My thanks to everyone who has supported my web site the last four years!
It’s been a learning experience for me and, I hope, for you too.
As the new year starts I’ve got at least five new articles planned; here’s a quick synopsis on what to expect:
- Following up on Coaching Youth Soccer Part I and Coaching Youth Soccer Part II, I’ll be offering Coaching Youth Soccer Part III – digging into which team statistics to use, why, when, and how to use them. For those who don’t know me these three articles highlight my coaching philosophy into one three word catchphrase “muscle memory mentality“.
- Two new individual soccer statistics: This (may?) be controversial – My intent is to submit two new, professional level, individual, soccer statistics that could transform the player market value system.
Said differently; are private statistics companies, like Prozone Sports, OPTA, and InStat (along with player agents) manipulating the player market value system by ignoring what might be the most logical, intuitive, individual soccer statistics ever?
- Expected Points – An updated version of my previously created Expected Wins series of articles. A follow on to what was offered at the World Conference on Science & Soccer 2017, Rennes, France.
- Expected Goals – A new way to calculate this over-hyped soccer statistic that brings it a bit closer to reality.
- World Cup 2018 Total Soccer Index; to include predicting the winners after round one is complete.
For now, in case you missed one or two, here’s my rundown on the top five articles in each of the last four years.
- World Conference on Science & Soccer 2014 – a power point presentation of what I offered as a guest speaker at this prestigious event. #2 All Time.
- Is European Football Really Higher Quality than Major League Soccer – a look at possession with purpose across Europe as compared to MLS. #5 All Time.
- On Fire – or Can’t Hold a Candle – Are Chicago Fire Burning at Both Ends – a look at Chicago Fire in 2014 and their woes in not winning.
- Possession with Purpose Revised Introduction – my second update to PWP; the most accurate, publicly generated soccer index. #1 All Time.
- Major League Soccer – Week 25 – Portland Finally Show Up
- Possession with Purpose Revised Introduction – two years running in the top five.
- Busting the Myth of Moneyball in Soccer Statistics – my take on the flawed reasoning that individual statistics actually add great value in evaluating player effectiveness. #6 All Time.
- Redefining and Modernizing total Shots Ratio – Debunking TSR – note this statistic has now been shoved to the side. #8 All Time.
- World Conference on Science & Soccer 2014 – two years running in the top five.
- Is European Football Really Higher Quality than Major League Soccer – two years running in the top five.
- US Soccer – Improving College Soccer in the United States – peeling back issues with College Soccer – a topic with a very high visibility rate now. #4 All Time.
- Moneyball 2 – Soccer Statistics Taking it to the Next Level – thoughts and ideas about the next iteration of individual soccer statistics. #7 All Time.
- Training Soccer in America – God Smackingly Obvious Or is It – my first article highlighting my frustrations with US Soccer Youth Development – a topic with a very high visibility rate now.
- Busting the Myth of Moneyball in Soccer Statistics – two years running in the top five.
- Possession with Purpose Revised Introduction – three years running in the top five.
- Porter Pulls out of Portland – Caleb Porter resigns. #3 All Time.
- Updated Possession with Purpose – four years running. Update includes a revision to my Total Soccer Index. Two new algorithmic revisions have the correlation (r) to points earned in the league table exceeding ‘goal differential’; the benchmark statistic of modern day soccer.
- Getting Hot in Portland – On a poor run, Portland Timbers head coach, Caleb Porter publicly humiliates some of his players during post game press conferences – the first article in America projecting he may be out by the end of the season.
- Portland Timbers hire Gio Savarese – Caleb Porter’s replacement; no frills from an MLS shill here – let’s wait till the end of year 1 before drawing any conclusions or over-hyping what he offers.
- It’s not just US Soccer that Needs to Wipe the Slate Clean – The first article offered in the US Soccer media environment that publicly slams mainstream soccer media for inadequate journalism – a topic with a very high visibility rate now.
- I called for Jurgen Klinsmann to be sacked after WC 2014 because his tactics and in-game adjustments weren’t up to snuff. Three years later the rest of the american mainstream soccer media world agreed and Klinsmann was sacked.
- I called for Sunil Gulati to be ‘ousted’ after WC 2014 because his leadership in helping youth development and head coach selection weren’t up to snuff. Three years later the rest of the american mainstream soccer media world agreed and Gulati is out.
- In hindsight – I wonder where we’d be in youth soccer development if we’d have made those decisions three years ago?
- No, I do not favor Caleb Porter as the next US Men’s National Team head coach. I like Caleb, he’s a stand-up guy and always took time to share and listen. That said, in my opinion, he’s not (consistently) good enough at reading in game situations and making tactical adjustments that lead to better performances; the exact same issue I had with Jurgen Klinsmann. .
- I’m hopeful either Eric Wynalda or Steve Gans are elected as the next United States Soccer Federation President; electing Kathy Carter is a NO-GO in my view as there’s perceived ‘collusion’ between MLS and SUM. As a retired Air-Force veteran perception is reality until proven otherwise – some may disagree?
I wish you all the best for the new year.
Caleb Porter left Portland Timbers at the end of 2017. There were many rumors as to why that happened; I put (some) of my thoughts in writing here: Porter Pulls out of Portland
I didn’t include everything and still won’t; what happens behind closed-doors should stay behind closed doors.
But here’s what I offered almost half-way through the season (last year) that led me to believe his departure would happen soon: Getting Hot in Portland
During the off-season Merritt Paulson and Gavin Wilkinson interviewed some folks and selected Giovanni Savarese.
Many good articles and discussion sharing positive thoughts about Giovanni Savarese – none have been inaccurate so far and some, in my opinion, don’t go far enough in singing his praises.
In my five years of following/researching Portland Timbers soccer no head coach has shown a greater positive (team building) environment as well as a greater understanding of the tactical nous needed to earn points, consistently, in this league.
I would go so far as to say he’d be my first (domestic) choice to head coach the United States Men’s National Team now that Jesse Marsch has departed for Europe.
This is simply my way of offering up how good of a coach I think Giovanni Savarese is; others may disagree for one reason or another.
Anyhow, we’ve seen how the Timbers perform this year – most would categorize the Timbers as a top counter-attacking team and I’d agree.
What makes this team so special in counter-attacking is how well they ‘pack’ their defending final third while also having attackers with a great first touch.
Here’s some team performance statistics that may help tell this story a bit better. The Timbers have:
- Averaged less possession this year than in any other year from 2014.
- Averaged the 2nd highest percentage of passing accuracy this year since 2014.
- Averaged the 2nd highest percentage of penetration this year since 2014.
In other words they have less of the ball – but when they have less they do more with it.
Opponents have had:
- Greater possession this year than in the past.
- Greater passing accuracy this year than in the past.
- Worse penetration this year than three of the last four years.
- Worse creativity this year than in the past.
- Worse precision this year than in the past.
- Worse finishing this year than in the past.
So while the opponents have had more of the ball outside the attacking final third they’ve been less efficient with it.
Tactically the Timbers have offered:
- Fewer crosses per game this year than in the past.
- More shots taken than in three of the last four years.
- More shots on goal than in three of the last four years.
From an attacking standpoint the Timbers aren’t quite as predictable in their approaches to penetrating this year than in the past.
In other words less predictability in how the team penetrates the 18 yard box has resulted in more shots taken and nearly more shots on goal than in any previous year.
Tactically the Timbers have:
- Averaged fewer fouls per game than in the past.
- Averaged fewer tackles per game than in the past.
- Ceded more opponent passes within their defending final third than in the past.
- Blocked more opponent shots this year than in the past.
- Had fewer goals scored against them than in three of the last four years – only 2015 was lower.
It’s interesting to me the Timbers have had fewer tackles and fewer fouls while ceding more passes to the opponent.
One of my pet peeves is statisticians who offer that a high volume of tackles means a player is a great defender – I could easily argue the opposite – the fewer tackles a player has the more likely that player has not been caught out of position.
Tell the folks who created the Audi Player Index that. 😉
There is a tactical approach known as “packing and IMPECT” – an approach developed after analysis of team performance soccer statistics in Europe.
- It was this approach that France used to great effect when winning the World Cup.
- It should be noted France didn’t win the World Cup strictly through counterattacking – they also won three games by dominating possession too.
- In a recent home game we saw Savarese switch to a more attacking style when playing San Jose.
- The Timbers had 59% of the possession and earned three points.
- This is the first time the Timbers earned three points at home while also exceeding 55% possession this year.
While Giovanni Savarese is at the tip of the spear it’s worthy to say both Paulson and Wilkinson have done a great job in selecting him.
You only need to look at Colorado and San Jose to know hiring a new head coach can go horribly wrong.
Here’s a look where the Timbers ranked in the Total Soccer Index after Week 5:
Now. after Week 22:
I’m not joking when offering credit to Paulson and Wilkinson – you only need to pick out Colorado Rapids (CRFC) in these same two diagrams.
In Week 5 CRFC were 6th best, at Week 22, they are now 2nd worst. The team with the other new head coach to start the season, San Jose, is 3rd worst in MLS.
I think bringing Gio Savarese in was a great move.
Ironic? An epithet created by the Timbers Army, which had sincere meaning in the playoffs last year, might have even more meaning this year.
The Path Long, The Way Unknown, You are the mapmakers.
Caleb Porter is out and Gio Savarese is in.
In case you missed it – my thoughts on why Caleb left Porter Pulls out of Portland.
Last week I mentioned I’d give Gio Savarese a year before offering thoughts – for me it’s worthy to give him a chance to settle in before setting expectations.
But alas, my good friend Steven Lenhart (Nevets) called me ‘an old man sitting at the end of the bar’ because I wouldn’t offer an opinion.
Here’s what I’ve heard so far; Gio Savarese:
- creates a great locker room environment,
- has an understanding of tactics and setting his teams up to play different formations based upon his player’s availability or the opponent’s style of play,
- has an understanding in the value of controlled possession-based soccer,
- has an ability to read the game, as it’s being played, making tactical adjustments and/or substitutions that maximize the opportunity to earn points.
That’s a lot of strengths, perhaps in some areas where there may have been weaknesses under the leadership of Porter?
So far I’ve heard nothing negative, maybe that’s a good thing?
If you want a strong dose of positive hyperbole take some time to read this from Dave Martinez as a contributor to MLS.
Personally I wouldn’t call coaching in MLS as being at the top of the soccer pyramid but that’s just me.
Anyhow, stepping off my soap box – for me I’m not going to offer anything negative or positive about Gio Savarese, I can’t.
I’ve never watched a game he’s managed and I’ve never spoken with him… so the pat answer, based on how I’ve been raised, is “let’s wait and see”.
But to scratch Nevet’s itch, I’ll offer these thoughts that (may?) balance expectations a bit more.
- Major League Soccer is not the North American Soccer League; it’s a fully functioning league that has a strong foothold across the country.
- Across the pitch the level of technical skills and mentality of players is higher in MLS; said differently, the amount of mistakes (both technical and mental) are fewer in MLS than NASL.
- The length of the season is longer in MLS and there’s no mid-season break to reassess.
- The schedule is un-balanced in MLS.
- Good or bad, Portland plays Vancouver and Seattle three times a year – no other derby in MLS has three stronger teams playing against each other three times.
- With the departure of Chivas USA there are no ‘soccer mules’ in MLS – yes there are some weaker teams but those weaknesses don’t really become apparent until a third of the season is completed.
- Controlled possession based soccer is not a popular style for most teams in MLS; for the most part teams can’t afford to have those higher skilled players on the pitch.
- MLS screams of parity, NASL doesn’t.
- The home team, in the last four years, wins about 66% of the time.
- We don’t know who Gio’s assistant coaches will be.
- When you’re a head coach having assistants who speak your thoughts (maybe with different words) is critical to your success – especially when working muscle memory mentality.
- Also critical to coaching success is having at least one assistant who thinks differently than you, as the head coach. Surrounding yourself with people who think like you is folly – a balance in leadership is just as critical as a balance in style of play.
Those thoughts (may?) not scratch the itch but maybe my first point of evaluation on Gio will.
If the loan agreement of Lucas Melano allows it, I’d expect Lucas Melano to be at spring training this coming year.
Caleb failed to get the best out of Lucas for one reason or another and the Timbers look to have wasted a considerable sum of money on him.
Here’s what I offered about Lucas Melano some time ago.
If Gio can reverse that, and get Lucas to add value, then it’s a success for Lucas, the team, the front office, and Gio. A win-win-win-win…. there is no downside.
If it doesn’t work you’re where you are today; a lesson learned on how not to scout and sign a player.
I know if I were in Gio Savarese’s shoes I’d certainly want to test my (and my teams’) mettle/ability to get the best out of Lucas; it’d be rude not to.
However viewed, when opening day comes we’ll see (and hear) the Timbers Army (and everyone else) give Gio Savarese a spine tingling roar of support.
Serving as a head coach in Major League Soccer is not easy – the rotating door of coaches leaving seems non-stop. So the departure of Caleb Porter doesn’t surprise me. I sense there may have been multiple reasons but I’ll set the stage for one – main reason – a reason you won’t see published by Major League Soccer nor the Portland Timbers.
To do that I sense it’s worthy to spend about four minutes and four seconds sharing some information on the topics below. Perhaps this approach will help others better understand why I believe what I believe?
- Our first encounter
- Our relationship over the last five years
- Major League Soccer and the Portland Timbers over the last five years
- The current state of soccer styles in Major League Soccer
- In closing – why I think Caleb Porter left Portland
Our first encounter:
I first met Caleb Porter at spring training, held in Arizona, February 2013.
- I was nervous (really nervous) – here’s me – someone who’s been out of coaching for over 10 years looking to have one of the top college coaches and newly crowned lead of Portland be my sounding board for a new analytical approach I was developing for soccer.
- I introduced myself and he gladly accepted the opportunity to chat – his first words to me, said with a smile, “you’re a soccer junky”…
- I said, (with a smile) well maybe, but I consider myself someone who’s passionate about the game and I want to help others better understand the nuance of soccer, the statistics, how they can be misinterpreted and what greater value there may be in evaluating ‘team’ performance not individual performance – he agreed and listened.
- At the end of our meeting, 40 minutes later, he wished me the best and said stay in touch I want to hear how things go.
My takeaway was – wow – great guy – he had chatted with me for quite some time, he was open, forthright, honest, and above all welcomed the opportunity to share what he’d experienced and how it helped him shape his style of play.
I did stay in touch; over the last five years:
- We regularly exchanged thoughts on my progress on “Possession with Purpose” (now published globally) with him even mentioning during one press conference after a previous game “that was pure possession with purpose – Gluck would be proud of that”.
- We met many times to share (unfiltered thoughts, documents, and video) on players, upcoming games, tactics, scouting reports, and the dynamics on style of play in Major League Soccer, sometimes we met for lunch at the Timbers training facility sometimes we just chatted after their training session.
- Most recently he agreed to be a reference for me on my coaching resume and gave me the go-ahead to share older video data with my high school team when teaching controlled possession-based soccer; my style of play too.
- At all times, inner discussions about the Timbers were confidential.
My observations about Major League Soccer and Portland Timbers over the last five years:
- Some outputs of soccer played in Major League Soccer are an aberration.
- No league, I’ve measured, in the top European countries, or at the World Cup level, sees lower levels of passing accuracy and possession rewarded with post season adulation – or entrance into a ‘champions league’ the next year.
- In Major League soccer mediocrity in the league table is rewarded.
- For me, it’s simply unacceptable that teams who FAIL to win more than 50% of their games are considered good; not even College Soccer does that!
- To hear others justify that it’s (okay) is offensive to me and …maybe to others?
- Each year Caleb Porter has had to adjust his style of coaching soccer given the construct of the league and the nature of the franchise where player acquisition is limited due to the salary cap or disturbed due to ‘expansion’.
- In the last five years over 91% of Portland Timber player acquisitions have failed – the most recent and obvious being the $5M drop on Lucas Melano – a player with no first touch what-so-ever.
- Yes… Portland won the MLS Trophy in 2015 – but they’ve played better soccer in years they didn’t even make the playoffs, if that makes sense???
The current state of soccer styles in Major League Soccer:
- Build from the back using a controlled possession-based system that sees controlled possession leading to controlled penetration, creation, and goals scored plus there are instances where the team possesses the ball simply with the intent to possess and prevent the opponent from possessing the ball. In other words a majority of the game is controlled by controlling the ball.
- Major League Soccer teams CANNOT and DO NOT effectively execute this style of play; okay – maybe one team – New York City FC.
- Play somewhat more direct with variations in your line of confrontation as well as your depth of defending, recognizing that controlled possession with the intent to possess is not a tactical option but direct attacking possession with the intent to penetrate is.
- Major League Soccer teams, show, on rare occasion (Toronto, New York, Columbus, Kansas City, and Portland) varying levels of ability in executing this style of play
- Cede possession with the intent to counter via direct attacking; pretty much throwing out the idea that controlled possession is needed at all. In short ‘controlled possession’ for these teams is a string of three, four, or five passes leading to a shot taken – with the initial pass originating from anywhere on the pitch.
- Major League Soccer teams almost always show tendencies in trying to execute ONLY this style of play.
It’s my firm belief that to be great at #3 you must first know, understand, and have the ability to execute #1 (first) and then #2 (second)…
In other words – knowing how to play soccer is knowing how to use /create time and space anywhere on the pitch.
If you only play styles #3 then #2 you only educate your players on using/creating time and space available given those short/mid-term scenarios.
Meaning you aren’t maximizing your teams’ (learning) ability to use/create ALL the potential time and space available anywhere on the pitch.
I hope that makes sense?
After taking into consideration my own personal knowledge of Caleb, our discussions, and current conditions on style of play in Major League Soccer I’d offer…
Caleb left because he was frustrated with the style of soccer he had to coach instead of the style of soccer he wanted to coach.
What tipped the scales this year might have been his approach to the front office saying I want to redo the entire team organizational structure to develop and acquire players who can play a more possession-based style of soccer and the front office said no…
Hence the “fundamental difference”.
I don’t sense Caleb Porter is ready to take on the United States Men’s National Team yet.
But IF HE DOES – I’ll bet he “drives” (with a passion unmatched) United States soccer towards being a controlled possession-based team – and that, in my view, is the ONLY way this country can challenge at the highest levels of international soccer.
FACT: The best national and domestic teams “regularly” play controlled possession-based soccer building from the back….
I wish Caleb Porter the very best as he carves out his future in coaching at the very highest levels of our profession.
I’m sure there’s many ways to determine what Head Coach might best lead the US Men’s National Team out of darkness…
I’ve narrowed my scope of who might fit best by limiting the selection pool to those who currently lead a team in Major League Soccer. This obviously includes a broad band of candidates – you need to start somewhere.
In today’s environment, world class national and domestic teams are great at “controlling the ball” AND/OR great at “controlling the opponent when they don’t have the ball”.
I’ve taken that statement and converted it into measuring four categories of possession:
- Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has equaled or exceeded 55% possession,
- Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has possession greater than or equal to 50% possession but less than 55% possession,
- Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has possession greater than or equal to 45% possession but less than 50% possession, and
- Points per game a Head Coach averages where their team has less than 45% possession.
My intent is to try and quantify/qualify three basic styles of play:
- Possession-based with controlled possession starting from the back,
- A mixture of controlled possession and controlled counter/direct -attacking, or
- A team relying solely on “controlling the opponent when they don’t have the ball” and offering counter/direct attacking as a method of penetration.
My relationships between the four measured categories of possession and three styles of play are:
- #1 with #1,
- #2 & #3 with #2, and
- # 4 with #3.
Its’ not perfect, but then again, soccer isn’t perfect either.
Note: Prozone has identified ~ 7 styles of play – I try to keep things simple.
I’ve made a list of five Head Coaches for consideration:
- Gregg Berhalter,
- Oscar Pareja,
- Caleb Porter,
- Peter Vermes, and
- Jesse Marsch
Why didn’t I include Jason Kreis?
He’s been relieved of coaching duties twice and failed to make the playoffs with Orlando City. Something, somewhere isn’t working… nothing personal.
Here’s their initial PPG by each category from 2014 to 2017 (excluding the final two games):
The cells highlighted in green show which Head Coach had the highest PPG (per year) in the four categories listed.
It’s pretty clear those five coaches having varying strengths in earning points relative to the four categories of possession.
Here’s their average PPG over the last three years in an attempt to quantify/qualify their “consistency of purpose” – a phrase usually associated with Dr. Deming:
So how do their teams perform against conference opponents?
An attempt to measure how well each coach’s team performs against a “known quantity”; similar to the US Men’s National team playing “known” CONCACAF opponents…
Note the 2017 data excludes the last two games of this season.
Jesse Marsch shows best (“consistency of purpose”) in:
- Earning points per game in three of four possession categories over the last three years,
- The Total Soccer Index versus “known” opponents over the last three years,
- Goal differential versus “known” opponents over the last three years,
- Earning points versus “known” opponents over the last three years.
Who’s your choice?
You can follow me on twitter @CoachChrisGluck
Mathematically, yes… psychologically… probably not.
The Portland Timbers have two wins, three draws, and five losses in their last ten games with a season goals against average of 1.66; that’s higher than last years’ record setting 1.55.
- Last year (after just four games) the Timbers showed some early season trends “Is it too Early to Worry?“ that are surfacing again this year.
- Last week “Delicate Decisions in Defending” I touched on the need for Caleb Porter to make some defensive changes.
- He did. Zarek Valentin ‘a more possession-based player’ was inserted into the lineup for Alvas Powell. In all, not a bad performance.
- The result, however, saw the Timbers lose and cede a set piece goal just four minutes into the game.
- Question – was that one defensive change enough before Larrys Mabiala, a center-back (signed from Kayserispor, Turkey) arrives?
I’m not sure.
Porter was accurate in offering the attack created chances and the run of play in defending, was solid.
But frustration can breed cynicism, and while I do believe the Timbers upped their game last weekend the cynic in me wonders if the close game was more a reflection of better defending or of an opponent who simply isn’t good at scoring goals?
Seattle average just 1.3 goals per game this year and have four multiple goal scoring games – none of them in their last five.
Coming into this game the Timbers will be without the services of Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman; here’s a link on how successful they were without Darlington earlier this season: “Dealing without Darlington“.
The two-wing attack didn’t work.
That said, a positive reminder on some successes from last year.
At no point, in 2016, did the Timbers ever lose, or even draw, at home, when ceding 55% possession (or greater) to the opponent.
(Six games played – Six games won /// 12 goals scored – three goals against)
Their opponent Friday night, San Jose; is a team who fell victim to that success twice last year.
That being said – there’s two teams who play, not one. And it’s likely Dom Kinnear, and his Earthquakes, have the same statistics and video to learn from as Portland.
In other words…
Motivation for San Jose, to fix what went pear-shaped last year, will be at its maximum.
The Timbers will most likely cede some possession – can’t be helped really with both Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman off the pitch.
- This statistic is subjective though.
- The Timbers track possession but more as a formality not as target that must be reached.
- If Jack Barmby starts, along Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, and Lawrence Olum it is likely some form of holding midfield possession will occur in the San Jose defending half.
- And the less time the Timbers keep possession of the ball in their defending half (if San Jose applies pressure in that area) the better.
- BREAKING NEWS – JACK BARMBY UNAVAILABLE
Wing play – leveraged in trying to set up success down the middle with both Adi and Valeri being the key players to strike and score.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zarek Valentin as the starting right full-back but Powell offers great speed and San Jose have some quick players. Whoever starts I’d venture they don’t extend themselves to far forward.
A passionate Diego Chara who’s slightly more controlled than previously.
A tight back four relying on support from the midfield; especially in closing down the wings as San Jose will look to cross the ball.
Supreme mental focus in defending without the ball; a draw this game will not bode well with many; especially a high scoring draw…
Re-tweets are welcomed @chrisgluckpwp
I’ve struggled with the title of this article as much as I’ve wrestled with the best approach on my topic for your consideration this week. In all my indecision, I keep coming back to the one team issue I’ve had since last year…
Last year the Timbers set a record – a horrible record – 53 goals against.
Since the return of Liam Ridgewell their reasonable 1.28 goals against has ballooned to 2.2 goals against with his presence on the pitch.
That inordinately large increase in goals against also came at a time when the two most explosive attacking players were injured or just returning from injury. Never a more important time for a solid, steadfast, defense, than when your two best attackers aren’t at peak performance!
A disturbing trend. If not corrected, it’s likely the Portland Timbers will miss the playoffs two straight years.
If your Caleb Porter is it too early to worry that if the defensive issue isn’t fixed might his job be on the line by the end of the season?
Is that alarmist – I don’t know.
It’s certainly a worthy question to ask since last year, even earlier than this, the same defensive weaknesses were noted in my article – Is it too early to worry? It’s scary to see how many of last years’ issues come up again this year!
If you’re not convinced there’s a defensive issue this year perhaps these quotes (from Caleb Porter) after the terrible performance in Montreal last weekend will convince you.
“I thought there were some very good performances on the day, but the PK and the red card changed the game. In saying that I do think we made some mistakes in our individual defending.”
“The negative for me was we made a couple of bad individual mistakes that didn’t allow us to get closer than the score lines obviously indicates. For me, individual defending on the flanks needed to be better.”
As a manager I ask myself – is that an “effect” of something? If yes, what?
As a military decision maker the first place I always look for a “cause” is leadership at the point of execution – on the pitch.
Since Liam Ridgewell is the center of the defense, as well as the Captain of the Portland Timbers, I submit it’s reasonable to look there; others may see that differently.
To help me stay detached I asked two people, who should be well-respected in the Rose City, what they felt or thought were reasonable expectations of a team Captain.
I would ask, as you read through what John Galas and Mick Hoban offer, you cast your mental vision of games, and thoughts, back over the last year or so and mentally tick off the boxes where you sense, feel, or think Liam Ridgewell exceeds, meets, or fails to meet these expectations.
John Galas: Sporting Director and Head Coach Lane United FC, and a former Assistant Coach of Portland Thorns as well as Performance Analyst for the Portland Timbers.
“Someone who not only leads by example both on and off the field, but also someone who has the ability to have real, honest conversations with teammates.”
“A team captain has to have the ability to be a coach on the field and make sure the message from the touch line is spread across the team, in essence a coach on the field”.
Mick Hoban (Portland Timbers Ring of Honor)
Respect (earned not given) – earned through consistent performances usually as good as any on the field or at the very least at the height of that player’s capacity in training and matches.
Trust – you need to trust what a Captain says and asks of his/her team.
Resiliency – leads from the front when the chips are down.
Demanding – asks for and gives no quarter and demands the same from every player.
Supportive – will go to the wall for his players in conversations with coach, manager,( front office) and media.
Composed – combative but ensures that his/her team harnesses their aggression.
Diplomatic – looking for each and every advantage to be gained from his/her team’s interface with officials.
Modest – let’s his/her play do the talking.
Loyal – plays for the crest on front of the jersey and not the name on the back.
Responsible – understands his responsibility as the captain of the team/club ad conducts him/herself accordingly.”
As I looked back over the last year or so I’d offer Liam has failed to meet or simply met 54% of the criteria; I don’t have enough information available to evaluate the other 46%.
I then re-read the criteria and answered exceeds for 54% of the criteria… and intuited this guy (Diego Valeri) exceeds or fully meets the other 46%.
There’s an old adage in the military on what do you do when you encounter a dead horse… Do you:
- Lower the standards so the dead horse can be included?
- Develop a training session to improve riding ability?
- Hire an outside consultant to advise on how to better ride the horse?
- Provide additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance?
- Ride the dead horse “outside the box”?
- Rewrite the expected performance requirement for all horses?
- Ride the dead horse “smarter not harder”?
- Change riders?
- Take a positive outlook, pronounce the dead horse doesn’t have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead, and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the organization’s budget than do some other horses?
- Remember all the good times you had while riding that horse?
- You dismount and find a new horse.
Tomorrow it’s Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers on national TV with FOX Sports kickoff at 11:30 PT.
There will be one change from the loss to Montreal (a replacement for the suspended Diego Chara) and maybe others.
Might we see a different fullback or perhaps the insertion of Jack Barmby on the wing? Caleb Porter did highlight the wings as being a defensive weakness last game.
Finally, is it reasonable to offer Liam Ridgewell’s future with this team rides on his game performance tomorrow?
What are your thoughts?
Re-tweet as appropriate.
I’m sure many feel the Timbers were unlucky this weekend – perhaps rightly so.
For now, at least, I’m not convinced.
In the post-game press conference Caleb Porter offered these thoughts about missing Darlington Nagbe; they struck a chord with me, perhaps they will with you too?
Porter: “And I think today missing Darlington you could see that we just aren’t quite as good in possession. Sometimes you don’t know his impact until he’s gone. It’s not always the goals, but his ability to float around and find pockets and help us keep the ball and get out of tight spaces. In the attack I think we’ve been missing a little bit of chemistry in there and it’s because we haven’t had the group together.”
Well… I would agree the general public might not know his impact but I’d offer most Timbers Army supporters do.
I’d also offer the entire coaching staff, front office, and physio folks know what Nagbe brings to the pitch.
So why the mystery on setting up the team for success without Nagbe?
I’m not sure, but to try and scratch the itch let’s review a team statistic the Timbers pay attention to (possession percentage) on a regular basis to see if that helps crack the nut.
In the two most recent games the Timbers had ~ 45% possession (at San Jose) and ~30% possession (at home to Atlanta). In those two games I’d submit it’s a reasonable conclusion there was intent to cede possession.
The starting lineups, in both games, included two wingers.
- Darren Mattocks and Dairon Asprilla against San Jose with Sebastian Blanco and Dairon Asprilla against Atlanta.
- Substitutions in San Jose included Jack Barmby (a connecting midfielder) and Victor Arboleda (a winger). In Atlanta the only substitution was Darren Mattocks (a winger) for Dairon Asprilla.
- In the post game press conference against San Jose Porter acknowledge the possession and connection between the midfield and defense as well as Adi was better after Barmby entered the game.
- In the Atlanta game Blanco did drift central, as did Asprilla. Asprilla had minimal success in penetrating the center and Blanco, while offering some good penetrating/attacking passes from the center didn’t provide connection nor drift into pockets of space to create space for others.
In other words, with the exception of adding Barmby the last 35 minutes against San Jose Porter didn’t have players, on the pitch, who could emulate (at any level) what Nagbe brings to the pitch.
Forward into the past:
When trying to figure what right looks like sometimes there’s value in looking at history.
2016 was not a successful year for the Portland Timbers, they failed to win on the road and they failed to make the playoffs; but… was the entire season a failure?
At no point, in 2016, did the Timbers ever lose, or even draw, at home, when ceding 55% possession (or greater) to the opponent.
(Six games played – Six games won /// 12 goals scored – three goals against)
To be glib that’s pretty successful.
Perhaps more appropriate is “stunningly successful”…
Of note, two of those home games were against San Jose… the others were against Columbus, Sporting KC, Toronto, and Real Salt Lake.
A blend of teams who play possession-based, direct, as well as counter-attacking – in other words a pretty good sample to draw on for comparison.
Was there any pattern of players selected that stands out as being different than the last two games the Timbers have played?
In everyone of those games, even in the game Nagbe didn’t start, the Timbers starting line-up consisted of two midfield connecting players, either Nagbe and Valeri or Grabavoy and Valeri.
Pretty much confirming the player selection against San Jose and Atlanta ignored the Timbers pattern of stunning perfection in 2016.
What’s disappointing from all this is the Timbers coaching staff (collectively) – quite possibly ignored their “chemistry” successes of 2016 and didn’t start two ‘connectors’ or at least have one of the wingers play deeper/more narrow.
Even more perplexing is the organizational mid-week decision to play the one player, who could add connecting capability, a full 90 minutes in a USL T2 game. Pretty much meaning the coaching staff had reached a conclusion that Barmby’s added value for the weekend was minimal.
I don’t see Jack Barmby in training, but I do see him play, on occasion, and he adds value as a connector – why he isn’t getting more meaningful minutes is a decision the coaching staff have made.
If he’s not worthy to slot in as a starter to connect with others in a team role then I’d expect the Timbers to be shopping for a midfielder who can… to date all we’ve heard about is the anticipated arrival of a new center-back.
Darlington Nagbe is expected to return to the starting lineup against Montreal this weekend. That’s probably a good thing.
It gives Caleb Porter and his entire staff more time to evaluate the historical, individual player and team performances, with and without Darlington Nagbe in order to better prepare for his absence again.
Finally, an observation for your consideration.
In the Timbers first seven games, without Liam Ridgewell on the pitch, the team gave up nine goals (1.28 goals against per game).
With Liam Ridgwell on the pitch, the last four games, the Timbers have given up seven goals (1.75 goals against per game).
Is it fair to say the Timbers have been less effective in defending with Ridgewell leading the defense?
With the Timbers shopping for a new center-back is it reasonable to consider that the player replaced is not Lawrence Olum or Roy Miller?
Over the course of a season, in Major League Soccer, it is likely every team will have players and head coaches/managers who make mistakes that cost a team three points or two points. In a league with a salary cap it’s almost expected.
The critical piece is not making the same mistake twice.
In the Portland Timbers last game against San Jose Earthquakes there were multiple mistakes – not only on the pitch but off the pitch.
To say the tenor of the game was etched in stone before kickoff isn’t fair as the game was yet to be played and the opportunity, for individual player excellence, was there.
But as shown in yielding two (soft) first half goals and an early second half goal, player excellence did not come to the fore… instead we saw disjointed passing and a defensive outcome similar to the days of Portland under the leadership of John Spencer.
What I’d offer, after witnessing that game, is Portland is NOT a two wing football club. Their survival, and great results, stem from a strong attacking center with support from the wings.
Perhaps put another way – there are issues with this football club when both Diego Valeri AND Darlington Nagbe are missing… And given Nagbe is likely to get more playing time with the US Men’s National Team this year and next – it’s likely to happen more often than supporters like.
So about the other night…
I’d offer both Dairon Asprilla AND Darren Mattocks shouldn’t start together on the wings; one needs to give way to a player who’s a connector.
And since Ned Grabavoy retired, the next player up is Jack Barmby; a left footed player who can drift inside – kinda similar to Darlington Nagbe but not as gifted in dribble penetration… yet?
Some may disagree, but myself and at least one other previous Timber player, with pedigree, believe he’s shown the grist, grit, and a willingness to take players on, while offering an ability to drift inside and show good positional play/awareness, along with vision, nous, and a great first touch.
If you recall when Barmby entered the game, followed up about 10 minutes later, by Arboleda, the complexion of the midfield changed… for the better. Even Porter, in his post game presser, acknowledged the substitutions made a positive difference in the game.
And while some may say Barmby forced the issue, on occasion, I’d submit he did that with the intent to force opponent mistakes in the Timbers attacking half, not due to slack play. It’s also worth mentioning in his 33 minutes of play he had just as many recoveries as Asprilla and Mattocks combined.
All told he offered risky play in attack – perhaps not ideal when it’s 1-1, but when down 3-nil it’s a worthy gamble; especially in the attacking half of the pitch.
From a tactical standpoint I’m not sure that clears the plate of mistakes.
I’m wondering about the rationale for removing Dairon Asprilla, first, over Darren Mattocks.
I felt, saw, and sensed Asprilla played better and even though statistics never tell the whole story they do tell a story.
- Previously (against FC Dallas) Mattocks, was a second choice starter behind Asprilla, yet in this game Mattocks saw three times more of the ball than Asprilla.
- Mattocks offered 21 passes with seven incomplete (four in the defending half) compared to just seven passes offered by Asprilla with one incomplete.
- In defending the wings, San Jose penetrated (roughly 66% of the time) down Mattocks side; a high percentage like that usually indicates the opponent sees that wing as the weaker of the two wings.
- That consistent wing penetration, down Mattocks side, led to 66% (six of their nine) of their key passes originating from that side.
So why was Dairon Asprilla pulled first?
Perhaps Asprilla was pulled first simply because Porter has greater confidence in Mattocks since Darren has history with him through Akron? It wouldn’t be the first time some have felt Porter shows preference to players he coached in Akron.
It’s not hard to forget Steve Zakuani or Ben Zemanski getting meaningful minutes when others may have warranted more play.
However viewed, Portland attempted to attack down a less productive wing and that volume of ball play, on the left, directly supported the attacking strategy of San Jose.
What’s a positive from this substitution?
When Porter made the decision to bring in Jack Barmby that signaled, to me, Porter recognized his two wing attack wasn’t working.
I’m not sure what the health status of Nagbe and Valeri will be this weekend against a very strong attacking side like Atlanta United.
I’d venture to offer the Timbers won’t show a two-wing attack and you can bet they’ll be thinking defense first.
If Nagbe and Valeri are both out perhaps we see Jack Barmby start? Or… perhaps we see Porter go with Amobi Okugo, Diego Chara, and David Guzman with a slightly more narrow midfield presence headed by Sebastian Blanco?