Defending continues to remain a troubling issue as the Timbers US Open Cup run comes to an end…

A devastating result last night that really highlights all that has been pear-shaped for Portland this year… untimely defensive errors be them fouls in the Defending Final Third or simply poor man-marking.

And although this wasn’t an MLS game there is much that can be gleaned from the consistency of team play in MLS this year that can provide examples on just how badly the Timbers have been in defense.

But before getting there a quick reminder that between this year and last year there has been a coaching change in this squad…  Amos Magee is gone and Cameron Knowles responsibilities were increased.

Others closer to the organization will know which Assistant Coach had more or less influence in how the defensive scheme works – for me it’s merely a point to make that a change in some form of leadership has occurred.

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):  The Timbers team performance statistics in Defending Possession with Purpose add up to being the 10th worst in all of MLS so far this year; most know the Timbers were the best in Defending PWP team performance last year.

If you think that doesn’t matter consider this; the DPWP for Argentina and Germany, in the World Cup this year, was #1 and #2 for all 32 teams in that competition – defense wins!

But what about some other defensive statistics most consider as reasonable ways to probe overall effectiveness in stopping the opponent from scoring goals?

Penetration – the volume of passes by their opponents sees the Timbers as yielding the 7th highest average passes attempted by their opponents in the Defending Final Third (110.72).  Volume doesn’t necessarily translate to quality – but at some point quantity can matter…

Crossing – the percentage of successful crosses by their opponents see the Timbers as yielding the 8th worst percentage (26.46%).  Any cross is a dangerous ball in the box…

PK Conceded – the Timbers are worst in MLS in conceding Penalty Kicks; .5 PK’s conceded per game.  Like fouls in the defending third – conceding a PK usually means very poor defensive positioning in your own 18 yard box.

Opponent Caught Offside – the Timbers are 5th worst in catching their opponents offside this year (1.39 per game).  Most consider the more times an opponent is caught off-sides the more highly organized the back-four are in defense.

Corners conceded – the Timbers are 2nd worst in conceding corners this year (6.06) per game. Sometimes this ins’t a bad thing – but it’s never really a good thing to allow the opponent to load up your 18 yard box in order to score a goal.  This doesn’t even address set-pieces coming as a result of throw-ins…

Defensive Clearances – the Timbers are tied for 2nd most Defensive Clearances per game this year (26.50) – usually a very good indicator on the ‘volume of dangerous balls the opponent puts into the box” – the more clearances the more dangerous balls delivered into the box that can’t be controlled and moved out with patience.

Fouls in the Defending Final Third – the Timbers are worst in MLS this year in committing fouls in their own Defending Final Third – (3.89) per game.  More fouls in this area usually translates to more defending players being caught out of position – or less discipline; neither of them good.

In closing…

This may not be something some folks want to read – but it is what it is…

The defensive woes of Portland, this year, are not isolated – they are systematic and most probably not solved with the addition of one more central defender.

Changes in overall defensive posture, throughout the entire Defending Final Third, need to be addressed.

Usually when systemic issues arise it not only means a change in player personnel it also might mean a change in coaching staff.

I find it highly unlikely that the Timbers will find issue with Caleb Porter; he’s a superb Head Coach who knows and understands the game – but I wouldn’t be surprised if another internal coaching change might be on the horizon…

Especially when you consider that more teams, this year, are getting better in attack…

Adding Liam Ridgewell should help, but for me, it isn’t all down to weaknesses in the Center-Back position.

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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