Gluck: Getting Hot in Portland?

Normally a headline like this could be attributed to the beginning of summer and the secret heat wave we experience in Portland, or… it could be attributed to Portland Timbers heating up for a mid-to-late season run like they did in 2015.

But no, today it’s about Caleb Porter and whether or not he’s in the hot seat.

Some might offer this isn’t a worthy discussion – I disagree.

Last year – a year where the Timbers gave away a record 53 goals against – is looking to be matched, if not eclipsed this year (28 goals against in 18 games).  

Previous articles showing trends of dysfunctional defending in 2016 and 2017

As such, I felt it worthy to poll supporters in one of the many Timbers Army Facebook sites.  I got a good variety of responses to this:

Reasonable question or not?  Is Caleb Porter on the hot seat?  What are your thoughts as I get ready to put pen to paper on this question.

Responses varied in scope to include:

  • I love Caleb Porter and have defended him through the years says Wesley Halverson, but I think his seat is warm (not hot).  I honestly think if we miss the playoffs he’s gone because that would be 2 playoff appearances in 5 years.  In a league where over half the teams make the playoffs, that’s not good enough.
  • Matt Devore added; I would agree it’s warm but getting warmer with each game. ….It’s a long season so there will be ups and downs but if you can’t be motivated at home against your biggest rival there are issues.
  • Shelli Whitmarsh added, I think, regardless of specifics with Porter, sometimes a team needs a new coach with a fresh set of eyes and a willingness to challenge the status quo & shake things up.
  • I’m generally loathe to start calling for a coaches job just because things aren’t going the greatest on the field says Steven Seibos.  To me, the question is “Has Porter lost the team?”
  • Hot seat, yes says Fernando Xavier, but why can’t our crack scouting team find valid CB’s in the off-season.  Our drafts are busts, T2 is a mess.  Is it CP or GW and MP micromanaging?

These only scratch the surface of discussion but I sense it’s of import to recognize there is no vitriol here; these are reasonable thoughts/questions from a well-educated fan-base.

My thoughts.

First and foremost I always like to see what the data offers (science) and then leverage it, where appropriate, as I blend in my own personal experiences (art).

The science: 

Below are four diagrams highlighting my Possession with Purpose analytical approach published last year in England.  A general summary is provided for each year.

Legend:

X Axis = Points Earned   ///    Y Axis = Games Played

Blue Dotted Line = Trend-line of Points/Game    ///    Red Dotted Line = Trend-line of PWP/Game

What’s this mean for 2017?

When you start out the season with three straight wins, and follow with a swoon of 2-6-3 in the last 11, you’re likely to see a drastic change in these curves.

What’s heartening (maybe) is an uptick in productivity starting after week 10 (dotted red line) when they lost 3-nil to San Jose.

Statistics, not provided, also show quality in attacking has helped keep Portland Timbers from free-falling this year.  Their pace looks to match goals scored totals of 61 in 2014 but…

They are also on pace to match their goals against of 53 in 2016.

In both years they failed to make the playoffs.

Correlation: (relationship of the data to the league table)

Strong:  Greater than .75 all four years.  As points earned move up or down so to does the PWP index.

In other words the index is a good indicator/predictor and could be used to forecast future point totals.

PWP as a Prediction Model in MLS and elsewhere: my most recent topic of discussion presented at the World Conference on Science & Soccer 2017

As noted many times after putting together my analysis – you need to be good on both sides of the pitch in order to have success in soccer.

Takeaway on the science – if things continue trends lead me to believe Portland Timbers will not make the playoffs in 2017.

The Art:

Extenuating circumstances?  

  • Portland lost proposed starting right center-back, Gbenga Arokoyo, before the season started.
  • Liam Ridgewell has been out for long stretches.
  • Center-back (type) players added (Roy Miller, Lawrence Olum, and Amobi Okugo); none of which I’d classify as a prototypical center-back have provided inconsistent (but) spirited support.
  • Larrys Mabiala, a true center-back, has arrived and is likely to see playing time mid-to-late July; too late?
  • Alvas Powell and Zarek Valentin have played musical chairs on the right; Powell far more inconsistent that Valentin; weighing the balance of ‘nous’ versus ‘speed’ is hard.
  • Jake Gleeson is a shot stopper and Jeff Attinella isn’t (for the most part).
    • Attinella is good in distribution and Gleeson isn’t.
    • Attinella is probably a better sweeper-keeper – like Adam Kwarasey.
    • Gleeson reminds me of Donovan Ricketts.
    • Portland Timbers won the league with a sweeper-keeper; not shot-stopper.
  • David Guzman has been added as a partner to Diego Chara; that partnership seems to show well.
    • Though I would offer with two destroyers on the pitch it now means opponents are twice as likely to earn a foul/free kick in the Timbers defending third than previous years.
  • Sebastian Blanco has replaced the Much Maligned Lucas Melano and Dairon Asprilla has returned.
    • Dairon adds value in attacking and some in defending.
    • Sebastian adds value in attacking and some in defending.
    • I’d offer both are the polar opposite of Rodney Wallace, who added value in defending and some in attacking.
    • Portland Timbers won the league with some added value in attack and added value in defending
  • Substitutions or lack thereof.
    • With injuries and suspensions some younger players have been on the bench this year.
    • None have been called on with any frequency and in the last three games when some young, fresh, and energetic players may have been warranted we’ve seen old faces offering nothing new.
    • Portland Timber supporters have grown (I think begrudgingly) to expect Ex-Akron Zips players getting substitution minutes over others.

Regardless of who plays where, and when, the Head Coach and supporting staff ARE responsible for results.

If players in the squad aren’t capable of executing the existing defensive scheme, on-pitch, then the coaching staff has failed to create the right platform to minimize risk given those same players technical skills.

A motto most successful leaders live by is ‘criticize in private – praise in public’.  I’d offer that’s a pretty good one to live by.

In my limited experience I see no value – absolutely no value – in criticizing player performance in public.  Suck it up during the press conference and work it out privately.

Defenders are doing a very good job of supporting the team in attack so at least half of their game is technically sound.

But I’d offer the reverse of that is NOT true.

Midfielders (especially on the wings) are not doing a very good job in supporting the defenders when without the ball.

This lapse in supporting the fullbacks, who are asked to participate in the attack, creates a knock-on effect.

As central midfielders get pulled wide to support the wings, the center, above the back-four is getting exposed.

If Portland Timbers, when attacking, expect that philosophy to gain time and space in the middle, it’s reasonable, if not down right rude, not to expect the opponent to do the same thing.

Conclusion:   Since lack of consistency in defending has been an issue since the start of 2016 I’d submit Caleb Porter is on the hot seat; others may think differently.

Closing thoughts:  

In business it’s rude to walk into your boss’s office and present them with a real or perceived problem without providing a proposed solution.

Proposed Solution:  The 4-2-3-1 isn’t working; convert to a more conservative 4-3-2-1 or a 3-5-2.

I’ll disregard the 3-5-2, for now, Portland Timbers don’t have much in the way of center-backs.

A basic description of the 4-3-2-1:

  • If your a team that cedes possession and strives to execute the counter-attack, with attacking fullbacks, this is a really good formation to use.  Key positions include:
    • Fullbacks who are asked/expected to participate in attack.
    • Holding Central Midfielder:  Ball winner who doesn’t foul often.  Offers great distribution and great ball control.  The fulcrum for ball movement.
    • Outside Central Midfielders:  Box-to-box players with great (strong) ball winning skills across the width of the pitch, good ball control and distribution skills.
    • Attacking Midfielders:   Goal scorers with sublime ball control and creativity across the width of the pitch; slightly less immediate defensive response needs but must be able to work back and support the wings if the opponent sustains possession.
    • Lone Striker:  Play with his back to goal, great striking instincts, and a hard worker in moving when without the ball.

Players who I think best fill those roles are:  Fullbacks = Zarek Valentin & Vytas; HCM = Darlington Nagbe; OCMs = Diego Chara and David Guzman, ACMs = Diego Valeir and Sebastian Blanco, Striker = Fenando Adi

Why Darlington Nagbe as the Holding Central Midfielder?

  1. He’s the best ball control player on the pitch – put him in the center where he’s likely to get the most touches.
  2. It saves his legs since he won’t be asked to play box-to-box anymore; that job will fall to Diego Chara and David Guzman, players who have the engines to do that.
  3. Prohibits him from disappearing during the game, and
  4. Since Darlington doesn’t (or won’t) “inflict” his will/personality on the pitch (in attack) and he doesn’t often take an ego-type penetrating run into the 18 yard box it leaves room for other players like Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri to do that more often.

Those are some of my reasons why I think Portland Timbers should change their formation in order to mitigate defending weaknesses across the pitch.

Oddly enough, this formation also supports mitigating Nagbe’s weaknesses while also maximizing his strengths.

I call that a win-win-win as this change should get Portland Timbers more wins.

What are your thoughts?

NOTE:  The latest breaking news indicates Diego Chara is out for 4 weeks, or so, with hamstring issues, Amobi Okugo out for 4 months, or so, with strained MCL, and Darlington Nagbe likely to miss at least one game with re-strained hamstring.

Two views:

  1. Not good as the injuries pile up as well as the goals against – teams in this league will have no pity for Portland Timbers.
  2. If ever a time is needed to circle the ’emotional wagon’ it’s now…  these injuries should actually force Caleb Porter to dig into his bench – the silver lining – as painful as it may be – could be these mid-season injuries see players who haven’t been called on, in the past, to get their chance to succeed.  Even if they don’t see immediate success those minutes will be valuable to them for the future.

Best, Chris

@Chrisgluckpwp

Possession with Purpose:  PWP is a composite Index of both teams possession percentages, passing accuracy, penetration percentages, shot creation percentages, accuracy of putting those shots on goal, and goals scored – a bell curve of major indicators in the game of soccer.

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3 thoughts on “Gluck: Getting Hot in Portland?

Add yours

  1. while i agree that this is a moment to give guys a chance ro prove themselves, giving less-experienced players playing time with the hope it pays off for us in the future only works if those same guys aren’t waived or traded…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great comment Larry, especially with the 91% failure rate of previous player acquisitions. We can only hope players brought up by Portland Timbers ‘want’ to stay with Portland Timbers 🙂

    Like

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