When the rubber meets the road…
Well it’s not really a rubber match between these two teams in MLS but again, like the previous match-ups, its two heavy weights grappling for the best foothold as the season closes.
As noted by Caleb today this game is ‘the game’ and while one more remain against Chivas USA it’s this one and only this one that matters. I sense, based upon his answers to the interview questions today that this really translates to… if I got a guy who can play, but not play full-speed two weeks in a row then I really want that guy to be available for tomorrow.
Color that any way you like, for me that means Diego Valeri may not be full strength but in choosing which of two games he might play – it’ll be this one.
Also noted today by Caleb, and during a pre-training conversation Will Conwell and I had, this is the first opportunity where Caleb has had both Diego Chara “and” Will Johnson available to play a full 90 minutes, against Salt Lake, since the Open Cup match.
If you recall in game 1 Ben Zemanski started alongside Diego Chara, game two saw Ben Zemanski for 45 minutes with Diego Chara and in the US Open Cup Will and Diego only got 63 minutes of playing time together with Will playing with that shoulder knock for about 35 of those 63 minutes.
Now this isn’t an attempt to make excuses or artificially inflate the importance of these two guys playing together but for most when these two guys play together the midfield area is locked down pretty good.
On the question to Caleb about the match fitness of Freddie Piquionne… While he isn’t probably ready to go a full 90 minutes he is fit and ready to go in either a starting or substitute role; with what I think will be more of an aerial attack tomorrow night I’d offer that we see Piq get some good playing time.
Whether or not he gets the head nod to start is a very hard decision; Portland have gotten off on the front foot three games on the trot and their defense has been extremely stingy as well; especially a bit later in the game. How Caleb decides to balance that is unclear and with Maxi Urruti out Caleb has three very different types of #9’s to rely on, each with slightly different skills they can bring to the pitch.
As a betting man my guess is we see Ryan Johnson get the head nod to start and the stronger aerial presence of Piquionne for the second half, perhaps the 60 minute mark or so given the scoreline.
My other, perhaps more dangerous assumption for tomorrow night, is that unless the scoreline is unfavorable to Portland at the half or the later stages we will not see Valencia come on…. why?
Well for the very same reason why Caleb has gone to his veterans to run the back four – the veteran presence brings a better opportunity for level-headed play and consistency of purpose. Valencia is very talented, but more offensive minded and with a tight game expected a wild card like Valencia probably plays better at the latter stages when the opponents back-four is a wee bit more tired.
Some statistics to consider as this game begins…
For those teams that have beaten RSL this year there is a tendency for them to button up a bit more in their defending final third. The average defensive activities of opponents beating RSL is just under 44% in their defending third; when RSL wins the average is 36%.
In other words the numbers of tackles won, interceptions, clearances and blocked crosses versus RSL completed passes, in the opponent defending third is better (by 8%) than when teams lose against RSL.
This is also true when comparing all defensive activities across the entire pitch to passes completed by RSL across the entire pitch.
Teams that beat RSL have a 19.6% defensive rating while teams that lose to RSL have an 18.76%. That’s not much but the more activity the opponent generates in making RSL uncomfortable across the entire pitch the better chance that team has of winning.
To give you some contrasts; when Portland played RSL at home this year their defensive activities across the entire pitch were only 12.43%; 6% below the average of teams who have beaten RSL. The same is true in the final third.
Portland’s percentage of defensive activities in the final third against RSL at home this year was 33.33%; that’s a full 10% below the average for teams that beat RSL.
As for the match in RSL – well it’s almost liking mixing apples to oranges given the Timbers ran 3 at the back but to provide some additional contrast the Timbers defensive activities that game saw them only generate an 8.74% of defensive activities across the entire pitch and just 21.21% of defensive activities in their defending third.
The tough thing about that game were the suspensions and injuries within the midfield and back four (no Jewsbury, Futty, Kah, or Will Johnson with Diego Valeri coming off at the 32 minute mark).
So how about the attack of RSL versus teams they have lost to on the road versus those they’ve taken three points from?
RSL average fewer defensive activities in their final third by 6% (47% versus 53%) when they lose. It’s quite different when viewing their defensive activities across the entire pitch however. In this case the more defensive activities they offer up across the entire pitch the less likely they are to win on the road.
So while I’m not advocating nor wanting RSL to climb into a turtle shell for this game there is every reason to believe, given the significant importance of this game that we see RSL play extremely tight.
When beating teams on the road RSL average 2.17 goals per game while completing 72.66% of their passes in the final third; when losing on the road RSL average just 1 goal per game and average 69.01% passing accuracy in the final third.
Some might see this game with a final score of 3-2 or 2-3; for me I see the result being either 1-nil or 3-nil with (perhaps?) those second and third goals coming off counterattacks as the opponent presses to equalize.
Should be a superb game tomorrow night and a great chance to see the various ways these two teams will look to control this game; for me I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Portland intermix quite a bit of Route 1 tomorrow night in looking for second chance balls.
However it plays out it’ll be the biggest game I will have seen Portland play!
Next Up Match Analysis…