Rose City Invitational – San Jose win by a head in preseason match with the Timbers

Well wasn’t it great to see the Timbers again after nearly 3 months off? It was for me and I certainly hope it was for you!

I couldn’t help but get that slight shiver as the roar of the crowd hit peak at the completion of the National Anthem; ah… to be in JELD-WEN, errr Providence Park again!

Wow, just can’t get enough of this team and how much soccer football fits into the culture of the Rose City!

And like most nights in England the game began with a slight chill in the air as the Timbers took to the pitch in their Mr. Clean white kits – can’t wait to see the new strip against the Union come March 8!

So what about the game you ask? Well, in a nutshell, it was a preseason match where the results don’t count but the run of play, and all the set-pieces that go with it, provide some gauge to test where both teams are in preparing for March 8.

And to be sure, when it came to the run-of-play, the Timbers started where they left off from last year. For the most part they played simple balls to simplify the game and simply out-played San Jose. All told I’d offer that the statistical guys would have shown Portland had 75% of the possession with 50% of that possession gaining penetration into the final third.

On the flip side I would estimate that the Earthquakes had maybe 30% of their 25% possession in the Timbers defending third. And yes, I know… San Jose got a goal and Portland didn’t; well at least for two more games I can say ‘big-deal’!

Forward into the past…

So what about the inclusion of Ben Zemanski? This off-season I had been pondering what the team might look like without Diego Chara or Will Johnson… when healthy, would Caleb work a single pivot and perhaps add a fifth attacker or would he stay true to his double pivot in the middle of the park? For now at least, with Zakuani and Wallace still nursing their injuries the obvious answer was Ben.

I wonder how that might play out against opponents later in the season where Valeri, Fernandez, Zakuani, Wallace, Nagbe, and Urutti are all at full strength? Lest we forget, with about 15 minutes to go we saw Jewsbury get pulled for Schillo and for me, that signals Portland have worked a bit more this off-season in running a wing-back style of play when the score-line dictates.

Could that be a formation to start an away game? I don’t know but it sure does add another wicked attacking dimension to the Timbers style of play…

So how about our new guys?

Without going into great detail my first impression seeing “la gata” work, in a full-prep environment, was that he played solid, was in good nick, and he’ll present some clear and present danger to opponents this year. His diminutive size, along with that of Urutti, should garner a few extra fouls suffered a bit deeper into the attacking third, and his vision certainly matches that of Nagbe and Valeri. And yeh… he did take a quick strike on his own, very early-on, but we musn’t lose sight that every striker, at some point or another in the first 15 minutes, is going to take that shot because it’s in their blood!

And as a head coach you want your strikers to stretch their legs on low driving shots like that, as early as possible, to get that blood flowing…

As for Norberto; solid and paired well with Pa Madou Kah, Harrington and Jewsbury – having a back four that communicates and supports each other is critical, especially when the opponent comes at you with a quick counter.

Obviously things could have gone better in that Set-piece but all told Paparatto looked comfortable and was not outplayed by one of the tougher striking combinations in MLS these last few years.

With respect to the young-ish Schillo; good to see he got some minutes and I’d offer that is a great tribute to his impressing the coaching staff; one might have thought Nanchoff could get a look-in given he was just behind Kalif last year in the pecking order but Schillo adds a speedy wide threat with what appears to be very good vision and understanding of his role!

So what about that Set-piece?

Granted it’s just preseason but last night was a haunting reminder that this game isn’t just about possession; it’s about set-pieces (defending them and scoring on them) as much as it is about possession with purpose where that sole intent is to keep the opponent scoreless while penetrating and delivering shots on goal that breach the keeper.

We all know that didn’t happen and I’m sure one of the ‘correctable mistakes’ will be reviewed in video match analysis, today while fresh in their minds, to reinforce positional play and how to track far post activities and second chance balls created from deflections.

In considering how the final score played out it should be an early reminder, at no cost, to the Timbers that, like last year, quantity simply doesn’t replace quality – and while the Timbers had some superb goal scoring opportunities Mr. Busch, in goal for San Jose, was in top form!

So how about some of the returning lads?

Well to be sure it appeared to me that Darlington Nagbe started where he left off last year – burgeoning leadership with superb dribbling skills, keen vision, and a sense for knowing where and when to be as he added influence across the pitch.

None more striking to me than about halfway through the second half when we witnessed Darlington playing in a right full back position, as Portland looked to push the ball forward. At that point Jack Jewsbury was high up the pitch while the ball had shifted to the left; in one clear signal to Jack Darlington raised his hand and indicated to Jack; hold steady good sir and let’s see how this plays out – if we lose the ball I got your fullback slot with you playing high.

Of course none of that actual conversation took place but when playing the game those hand signals and the leadership needed to read the game, and what might follow, really tell a GREAT story on how effective a player is in seeing the pitch and what opportunities may come based upon ball movement and positional awareness. Geez… Darlington is really playing far far superior to how things looked two years ago under a different leadership and playing style!

I did not think Kalif had a stellar game last night, aye, he did well in stretches, but like Harrington his passes were a bit late, off stride, or simply in the wrong location when a prime strike was in the making.

To be clear Kalif remains a very talented player and I’m sure the front office is tired of hearing how he gets bashed pretty regularly by some other sports writers – I’m not sure many will agree with me on this but sometimes the masses do provide a view point that can sometimes be missed by those closer to the situation.

In going for some balance on Kalif, clearly all can see his deft touch can be simply amazing at times, and a game of football can be won or lost in the blink of an eye… but I do believe his minutes will take a hard hit later this year when Wallace and Zakuani or both fully fit – if Kalif wants playing time, as those games come up, I think he needs to pick his game up.

Diego Valeri… well…  hard to miss the introduction of Diego Valeri to the pitch last night as the ROAR was absolutely huge – great to see Diego make his return from off-season surgery.  And while the Timbers didn’t score in that final 30 minutes there was clear indication that this team simply performs much-much better as he electrifies those around him!  Wow…

With respect to Diego Chara and Ben Zemanski; great energy as usual and nothing lost, in my view, with Ben taking over as Will Johnson was a late scratch.

Over the course of the game I did track those two guys specifically and both, on separate occasions, took on the stopper role just in front of the two center-backs – again – some good rotation and an added attacking dimension becomes available when we see either of our two bucket holders making runs into the final third!

As to Jack, Pa Madou and Michael Harrington I thought Jack was solid on both sides; taking his role as a ‘wing-back’ as needed (did he get faster this off-season?) just like Harrington. With respect to Pa – again he was solid but I just get this little itch that sometimes Pa is like two seconds from another red-card/harsh tackle… not sure why and perhaps others see him a bit differently than I do?

Now about last night and Michael…

In considering the success of Michael Harrington this off-season in being selected to play with the USMNT, and a potential opportunity to dress for the World Cup, I was slightly disappointed in his sharpness last night. I won’t say he was as wobbly as a giraffe on roller skates but in pushing forward it seemed to me that his vision in seeing the right pass, at the right time, wasn’t as sharp as I saw from him last year.

All told he did well in the back but fullbacks for Portland have a larger role in the attack, and vision, timing and seeing the play unfold needs to be sharper as the regular season starts; there are just too many teams this year that have added significant strength to their attack – the doormats of DC United, Toronto and Chivas are not likely to present themselves so quickly this year.

It’s still preseason but I’d submit his vision and passing needs to reach another gear before this season starts – going against Vancouver this weekend, in a preseason Cascadia clash will probably see him engaged more like he was last year.

In closing…

Donovan Ricketts looked good last night – not much one can do about an own-goal header; unlucky is probably the best word to describe that situation. With that said it was my view that Donovan Ricketts was the best player on the Timbers last year – he will need to be at his best again this year!

At the risk of repeating myself, but to drive home this point… towards the end we saw Caleb resort to a 3-5-2 when Schillo came on for Jack.  I’d offer Caleb has probably worked that formation/approach a bit more this preseason than last year.

And if the scoreline dictates, like it did last night, I would expect we see that rotation a bit sooner – and with his bench of attackers is it possible we see a rotation like that if the score-line is 1-nil, against, at halftime?

Considering that perhaps another option is to insert Villafana with Michael shifting to the right side so that defensive consistency remains while Caleb can leverage the pace that both he and Michael provide over Jack and Michael.  There are just so many different ways Caleb can run this side – making the 7 on the bench will have significant value to those who don’t start but want playing time.

And like some teams in Europe; the flexibility provided by the bench can and will win you a game if the score-line dictates.

San Jose – Direct Play… If you didn’t believe me last year – this preseason game should etch in stone that Frank Yallop was sacked because he wanted to move San Jose away from a direct style of play while Watson and their front office didn’t… nothing was new for San Jose this game though it was interesting to see how their midfield defended the Timbers attack..

In looking to the match-up Wednesday – perhaps? we see some others get more playing time than the regular starting 11; Vancouver crushed the hapless (10 man) Portmore 5-1.

As for the Cascadia preseason tilt on Saturday; I don’t expect Portland to have as much space and possession time that they had last night; Vancouver will certainly look to move the ball on the ground a bit more than San Jose.

My Man of the Match ===> Darlington Nagbe for Portland and Mr. Busch for San Jose…

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, PTFC Collective and Prost Amerika.

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