Portland Timbers

Timbers drop 3 points in Dallas – Answers… or just more questions?

As noted in my pre-match there were a number of questions I had as the Timbers lined up for this game in Dallas…  here they are again with what answers I could glean based upon what I saw…

Answers… or just more Questions… Before getting into it though Matthew Doyle, MLSSoccer.com has already offered up some answers to my questions so I’ll try not to repeat his observations…

1. In seeing that the back-four has given away three Penalities (and knowing that FC Dallas have been spot on this year in Set-piece goals {4 of them from direct free kicks and one PK awarded already}) what approach will the Center-backs take in shape/position with respect to guys like Castillo and Diaz?

  • Answer?  In my view the back four got pulled apart in a large order by the speed and pace down the wings – and no more troubling an indicator than the frustration of Michael Harrington getting a straight red (along with Watson) for FC Dallas.  We knew their speed and pace before the game so it really isn’t rocket science to know that at the end of the game.
  • With being pulled apart Doyle correctly identifies that both Paparatto and Kah were left isolated or (in my view ball watching).  For example – recall the goal by Perez – note that before the initial cross to the far post Paparatto was pulled high to try and stuff penetration on the left – in doing that the cross comes in across the face of the goal – from there it’s redirected back to Perez (waiting patiently) inside the six yard box (unmarked) for an easy goal scored… unmarked why?  Because Kah was pulled to the far post and Paparatto didn’t get back quick enough to mark the near post…
  • But before moving on let’s look at it another way..  In the games against Colorado and Dallas both opponents had the greatest volume of successful passes in the Timbers defending third with Dallas having success in completing those passes 68% compared to Colorado at 61%.
  • But perhaps the most telling statistic in defending the final third in the last two games are the number of defensive interceptions – an indication of players playing off the opponent to close gaps as opposed to being more tight in order to win a tackle.  In the last two matches against Colorado and Dallas Portland have had just 5 and 3 interceptions respectively compared to 10 versus Philadelphia and 17 versus Chicago.
  • Perhaps another indicator that the defense is channeling players where they want them to go is increased interceptions – in the case where Dallas and Colorado have been intercepted less it indicates the defense is not in control of where the attackers are going…
  • Even more interesting is the drop in defensive clearances between those two sets of games – at home the Timbers cleared 30 and 37 penetrations as opposed to 21 and 18 versus Colorado and Dallas – remembering that in both those matches both those teams also had more penetration and with Dallas more success in completing additional passes from that penetration.
  • Bottom line here is that even without looking at goals against the back-four for the Timbers have simply not gotten better…   and that early Yellow to Paparatto didn’t help either – he had to play on egg shells the rest of the game – it turns out EVERYBODY did…. wow – what a Referee??!!??

2. While some may disagree it would appear Jack Jewsbury (a super guy and very good athlete who is a great person) has lost a step or two – can you offer up what sort of attacking presence he is likely to offer – either in deep penetration or playing higher up while influencing play more with crosses and switches?

  • No doubt Jack had to stay home more often and as noted again by Doyle the Dallas side took advantage of that – I only recall one deep penetration and a cross didn’t come from it – otherwise his time and energy was devoted to stopping the leakage down the right side.
  • As for Crosses – Jewsbury offered up 0 crosses yesterday…

3. Some have offered that Diego Valeri seems to work with more influence by being more central to the pitch – while also offering up a bit more space for Darlington Nagbe down the wing. Given the huge success of Portland stuffing FC Dallas down the middle last year (with Hedges still playing as the Center-back this year) what might we expect to see from those two guys as they look to support Gaston Fernandez (or Max Urruti or Freddie Piquionne) up top?

  • Given the low volume of crosses and Zakuani missing the run of play was very much down the middle – and to be sure there were numerous opportunities for Portland – this team can and will score – it’s a question of when…

4. Steve Zakuani got some good minutes in against Colorado and seemed to be most effective in offering up deep penetration or turning inside similar to an inverted winger – can you offer up what pattern of penetration we might see this game and how that must balance with his activities on the defensive side of the pitch?

  • We didn’t see Steve at all yesterday – apparently a groin twitch according to @pretypenguin… thank you for that! 🙂  So no inverted winger stuff.
  • As for balance – well Harrington had significant issues defending Watson yesterday and Fernandez wasn’t really in a position to help… perhaps the speed of Wallace or Zakuani helps that balance when these two teams play again?

5. It appears that Diego Chara has been in a bit more of a forward position than Will Johnson this year – with that – sometimes it seems like the trailing ‘edge’ that gets Will Johnson some goals hasn’t materialized. Have you considered re-working with the single pivot in having Will Johnson play central in front of the back-four while then adding another attacking midfielder (in lieu of Diego Chara) to the mix? Perhaps having Nanchoff or running Urruti or Piquionne with Zakuani and Fernandez adds value where the goals against might still remain about 1 per game?

  • It looked to me yesterday that Will Johnson was moving forward a bit more than Diego Chara – going to ten men didn’t help any patterns but it didn’t seem like Diego was as far forward as we have seen him in the past.
  • As for a single versus double pivot – going to ten men for both sides gave more open space around so no real opportunity to see what that might have looked like.

6. Is there a time when Alvas Powell becomes the primary right full back as opposed to Jack Jewsbury? And might that time come sooner rather than later? If not, what areas would Alvas need to improve on in order to make that move to the starting 11?

  • I’m not sure yet – in watching Alvas his first touch simply isn’t that good and his passing/vision went wanting a number of times.  I see him adding speed and maybe some crossing skills but dribble penetration – no…  then again; if the goal rot continues and the goals against continue sometimes the best medicine for a poor defense is a strong offense?!?

7. For some it was really no secret that Donovan Ricketts played a superb role in stopping goals scored by the opponent last year – Weber has been opined as a journeyman goal keeper that adds value but at what cost to the organization? Is there a point where the Salary cap needs to recognize that having a top flight back-up is almost as critical as having a 3rd Center-back?

  • Weber did well this game and didn’t look out of sorts – for a minute there he got quite puffed up on a superb save but alas – the back-four crumbled at least twice and not even Ricketts was going to make those saves…
  • As for having a 3rd Center-back – I think, at this time, it is more critical for Portland to get some Center-backs that can actually play solid defense without over-committing – or – as Kah continues to do – make rash tackles where he could have easily been booked (and sent off) for that studs up tackle…  by the way – Wenger made a similar tackle in the Montreal – Union match yesterday and he got sent off so that logic of him getting a red card is solid…
  • I’d offer he goes wandering a bit at times on the mental side of the game; others may have a different view?!?

8. And if not an accurate offering by some as being a journeyman keeper will there be any new communication issues to consider if Futty returns on the right side versus Paparatto or vice versa?

  • Not sure how the communication went yesterday – hard to tell as the back-four seemed disjointed and in disarray most of the match…

9. Adjustments are made as the game develops – in considering both Moffat and Thomas will be missing from the Dallas central midfield area is there an expectation that some middle of the park efforts might have more influence earlier in this game than in previous games with Dallas?

  • Indeed – Portland worked to penetrate the middle quite a bit – with numerous chances (60%) coming down the middle and 40% coming down the left side (according to whoscored.com)…
  • Sadly that meant (According to whoscored.com) that virtually no dangerous opportunities were offered up from the right???  — that doesn’t appear balanced at all… if memory serves Fabian Johnson’s contract running out – might we see him as a target?

10. The style that Pareja wants his players to play to should be a familiar look for the Timbers this game – has Pareja ever offered up any tactics or strategies (to start or in mid-game) that have been a surprise and if so what types of approaches have been used to counter his tactics in the past?

  • It didn’t appear there was anything new from Pareja – here’s my speed on the wings Portland – stop me…

11. A game is a game is a game and the bottom line is that flexibility in how to penetrate and create goal scoring opportunities is sometimes best leveraged by simply letting the players loose (within certain confines of the pitch) to work their magic; thoughts?

  • Plenty of opportunity in this game for both teams and no better example about how quickly the game can change… red cards for shirt tugging and a wild swing… oh my – where’s that cup of tea when you need it to settle the nerves?

12. Many feel or think Diego Valeri best represents the player who can unlock the best skills from his teammates – if that is the case might we see Diego in a more central role this game? In other words – okay opponent – Valeri is my most dangerous guy (he could probably get the most touches) given his vision and creativity – I’m going to stick him in the middle of the park and it’s up to you to beat this team knowing that danger exists because we are going to press you and we are going to score goals on you – so stop me if you can.

  • We did see Diego Valeri in his central role and I hope he stays there – good job yesterday and there were chances – good chances – but the defense simply isn’t getting the job done!

That’s all for now…  In the end I’d say there are even more questions about the defense than Caleb would like – they look disjointed and out of sorts and to be honest (for me) not one of them did their job…  where is Horst – oh yeh – he got moved…

Best, Chris

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.