Portland Timbers

Two Edged Sword? Timbers out of the Champions League

Whether many agree or not; part of any failure should include an ability to turn that, in some fashion or another, into a success…   put another way – failure IS a critical part of learning.

Tuesday night’s failure to advance into the Champions League Quarterfinals “needs” to be turned into a success as this team moves forward.

Be it a short-term or long-term success it just doesn’t matter.

How that gets achieved, is hard to picture at this time.  With the wounds being so deep and the quick-turn (need-to-be-engaged) for FC Dallas this weekend, it’ll probably be more long-term than short.

In considering some things for the future…

Clearly the bench is not as good as expected and clearly the defense is not as good as expected.

What’s that translate too?

In my view it translates to a fundamental weakness in the organizational structure for how this team has positioned itself to operate this year.

That may read a bit harsh – it’s not intended to – I’m a military kind-of-guy and sometimes direct feedback is a good thing.

If conflict doesn’t exist then the passion isn’t there!  If no passion – then what is the point in doing what you do?

Anyhow, back to some initial thoughts.

Some may offer the team needs a full time scout – reasonable, and to get that extra edge over competitors, perhaps it’s worthy to have some staff take on a more private scouting effort more directly.

The challenge might be the volume of teams & players to be scouted.

More importantly for me is an increase in (actual/precieved) in-depth statistical analysis.  And this might also help leverage better scouting opportunities.

Bottom line here is that the statistical effort should be able to support a day to day, week to week, or month to month training program that can support fixing ‘oneoff’ tactical mistakes as well as longer term strategic weaknesses —> not just physical fitness level type performance issues.

It should be noted the team with the most in-depth statistical analyses in MLS is… Seattle; the next team using stats, the most, is probably Kansas City.  Is there a correlation (relationship) between deeper statistical analysis and winning?

I think so – as does every team in the English Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, on and on…  and oddly enough, that part of a teams budget is not regulated by MLS!

Finally, there may be a need to slightly alter the overall attacking/defending strategy/tactics again, I say again in a subtle kind of way. (more to follow below)…

Team Statistics:

Statistically speaking, and counter to other thoughts offered elsewhere, the page was not turned for the better, after game eight.  That is an illusion others are willing to promote even though it’s not true!  

Up to, and including game eight, the Timbers had conceded 1.63 Goals per game while in the next twenty games (game nine, up to and including, game 28) the Timbers had conceded 1.75 Goals per game.  

So even though the Goals For took a marked turn upward after game eight (1.13 to 2.00) the solution set the Timbers needed in order to better secure a Playoff position (better defending) didn’t turn upwards – it got worse

It’s only after game 28 that the Goals Against really began to turn downwards; going from 1.75 to .80 per game – far too late in my opinion.

Finally, the transition point for a ‘most likely scenario’ (where defensive tactics changed), probably happened after game nine, not game eight…

After game nine, opponents Passing Accuracy, “outside the Timbers Defending Final Third” never fell below 74.90%.

And only four times, after game nine, did the opponent not exceed 80% passing accuracy outside the Timbers Defending Final Third.

After game nine the statistics seem to points towards the Timbers ceding more opponent possession outside the Defending Final Third.

Passing statistics clearly indicate the opponent average passing accuracy outside the Defending Final Third was 75% for game nine and earlier – while that average was 82% for games nine to 28 and even higher (84%) for games 29 to 33.

In adding to that, statistically speaking, the average volume of opponents passes attempted outside the Defending Final Third was 318, per game, (1-9) versus 255 for games ten to 28 and 266 per game from 29 to 33.

Finally, opponent passes attempted in the Timbers Defending Final third went from 106, per game (1-9), to 119 per game (10-28), and finally, 134 per game (29-33).

What this means is that the overall defensive tactics for the Timbers changed twice this year (based upon what the statistics offer.

In the first part of the season the Timbers were more aggressive in trying to stop initial penetration, versus the second part where penetration was ceded a bit more, to the third part where penetration was conceded even more.

It’s only in the last stage of the season where the balance may have been found – but – let’s not forget that during that same stretch the Timbers played a very weak San Jose twice and couldn’t score against Real Salt Lake

Bottom line here:  

Opponents were given more leeway to pass the ball about outside the Timbers Defending Final Third as the season progressed – it would appear the proper balance was achieved quite late… too late perhaps..

What is troubling is when Philadelphia did this very same thing after Curtin was brought on board in lieu of Hackworth (read here) their Goals Against dropped by ~.5 per game; a much quicker reduction in Goals Against and perhaps an indication that the defensive back-four for Philadelphia is better, player skill wise, than the back-four for Portland?

Finally, before moving on… is it any wonder the Timbers 1) probably aren’t going to make the Playoffs, and 2) got knocked out of the Champions League?

So I’d offer those are some of the statistics that the Timbers should recognize and move forward with… What’s next?

I’d envision at least one change in the First Team Coaching Staff.

I also see at least 4-8 new players entering the fold – with at least that many moving out or down to the USL Pro side.

I’d also expect to see a new Goal Keeper – it seems reasonable to me that Donovan Ricketts may be rewarded for great service and asked to move on or retire.  He was good this year but not as stellar as he was the year before.

Don’t get me wrong – I still think Donovan Ricketts is a good keeper but I imagine Jake Gleeson may be done being an understudy.  And if Jake isn’t promoted to first team keeper it’s likely he moves on.

Best, Chris

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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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