gets his hand on and also touches off the post as it goes by. I think there were just other scrambles in the box that we were around it and we were close to it, but right now nothing’s falling for us. We seem to be a little bit snake bit. For sure, the last two games, if we were to play with the effort that we had tonight we wouldn’t be in this position right now. But I’m proud of the effort that we showed tonight.”

On whether the game is a game to build off of:
“It’s a game we have to build off of. Over 90 minutes when you look at chances created, I thought we created the better chances, but we showed character and determination and even with 10 men we still created the chance to tie the game. That’s something we have to build upon.”

Sounders FC midfielder Osvaldo Alonso
On the team’s overall performance:
“I think we played good. We got chances, unfortunately we didn’t score but, you know, it’s all good. We got to move forward and look forward to the next game.”

On receiving a red card in the second half:
“Getting a red card and getting my team to have a man down is always tough to play with, with ten men. You know, it is what it is. We got to, like I said, look forward and look forward to Dallas and play to win.”

Sounders FC midfielder Alex Caskey
On rebounding from the loss:
“I think so. And Sigi [Schmid] said after the game was the one thing we can’t fault is our effort, everyone gave a lot and I thought the second half especially we had a lot of good chances to even it up, especially against a good team on the road, so I think it’s a positive moving forward and maybe a blessing in disguise kind of, for us moving forward for these last two games.”

Sounders FC goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann
On the team’s overall performance:
“Our last two games obviously we hadn’t maybe had as much heart as we wanted, we kind of huffed and puffed, for a little bit in the games and it wasn’t quite there today. I thought we battled all the way to the very last minute with ten men and hit the bar twice. With a little more luck, we could have taken the lead in the game. You know, obviously frustrating especially at the end of the game when they put the standings up on the scoreboard and see Portland goes in front of us. A lot of fans came down here and we disappointed in ourselves and everyone’s gutted with the result. Sigi [Schmid] commented on our work rate, which we put in to the very end.”

On Kalif Alhassan’s goal in the first half:
“They hit a cross in, and I always take first couple steps to see if I can come get it, try to take as much pressure off my defense as I can, and it was just too low, it had to come through about three or four guys and so I got back in position and unlucky for us it goes right to their guy and he smashes it in the corner. Super frustrating, and they got through once on the break just before that and Ozzy [Alonso] is tracking back and he took a really big touch so I think that this is my chance so I gone out and slid and made him take that touch around me and I was able to block enough of the goal and Ozzy is there to clear the danger. We worked really well together and it’s just disappointing to go down one-nil obviously but we’re in the game until the end and [Steve] Zakuani comes on and he hasn’t played a lot recently, he’s had that injury, really unlucky for him and his deflection hits the crossbar as well. We could’ve easily snuck a point out of it and it would’ve been great, but we were just a little bit unlucky today.”

On the team being “snake bit”:
“Yeah, I don’t know. You look at [the shot] that hits the crossbar and it goes out you think yeah, our luck’s against us. But the only way you can change your luck is through hard work, which is what we did tonight. That’s how I’ve done it throughout my career, is you work your ass off through training every day and you become lucky. Not because you’re lucky, but because of the hard work you put in. And that’s what we did today and what we need to keep doing and tough games like this is what’s going to happen in the playoffs. So it’s a pretty good test for us and we easily could’ve come on top today and it’s a bit unfortunate that we didn’t.”

On what went positively in the match:
“This is not an easy place to come play. Obviously we’re disappointed with the result but the fight we showed all the way to the last minute and it was great team spirit and I think we can build on that, for sure.”

Next up…

Some MLS Stats for your consideration…

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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