Catching up on the Timbers after Week 14

No question this past weekend was a huge success for the Timbers as they look to claw their way back up the standings.

What hurt, to begin, was the quick goal Luke Mulholland got when finding himself unmarked after a deflection in the 18 yard box; unlucky for the Timbers but fortunately that was the last goal Real Salt Lake scored.

On the flip side it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Timbers scored goals; three of them to be exact.  Why not?  Well I’ll get to that in a bit but for now a bit more discussion about the defending part of the game.

To begin, last week while preparing for my presentation at the World Conference on Science and Soccer I noticed some differences between how Toronto defends compared to Chivas.  The main, and only indicator I used was ‘volume of passing within their defending third’.

Most would assume that Chivas would yield more penetration after watching the Timbers play them last week.  It’s actually the opposite; a team like Toronto has opponents averaging 130 odd passes within the Reds Final Third while Chivas opponents average ~93 per game.

What that shows is Chivas is playing higher pressure atop the 18 while Toronto is playing lower pressure and a tighter formation inside their 18 yard box.  This means Toronto yields penetration while Chivas looks to ‘prevent’ penetration.

In considering that here’s some outputs on how opponent’s have done attacking Portland this year split into two categories, the first seven weeks and the second seven weeks.

Portland Timbers Defense Week 14

Portland Timbers Defense Week 14

There are subtle differences in most categories but the one I’m picking out today focuses on the fourth group from the left (Average of Passes Completed Final Third vs Passes Completed across the Entire Pitch.

Note that the percentage from week 8, on-wards, is higher yet the corresponding Shots Taken, Shots on Goal and Goals Scored Against are lower – what that means is the Timbers are yielding slightly more penetration into the Final Third but are beginning to play more tight and more narrow.

A great example to watch in a game is tracking whether or not Jack Jewsbury or Jorge Villafana will get routinely pulled out wide against a Forward who goes out wide – the more Villafana and Jewsbury get pulled wide the less tight the back four becomes – and if a central midfielder doesn’t close and fill that gap it gets worse.

So after seeing that here’s how this same diagram looks when adding how RSL did this past weekend against Portland…

Portland Timbers Defense Week 14 After RSL

Portland Timbers Defense Week 14 After RSL

That gap in that same category is even bigger – and while RSL did get more shots on goal they had fewer shots taken and fewer goals – and in turn – Donovan Ricketts made more saves.  Again, what helps there is that with a tighter formation in the 18 yard box there is less room to shoot and it’s more likely Ricketts will have a better opportunity to make a save given tighter angles on the shots.

So how about in attack so far this year…

Portland Timbers Attack Week 14

Portland Timbers Attack Week 14

There is a considerable improvement in the overall attack for the Timbers after week 7 in all the right places.  Why is that when there is a reduction in Shots Taken (fifth column pairing from the left)?

Well, here’s the deal, most winning teams take fewer shots but put more shots on goal.  My article on Expected Wins may help explain…  at least for now they do. 🙂

Anyhow, I digress – the point here is that the Timbers are getting even better in attack than earlier this year – with an improved defending unit it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they could squeeze out three points in Utah – at least not a BIG surprise.

And when seeing they took three points against New York and Chivas prior to this away match it’s pretty reasonable to offer that Portland are gaining form.

So how about the attacking data with RSL shown…

Portland Timbers Attack Week 14 with RSL

Portland Timbers Attack Week 14 with RSL

A considerable difference in Shots on Goal and note that column four; the one where Portland shows increased penetration by the opponent – in this case this one shows ‘decreased’ penetration by Portland.

In other words RSL played just a wee bit higher and less tight than the Timbers – and that defending approach didn’t work.

I’d offer that might be down to three things; Beckerman not being present and Beltran getting sent off.

The other, and more compelling indicator to me is that after 3 years in the league Portland actually have a true #9 who can pair up with either Valeri or Fernandez who then rotate in and out as #8’s and #10’s.

Wow – and then in a game coming up against FC Dallas Caleb Porter can turn right around and play a very high pressure attacker like Urruti with a bit more speed on the wings.

In closing…

Big test in coming home and looking to get a clean sheet.

FC Dallas are a much better home team than on the road as the info below shows:

  1. Their Possession percentage drops 10% points on the road.
  2. Their passing accuracy drops 4% on the road.
  3. Their penetration drops by 2% on the road.
  4. Their shots taken drop 3% on the road, and their Shots on Goal drops 3 % on the road.

But, they remain a danger as their Goals Scored percentage does increase by 4% when on the road.

What that means is Dallas will play deeper and tighter and are less likely to get pulled out of shape.

In other words the Timbers are likely to face a similar defensive strategy to what they just used visiting Real Salt Lake.

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, PTFC Collective and Prost Amerika.

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