Over the last three years there probably isn’t a team (and Head Coach) that’s been more focused on possession-based soccer than Columbus Crew.
When Columbus out-possesses their opponents they are about 75% more likely to earn points… usually three… when playing at home.
So in seeing early success for the Timbers, and a rematch (if you will) of the MLS Championship game in 2015, what might we expect to be some key points/areas of focus for this game?
Who’s in and who’s out may matter this weekend.
Even though both Head Coaches have a good cast of players to call on, to execute their respective playing styles, there is a drop-off with David Guzman and Darlington Nagbe being out for Portland and Jukka Raitala being out for Columbus.
Who slots in to replace these players isn’t clear, and with Gregg Berhalter finally working a different tactical scheme I’d offer there’s more than a few questions about how the teams line up.
Given that – what do we think we know about past practices and how they may come into play?
Clearances. Team clearances are critical for both sides. A key to either teams’ success has been the ability to clear corners and crosses when appropriate.
Columbus was wicked good at this in 2015 but lacked by a good margin in 2014 and 2016.
For Portland, the inability to clear the ball in 2016 played a huge role in points dropped on the road. In roughly 75% of road games played the lack of effective clearances led to dropped points.
Pretty much meaning defensive success, for both teams, relies heavily on their center-backs being able to clear crosses, while at the same time, seeing their fullbacks and midfield support doing well to shut down wing penetration.
All told, failure in defensive spacing and communication, from as many as two fullbacks, two center-backs, two central defending midfielders, and two wingers (for each team) is critical. Is this a team game of individuals or what?
But it’s not just about defense, as the Timbers have clearly shown with their three wins to begin the season – it’s also about attacking.
On the wings I’d submit there’s at least three players to watch for the Timbers.
These include (if healthy) Marco Farfan, Sebastian Blanco, and Alvas Powell.
As for the left midfield slot? Well… others may disagree, but I don’t sense Darren Mattocks is likely to offer many crosses – so if he starts – I see Diego Valeri rolling wide left on occasion.
If Darren does not start then I’d look for Dairon Asprilla as the fourth weapon for Portland.
If Columbus trot out in a 3-4-2-1 then it’s likely the two “wingers” have the key role in offering crosses.
With Jukka Raitala on international duty I’m not sure who plays the left side; maybe Nicolai Naess?
Figure Harrison Afful and, regardless of formation, Finlay to add value on the Columbus right side. If they line up in a 4-2-3-1 add Justin Meram to that equation on the left side.
I see four key match-ups this game.
Marco Farfan (Zarek Valentin?) versus Finlay.
Sebastian Blanco/Alvas Powell versus (Nicolai Naess?) or whomever stands in for Jukka Raitala.
With David Guzman out, it’s likely Ben Zemanski gets the head nod. How well Ben Zemanski (with support from Diego Chara) bottles up Frederico Higuain is another.
Finally, Fanendo Adi. A true #9 – there’s not many in Major League Soccer. He might not be the target of crosses given Diego Valeri now has two this year – but rest assured – balls played into him are likely to help create space for the Timbers on the wings. The better he can play with his back to goal the more effective he’ll be in supporting the Timbers attack.
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