Old Hat? or… New Tricks?

The Portland Timbers embark on a grand journey this year – a chance to repeat as the MLS Champions.  If you’re like me you never figured that scenario when we began the long journey at the start of  2015.

And if not for a major switch in tactics, with three games to go in the regular season, an early departure was likely.

If I had to pick out a couple of players who had a key role in this effort I put it down to two; Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe.

Darlington Nagbe and Diego Chara play the double pivot in a singular way

Yes… we could include other players here but the key to the single pivot, in my view, was answering these questions.

  • Could Diego Chara manage unplanned turnovers and shut down penetration when the opponent had an over-load?
  • Could Darlington Nagbe create more space for others with his possession atop and within the center of the pitch versus his limited involvement on the right side of the pitch?  And
  • Could Darlington Nagbe, Rodney Wallace/Lucas Melano and Dairon Asprilla also get back to support Diego Chara if things went pear-shaped?

So… how about this year?

Do the Timbers open in a ‘single pivot’?

Before trying to answer that some information for your consideration.

  • George Fochive has moved on to Europe – I wish him all the best.  In my interview with Preki two years ago, the first phrase he used to describe Fochive was “he has the right mentality”.  I think he showed many of us that same engaged mentality last year.
  • Nick Besler – not known for tenacious presence, I think he has to continue to work with T2 to develop better defending skills with his hips and shoulders.  In the preseason match against that city up north it was pretty clear, to me, he still let’s the game play him instead of him playing the game… i.e. he has very little control or presence – and for a midfielder that’s in appropriate.
  • Diego Chara is ever Diego – strong – physical – unafraid – and developing good skill in using his head to score goals along with his very cerebral play in defending space.
  • Jack Jewsbury – another year older.  How long can he continue to add strong value in the midfield without giving away too much space with his lack of speed?  That said, if there is anyone on the pitch who has a greater feel for the game in positional awareness I’m not sure…


  • Ben Zemanski – coming off injury, early indications are that he’s sharp.  But Ben has sometimes been a bit of a question mark, in my view, when looking at the mental part of the game.  Two years ago he had some rash tackles at inopportune times and while he’s a good passer his vision in offering the through-ball or cross-pitch pass hasn’t really manifested itself in my mind yet.  Oh… and his extensive level of energy on the pitch is as much of a weakness as a strength.  I’m not sure he has the right balance there yet; others may see that differently?

So with that said here’s some general thoughts, I have, based upon what I’ve seen some other teams do this year (without digging into great detail).

  • That city up north is moving towards youth – I expect they will be faster in the midfield and perhaps take on more of the tenor we’ve seen from FC Dallas these last two years than the slow-footed team we saw last year.
  • Colorado has splashed out on some players to add midfield strength as well as defending and attacking.
  • The same can be said for Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas.
  • But most noticeably, to me, are the moves made by LA Galaxy – a true powerhouse on paper with perhaps the best head coaching brain in the United States.
  • As for Vancouver?  Hard to say – I don’t think they’ve done a whole lot this off-season but…  they were strong last year so it’d be rude not to expect they’ll be strong this year.

Now – back to the question at hand – Do the Timbers open in a ‘single pivot’?

  • Yes…  Porter almost has to given their late season success in running that formation.
  • But…  he does have some more tools this year to also run a 4-4-2.  And running the same style, game in and game out isn’t going to work in MLS.  There are simply too many teams that can now play possession-based football as well as possession-less based football.  And to keep from being predictable (like Columbus was last year) Porter is going to need to have flexibility in changing his approach.

So… if he runs the 4-4-2 he will have to sacrifice a midfielder in lieu of McInerney.

  • Who will that be?  Melano, Asprilla, Valeri, or Nagbe?
  • To keep speed on the wings and remain balanced in defending, as well as attack, I’d offer it has to be Valeri.

Diego Valeri

  • That may be a bit shocking, but if McInerney is scoring goals and the overall tenor of the defensive back-four is holding up well it’s got to be an offensive minded player (first).  And since both Melano and Asprilla are working well supporting the fullbacks my guess is Valeri.
  • Besides – with Nagbe on the pitch, and his continued improvement in playing box-to-box, Porter really is still playing a 4-2-3-1…
  • For me, I hope the attack remains strong enough with just one striker!

It’s all to play for this year – even more so than last year…  if you want to really gauge the success of an organization it’s how they do year in and year out that really tells the story.

A one-off, in a league rife with parity, is just that…  what are your thoughts?

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.

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