Portland Timbers

Timbers swarm Chicago – yet walk away with a Draw 1-1

You had to be there to witness the swarming attack of Portland today – incredible number of chances I’ll touch on later this week in my PWP round-up on the rest of the league but know this – Fernandez stings Chicago with late equalizer as Amarikwa draws dubious PK that Larentowicz slots home for Chicago.

My good friend Matt Hoffman caught my tweet on that one and he wondered how many PK’s replacement refs had awarded this year so far – by my count that is number 7.

Not sure how that stacks up with last year but will find out…

But back to the game; as duly noted near half time – Chicago looked the better team as Amarikwa was dangerous and the Fire midfield and defense simply held strong, and in my view, had the better run of play.

The first half was disjointed and lacked long stretches of controlled possession by either team – it almost appeared that the strategy for Portland, in the first half, was to play a more direct style of football – I’m not sure why and maybe am off-target on that assessment but I really didn’t see many stretches where Portland worked it from the back – through the middle – to the forwards… in a previously noted (short passing style) ‘timba-taka’…

It was more like – when possession was had in the back – not long thereafter the Timbers would play a 2nd level ball forward that usually bypassed Johnson and Chara – maybe the intensity of the game influenced that but I don’t remember seeing Darlington work many dribble penetration (magics) until after the half-time whistle; maybe others saw differently?

As halftime came and went the second half opened unlike the first.

It appeared to me the Timbers kicked into ‘normal gear and high gear’ with some good passing and possession that led to numerous, dare I say, repeated penetrations that came just inches short of goal – one no more frustrating than a complete balls by Chicago up atop the 18 yard box where Will Johnson had an open goal only to see it slide inches by the left post.

You really couldn’t put it any closer without it hitting the post – and in considering all the chances leading up to that point it was cold irony that saw it slide wide.

In retrospect, I’m not sure how many times I began a tweet with ‘oh-my’ or ‘wow’ coupled with ‘not again’… in counting the total shots offered by Portland it was around 20 (depending which stat source you use) with 7 on target.

Like last week, numerous shots with just one goal – a haunting and familiar reminder of how quantity and quality are not balanced, as yet, for Portland.

But persistence in penetration and possession paid off for Portland as La-Gata – again – poked home the tying goal as the game approached 80 minutes.

Like game 1 we saw Steve Zakuani come on for Maxi Urutti (IMO a strong, hi pressure, defensive leaning striker) removed for a more attack minded winger as Gaston Fernandez rolled up top, Valeri pushed out wide right and Darlington took position in the center of the park.

As that rotation occurred it appeared to inject a new level of attack that eventually saw that short stinger by Gaston for the Timbers equalizer.

In considering the back four…

There was at least one occasion I thought Chicago could have scored again in the second half – and if not for a great save by Donovan Ricketts they probably would have.

That’s not to say the back four were in good form – for me they weren’t – there were a number of occasions, like the awarded PK, where the Timbers Center-backs were stretched.

And while I like to see center-backs get forward, at times, I was a bit surprised to see Paparatto, not only get forward, but penetrate deep into the Chicago defending third, twice, during the run of play.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing exactly – but if a center-back does penetrate into the attacking third like that I would expect the other attackers to look for a way to leverage that penetration – in both cases the Timbers midfield scrolled the ball back, and in turn, Paparatto returned to his normal center-back position.

In closing…

That’s two games on the trot, at home, where Portland have taken just one point each – that’s a better start than last year so that’s a good thing; but something is giving me this feeling that wins, at home, will be even more crucial given how many teams have looked to improve their attack.

If I had to pick out a telling statistic for this game for Portland it would be Off-sides. In total they were off-side 5 times with the most stunning one being a call against Jack Jewsbury when the Timbers had some good, deep, penetration.

One other statistic that sticks out is Blocked shots – in game one Portland had 8 shots blocked; in this game they had 9 shots blocked… again it appears that the defenders are sitting off the Portland attackers in the box by a yard or maybe 2 – or there is a tendency of the Timbers players telegraphing their shots. Not sure which is happening – or perhaps both but of 36 shots taken this year that is 17 blocks!

There is nothing more frustrating for a head coach than seeing his players get called for being in an off-side position; especially a fullback.

For me, while others may disagree, it means that the guys simply aren’t tuned in and switched-on; when the mental sharpness lacks the physical sharpness usually follows…

Next up are Western Conference foes Colorado (away) and FC Dallas (away); too early to offer thoughts on those games other than they are away – and away games area always tough in the MLS.

Too early to tell but the attacking scheme with Steve Zakuani has generated two goals – with Maxi Urutti – no goals… Steve is +2 while Maxi is -2… last year Wallace didn’t start as the season began but eventually found a place in the first 11 – his plus/minus was +8 in the first 5-6 games or so – how long before we might see Steve Zakuani get a head nod to start over Maxi Urutti?

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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