Category: Portland Timbers

Gluck: Focus on the present – @Timbersfc v @FCDallas

Many times in a head coaching career you’re confronted with situations beyond your control – as in players will be injured or missing and those issues have nothing to do with you or your coaching staff.

As such, you make do with the best you have and hope that ‘consistency of previous purpose’ takes over.

I’m hopeful we see this as Portland hosts FC Dallas at Providence Park this weekend.

For me ‘previous purpose’ means:

  • Defense First – In the last three years FC Dallas have had the greatest efficiency in G/FTP (goals scored per final third pass offered); 1st in 2014, 2015, and 9th in 2016.
  • Bottom line up front:  It’s absolutely critical the Timbers midfield support the back four in preventing such an effective and efficient attacking team like Dallas.

If there’s a professional soccer team in MLS that matches the best style and tactics of the US Men’s National Team it’s FC Dallas.

When looking to replace Bruce Arena after World Cup 2018 look no further than Oscar Pareja.

This game is as much a match of players on the pitch as it is coaches on the sideline.

Caleb Porter needs to be at his best in game management.

Stray voltage:

Amobi Okugo or Lawrence Olum?  I’m not sure it matters – both have showed well in my view and both have showed well with their previous teams – I like both these players.

If the game opens up – which I hope it doesn’t – might this be an opportunity for Victor Arboleda or Jeremy Ebobisse?

Alvas Powell – healthy discussion on twitter this past week.  Many viewpoints – none ‘wrong’… what we do know is he doesn’t provide leadership.

If you’re a manager that usually means he’s not a good follower either.

  • That may be harsh – but in today’s environment 95% of the game is mental; being a good follower is critical to being a good leader and vice versa.
  • A loan spell with another team (like what the Timbers have done with Lucas Melano) may do him some good… .otherwise my sensing is his time as a starter has come and gone.

Liam Ridgewell – publicly criticizing his leadership was worthy.  Cynical play undermines leadership in so many ways.  Last week Ridgewell, by most accounts, pulled his socks up and led from the back.  He must repeat that effort every single game; there is no choice – he is the Captain.

Bottom line at the bottom:

The psychological ‘must win’ atmosphere is diminished (for now at least).

There are no excuses a team can’t win because players being absent.

It’s a squad – if you build a good squad absences only mean a slightly different tweak in tactics to maximize other players strengths not normally relied on.

For this weekend a great result is three points – a good result is one point.  The atmosphere of a ‘must win home game’ will rear its ugly head again if things go pear-shaped.

Defense first – worth repeating because a clean sheet is critical when two of your best midfielders are missing.

Portland Timbers take on FC Dallas:  Saturday, June 10th – Providence Park 7:30 PM

Broadcast KPTX

Best, Chris

@chrisgluckpwp

Gluck: Is it Too Early for a “Must Win”?

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.

You decide.

Set-up:

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.

Finishing touches:

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…

Best, Chris

Re-tweets are welcomed @chrisgluckpwp

Gluck: Delicate Decision in Defending

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…

Goals Against.

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%.

In closing.

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?

Best, Chris

@chrisgluckpwp

Re-tweet as appropriate.

 

 

 

Gluck: Forward into the Past: Dealing without Darlington

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?

No…

 

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?

Yes…

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.

Moving forward.

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?

Best, Chris

@chrisgluckpwp

Gluck: Mistake Free Football? Not Likely

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.

In closing.

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?

Best, Chris

@chrisgluckpwp

 

 

Caleb Porter vs Oscar Pareja

Portland Timbers visit FC Dallas

Perhaps the two most prolific head coaches in Major League Soccer Soccer meet again this weekend for what many are hoping will be a precursor to the Western Conference playoff finals this year.

Some will say the gloss and glamour of this match will be lost with Mauro Diaz and Diego Valeri, arguably the two most talented attacking midfielders in MLS, missing the game due to injury.

I disagree – if anything – with both maestro’s missing I think we’re in store for a great game.

Both head coaches need to adjust, or do they?

Pareja more likely has the advantage given Diaz has been out for some time and adjustments will be few, if any.

We already know his method of success is rock-solid – NO team in MLS has executed the counter-attack better.

And with (probably?) the strongest center-back pairing in the league it’s likely the space created atop the 18 yard box, or across the face of the 6 yard box, will be at a minimum.

But Porter has shown in the past he’s got a strong record for in-season adjustments.

The most blindingly obvious was a tactical shift two years ago when Porter finally bent to the will of a few local pundits, and in–house staff, when he shifted Darlington Nagbe inside left.

We saw, even last week, another shift, of sorts, by Porter.

This too, was influenced by player availability.

And while some may be thinking it was the addition of Darren Mattocks, and his game winning goal that led to the victory I’d offer it was a bit more than that…

Dairon Asprilla for one, Vytas for two, the return of the oft-cynical leader/captain Liam Ridgewell three, and the sleeper in all this (me thinks) is how well Jeff Attinella showed in replacing the injured Jake Gleeson.

So on to the kickoff…

Portland: i’d offer Dairon Asprilla starts on the left, with Seb Blanco right, Darlington Nagbe across the middle and Fanendo Adi up top… the back six should remain as last week…

FC Dallas: I’m figuring Urruti up top, with Lamah, Morales, and Akindele in support…  their back six should also remain as last week.

In essence both teams start in a 4-2-3-1 versus a 4-2-3-1… that sees them both convert to a 3-3-4 in attack and a 4-5-1 in defense…  the trick here is the depth of the back four for both teams.

Dallas, at home, will probably play higher up the pitch – with a high press across the midfield – I’d imagine Portland plays slightly deeper hoping to create additional midfield space for retaining possession.

Run of play…

While Porter will spread things wide, on occasion, my instincts are suggesting he’ll look to play down the middle as much as possible.

  • For one, the team has had success in attacking the FC Dallas middle,
  • And two – if Portland keeps possession in the middle of the pitch it means potential turnovers are central to the defending unit and not out wide – which could pull them apart and yield acres of space for Dallas.
  • This does not mean we won’t see crosses – but it might mean we see less advanced penetration by Powell and Vytas.
  • Bottom line here – Portland are the fourth most effective team in seeing successful crosses positively influence the outcome of a game.

With Pareja missing Diaz the central play-maker role falls to Morales, who’s talented – no doubt – but he doesn’t have the nous of Diaz or Valeri…

  • This likely means Dallas play it wide, keep it wide, and play through-balls/gap passes to a laterally running Urruti… or…yes – put in crosses.

  • Like Portland, Dallas have shown successful crosses will positively influence the outcome of a game… they are sixth best in that category this year for MLS.

In closing…

Two things:

  1. Word has it from an associate outside the Portland pundit arena that Sebastian Blanco isn’t quite showing the capacity and capability to play both ways…
    • I’m not sure I agree so my player to watch this week is Seb Blanco…
    • And with Dairon Asprilla, CLEARLY, continuing to show two-way grist, Blanco needs to show more as a DP…

2. It’s early days – I figure Portland comes in and plays to their strengths and challenges Dallas to stop them in as much as Dallas does the same…  regardless of the outcome in this one both teams will learn, adjust and look to their next match as the real chess game…

Best, Chris  @chrisgluckpwp

 

 

 

Gluck: Can @Timbersfc Triumvirate of Triumphs Continue?

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.

In closing:

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.

Best, Chris

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

New Hat? Old Tricks? Portland Timbers Preview 2017

Last years’ end state was horrible; the Portland Timbers, returning MLS Champions, missed the playoffs.  Not good; especially when 60% of  the teams in your Conference make the playoffs.

Liam Ridgewell

Clearly changes needed to be made.

Notable midfield additions include David Guzman, Sebastian Blanco, and the return of Dairon Asprilla.

On the defensive side, where the Timbers had their biggest weakness, new faces are more scarce.

Gbenga Arokoyo, who saw no appreciable time last year, was expected to start at right center-back.

Roy Miller and Lawrence Olum have also been signed.  Miller is not yet available while Olum appears to hold the center-back spot until Miller shows value or another new signing occurs.

It is rumored that Banana Yaya may be added soon – he’s a center-back (with two caps for Cameroon) who has played 69 games in the last two years for Plantanias (Greece); that volume of games played should indicate he’s a starter who’s offered consistency and quality.

So… changes have been made – but signing a player is just the first step…

READ HERE for a track record of previous Portland Timbers signings:  Making the Most of the Much Maligned Melano.

As follow up to the first step here’s my list of “next steps” (of equal importance) I sense/submit need to happen (on the pitch) to reduce goals against this year:

David Guzman needs to show better than Jack Jewsbury or Ben Zemanski – in pre-season – I would offer he has.  Some wonder if Ben Zemanski remains with the squad this year; I do too.

Liam Ridgewell needs to pull his socks up and LEAD by example.

The days of cynical fouls (anywhere) on the pitch must be stopped.  There are worthy fouls, like the one he had the other night to stop play while Fenando Adi was down on the pitch, and then there are just plain cynical, stupid fouls, that are more about ‘men behaving badly’ than anything else… more leadership and less ‘men behaving badly’…

Diego Chara needs to follow the leadership example expected of Liam Ridgewell; limit his misplaced, men behaving badly fouls, and show aggression where timely – not untimely.

Chara

Vytas needs to continue to show abilities in playing a shut-down fullback role so sorely missed with the departure of a (then) VERY under-rated Jorge Villafana.

Jorge Villafana

With another year under his belt Alvas Powell not only needs to continue offering grist and speed on the right (improve his outlook as a shutdown fullback) but he also needs to show better positional play and (wait for it) try to stay on his feet more.  The more sliding tackles you make the more often you’re out of position to begin with.  Fewer sliding tackles would be a great individual statistic to track for Alvas.

Alvas Powell in a night he'd rather forget

Caleb needs to show a bit more patience with the younger players and give them opportunities to fail.

It’s failure – and learning from failure – that makes players better.  If a player DOESN’T learn from failure, then move ’em… and make room for the next man up.

Here’s my list of younger players who should get more minutes…  with hindsight  being 20-20 I’m sure Caleb would have played more younger players last year if he’d known the Timbers were going to yield 53 goals against AND still have a reasonable shot at the playoffs…

  • Marco Farfan:  He’s shown a great first touch and considerable ability (at least in pre-season) in making space for himself and others.  I would offer he needs positional work playing against players (and passes) off his left shoulder; i.e. win more one-v-ones.  More meaningful minutes should add value there.
  • Victor Arboleda:  Like Marco Farfan, Victor has shown considerable grist and energy – albeit its young energy – but… he too has shown superb ability with his first touch as well as making space for himself and others…  never mind his flat-out speed.  I’d offer he’s shown more (to me) in the few games I’ve seen him play than Lucas Melano did for almost two years.
  • Rennico Clarke shows solid possession skills.  What lacks is playing the physical side of first team football.  With time, like Farfan and Arboleda he should improve.  And a 6’4″ frame isn’t shabby either.  I’d submit (if he’s patient, puts on some more upper body strength, and learns from his mistakes) he’ll offer great presence as a center-back…

In the interim (while Clarke grows and the Timbers perhaps sign Banana Yoyo – great name!) Lawrence Olum needs to offer better defensive play than Jermaine Taylor or Stephen Taylor… Is it cynical to offer that Olum already shows greater lateral speed than either one of those guys?

Part of better defending includes improved attacking. 

Jorge Villafana added great positional awareness and penetrating skills when in attack – Vytas and Alvas need to show the same grist in being able to play both sides of the ball – while thinking defense first.  That’s a hard order to follow – but if David Guzman adds value as a true #6 then those two SHOULD be able to push a tad bit higher up the pitch.

Is Sebastian Blanco the answer in lieu of the much maligned Melano?  I think so… Blanco has shown good possession skills, measured awareness and the ability to make space for himself and others WHILE also showing a great 1st touch…  a considerable improvement.

Darlington Nagbe needs to show his “inverted” attacking prowess improves productivity while also showing his improved abilities to play on both sides of the ball.  Caleb and I spoke about Darlington playing inverted over two years ago.  Caleb confirmed with me that both he and Gavin Wilkinson knew this was a productive area for Darlington… what got “in the way” was not having a worthy player to suit up on the right.  With Blanco in the fold that gap should be closed.

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

Diego Chara needs to push forward a bit more – we’ve seen his penetrating ability in the past, and his speed adds great value as a trailing midfielder.  But what adds more value is seeing Diego slightly higher up the pitch where he can press and use his ball-winning skills to manage the midfield better.  Quicker pressure can lead to turnovers, which can lead to quick counterattacks for the likes of Diego Valeri and Fenando Adi.

Speaking of which; the Maestro is simply one of the best players in MLS.

Most offer Diego Valeri is an attacking midfielder – I’m a bit old-fashioned – for me he’s earned the worthy title of Striker…

There are forwards, there are midfielders, and then there are strikers – Diego is a striker… Diego needs to continue to provide a great first touch, vision, penetrating passes, and striking ability; those four ingredients enhance Portland possession and keep the ball from the opponent.

Diego Valeri

Diego’s striking partner is Fenando Adi.

Fernando Adi

Fenando, a forward, is a true #9 striker… (perhaps?) the best in MLS.  Anytime he’s on the pitch this team has a chance, and with his size/strength he also adds great value in defending set-pieces…

If these things occur the Portland Timbers should be better in defending – and hopefully they’ll return to 2013 form where they yielded just 33 goals against…  the last time this team spent a good portion of the game in possession of the ball.

So how about the substitutes this year?  A key part to any team, and a weakness cited by Porter this off-season, are the next seven off the bench. 

In looking at the most recent pre-season game I think things are taking shape on Porter’s first in (if you will).

We saw Dairon Asprilla replace Sebastian Blanco (helping his missus move to Portland).   It’s great to see Dairon back with Portland.  He’s always added value playing both ways.  And his presence should only serve to keep Sebastian Blanco on his toes.  And with Darlington Nagbe finally getting the national team recognition he deserves it’s likely Dairon gets plenty of minutes this year.Asprilla

Next up we saw Darren Mattocks, Victor Arboleda, and Rennico Clarke, followed by Jack Barmby when Diego Valeri took a knock.

I saw value in all those players coming onto the pitch – yes Clarke got a bit cross-wise in defending atop the 18 yard box – but as Porter indicated after the game – he has confidence Rennico will learn from that.  And… the more opportunities he has to learn from failure (early on) the better prepared he’ll be for regular season – if needed.

Darren has been shifted up top – a good thing in my view.  He still can leverage his pace and high pressure abilities – but he won’t have to find himself losing energy in having to play both sides of the ball all game long.

In thinking about the placement of Jack Barmby.  In the few games I’ve seen Jack has taken up the central attacking midfielder position.  I like this – Barmby has shown good awareness, first touch and playing on both sides of the ball.

What sticks out to me the most, however, have been some of his unsuccessful (penetrating passes).  Those passes are the same types of passes we see with Diego Valeri – some don’t find a teammate (usually because the teammate isn’t thinking fast enough) but some do…

It’s those (unsuccessful penetrating) passes that remind me of Diego Valeri.  A good individual statistic this year for Jack Barmby – in showing growth – are the number of unsuccessful penetrating passes…  the more playing time he gets I’d offer, the fewer of those we see as his teammates will begin to expect the unexpected.

barmby-courtesy-of-oregon-live

Barmby – Courtesy of Oregon Live

I’d offer those are the first five players off the bench…  leaving Jeff Attinella (goal keeper) and one additional player.

My preferred choice is Marco Farfan.  I don’t watch training all that often and it’s hard to say whether or not Caleb would go with another central midfielder.  But… in the past Caleb has usually had a fullback on the bench.  I sense that slot is filled by Marco Farfan.

In all, I’d submit that’s a pretty strong first 18.

Who do you think makes the subs bench this year?

Best, Chris

For those who like a bit of nostalgia – here’s what I offered to begin the 2016 season.  Old Hat?  New Tricks?

@chrisgluckpwp

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Gluck – Making the Most of a Much Maligned Melano

For most, the hot topic/question for the Timbers is… What to do about Luca?  

For me, it’s certainly a short-term concern, but I’d submit there’s a longer term question that still needs to be answered that far outweighs what to do about Luca.

To explain, if you will.

The Timbers have seen the trees through the weeds and first asked themselves this offseason:  Was the poor performance – for the whole team – a cause or effect of something more pear-shaped?

  • To be sure we’ve seen a multitude of players come and go from the Timbers organization and only ten (I think) have shown themselves to provide consistency of purpose on the pitch; Jack Jewsbury, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Fenando Adi, Donovan Ricketts, Adam Kwarasey, Will Johnson, Nat Borchers, and Jorge Villafana.

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

  • Yes, that leaves out a few players many rate as high quality; Liam Ridgewell, Rodney Wallace, Jake Gleeson, and Alvas Powell most probably.

Whitecaps v Portland-5160

  • But it also leaves out Gbenga Arokoyo, Jack Barmby, Marco Farfan, Ben Zemanski, Darren Mattocks, Steve Zakuani, Michael Harrington, Steven Smith, Jermaine Taylor, Stephen Taylor, Steve Zakuani, Mike Fucito, Bright Dike, Jose Valencia, Kenny Cooper, Jorge Perlaza, Kris Boyd, Rauwshan McKenzie, Futty Danso, Eric Brunner, David Horst, Mikael Silverstre, Ryan Miller, Chris Klute, Zarek Valentin, Kalif Alhassan, Steven Evans, Bryan Gallego, Pah Madou Kah, Danny O’Rourke, Schillo Tshuma, Andy Thoma, Christian Volesky, Anthony Manning, Seth Casiple Nick Besler, George Fochive, Dairon Asprilla, Gaston Fernandez, Max Urruti, Norberto Paparatto, Sal Zizzo, Taylor Peay, Jack McInerney, Amobi Okugo, Michael Nanchoff,  Andrew Weber, Ishmael Yartey, Jeanderson,  Aaron Long, Frederic Piquionne, Brent Richards, Dylan Tucker-Gangnes, Andrew Jean-Baptsiste, Sebastian Rincon, Ryan Johnson, Milos Kosic, Nikita Kotlov, Victor Chavez, Freddie Braun, Charles Renken, Ian Hogg, Kosuke Kimura, Lovel Palmer, Steve Purdy, Joe Bendik, Eric Alexander, Franck Songo’o, Chris Taylor, Danny Mwanga, Hanyer Mosquera, Ryan Kawulok, Mobi Fehr,  Troy Perkins, Mike Chabala, Ryan Pore, Peter Lowry, Rodrigo Lopez, and Adin Brown.  Did I miss any?
  • All, at one time or another, were advocated, by the front office, as players who would help strengthen the Timbers organization.
  • So far this year the Timbers have added David Guzman, Jeff Attinella, and Roy Miller.

In summary, give or take, the Timbers have had roughly 90 player acquisitions with just ten showing great consistency of purpose and what I’d offer is a willingness to bleed Timber-Green.

Statistically speaking, that’s just over 10% success in previous player scouting and recruitment activities over the last four years.

Meaning, for me, the most pressing question is:  Have the Timbers made a good decision by hiring Ned Grabavoy as the Director of Scouting and Recruitment?

  • Ned has certainly made the most of his talents on the pitch, he’s not blessed with great speed but his on-pitch mentality, hard work, solid first touch, and his ‘give it all for the team’ saw him have a solid playing career.
  • But can his on-pitch playing skills and leadership translate to off-pitch management skills in the office?
  • Running a player scouting and recruitment effort isn’t about on-pitch mentality.
  • Myself, and others might suggest it’s about having organizational skills, leadership, (short and long term) tactical and strategic planning, gaining the trust of Merritt, Gavin, and Caleb, and an understanding of how on-pitch statistics, and mentality of players, are interpreted, to translate how well the target player may fit into the system and tactics Caleb Porter wants to employ.  By far not a money-ball type situation – more a blending of art and science than science alone.

That offered…  Back to square one:  Making the most of the much maligned Melano and looking to answer the question – should the Timbers retain the services of Lucas Melano?

Team results – the bottom line on how success or failure is measured:

  • Soccer is a multi-dimensional game and even with an increase in goal outputs of eight (2015 to 2016) the Timbers failed to make the playoffs.  Indeed, they gave up 53 goals this year, a record for the Timbers and  20 more goals allowed than their first season under Caleb Porter.
  • So while Lucas may have added value in helping the Timbers increase goal productivity he certainly had some role in seeing the Timbers yield 53 goals against.
  • Of course that burden doesn’t rest solely with Luca – nor does the increase in goals either – but the Timbers struggled in a huge way to replace Jorge Villafana and Rodney Wallace and Lucas was supposed to be an answer to Rodney…

Individual statistical assessment – a supporting tool, when weighted properly, in player scouting and recruitment:

  • Individual statistics have no surface value here (passing accuracy, shots taken, tackles, recoveries, etc…) other than providing a record of events.
  • What’s more critical is what didn’t happen versus what happened.
  • What didn’t happen is Lucas hasn’t scored as many goals as Kris Boyd, and while he’s had more assists, he’s also played with far superior talent (on the pitch) than Boyd.

Individual Observation – a critical assessment tool in player scouting and recruitment:

  • Luca hasn’t continuously shown great skill with his first touch and myself, as well as others seem to agree, he lacked the ability to create space for himself and others…
  • And without the ball he appeared disengaged – even more so when the ball was on the opposite side of the pitch.
  • The phrase ball-watcher comes to mind…
  • I’d offer more but I think it’s best offered from a Caleb Porter interview with FourFourTwo on Nov. 21.

Porter indicated the club is in the market for wingers that “help us execute our style of play. We want to press and if the wingers don’t press then it doesn’t work.” In the same interview with Paul Tenorio, Porter indicates the club is still evaluating whether F Lucas Melano is a long-term fit.

Caleb Porter

Hmmm…

So what’s the skinny on how Lucas Melano will “help us execute our style of play…”?

Lucas Melano needs to improve his first touch.  Porter likes to see his team move the ball quickly, especially during a counter-attack.  And if precision in ball movement is needed so to is a great first touch.  Until he improves his first touch I don’t see Melano helping his team execute Porter’s style of play.

Furthermore, Lucas needs to up his mentality on the pitch.  The idea that someone can be observed, and labeled, as a ball-watcher (who appears disengaged) usually means that player doesn’t have the right mentality to succeed.  When looking at that first list of players I offered earlier – all of them have a great mentality… in the words of a friend of mine – they look to bleed for the organization; Lucas doesn’t.

So what about a tactical shift to try and use Lucas a different way on the pitch?  Perhaps move him up above Diego Valeri – a false 10 if you will?

A shift in tactical team alignment might work but is the juice worth the squeeze?

Tactically the Timbers could shift and play a more narrow formation – say a Diamond 4-4-2.  They certainly have the players for a formation like that.  There’d be Adi up top – with Lucas playing off Adi.

At the head of the diamond you’d have Diego Valeri while David Guzman would play the base of the diamond.  To the left – playing narrow – would be Darlington Nagbe, and to the right, also playing narrow, would be Diego Chara.

With a formation like this your width comes from the fullbacks while Melano’s main tactics would include running lateral to the back-four, dropping deeper into the midfield as a connector, while purposefully trying to make and create space for himself and others across the width of the pitch.

The challenge here, however, remains the same.  To play a false 10 a player needs to have a great first touch – and – they also need to be 100% engaged (both on and off the ball) in order to maximize team opportunities.

If Lucas Melano isn’t in a position to improve his first touch, nor does he show a capacity for a stronger mentality on the pitch, then all Porter has done is shifted his problem from the wings to the middle.

Is the writing already on the wall?

In an article on Dec. 27, Goal.com’s Ives Galarcep reported that the Timbers are in the market for a Designated Player winger to replace Lucas Melano, who is drawing the interest of clubs in his native Argentina.

One source tells Goal USA that the Timbers are in the process of trying to sign a designated player to play as a wing midfielder, an addition that would help offset the expected departure of Argentine midfielder Lucas Melano, who the Timbers are preparing to unload after a disappointing two seasons in Portland. Multiple Argentinean clubs in the market for Melano’s services.

In that same article, news was offered that Rodney Wallace may be returning to the Timbers.  Here’s a direct quote on that topic as well:

Another player who could make his way to the Timbers is former longtime Portland midfielder Rodney Wallace. A key figure on the Timbers’ MLS Cup-winning team in 2015, Wallace is currently playing for Brazilian side Sport Club do Recife. The Costa Rican international told Goal USA last month that he would be open to a return to the Timbers, though he remains under contract in Brazil and would have to resolve that in order to pave the way for a return to the Timbers.

In conclusion:

The Portland Timbers need players and a system to compliment Diego Valeri, not Lucas Melano.

Diego Valeri

And while the speed Lucas offers, adds value, I’d submit there’s too many to-do’s for Lucas to continue playing in Portland.  The bigger question, however, still remains.  Can the Portland Timbers improve their overall player scouting and recruitment enough to where they don’t find themselves in a position like this next year?

What are your thoughts?

Best, Chris

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Defense First? Timbers to Ride the Rapids?

Portland Timbers travel to Colorado for the first time this year and the challenge for both teams is finding the right balance between attacking and defending.

In their last league home game the Timbers struggled in the first half – not unlike their US Open Cup match as well.

If not for an untimely hand-ball by David Horst and a really terrible PK call against the Dynamo goal keeper it’s likely the Timbers come away with a single point… to be sure they were fortunate as the two goals against in the first half were pretty much to standard given their entire defensive unit this year.

So when getting ready for Colorado it’s quite hard to figure who starts and who doesn’t.  

Does Taylor Peay start at right back?

He probably should given his higher passing accuracy and what appears to be better, heads-up, defensive positioning but in all likelihood Caleb Porter goes with Alvis Powell.

If you’re a Rapids supporter that’s probably a good thing – nearly 60% of all Dynamo attacking pressure came down Powell’s wing.  And when looking at this diagram below we see Colorado is balanced in penetration (touches) but weighs more towards the left side when taking (shots).

CRFC Team Stats

In my pre-match scouting report on Houston they weren’t balanced in penetration – nearly 40% of their penetration was down the right side – yet against Portland – Wade Barrett had his team push left… big time!  It’s likely Colorado will do the same.  MLS teams are pretty good at pressing the weak points an opponent has in defending as those players are more likely to make mistakes.

So if you’re a Timbers supporter hopefully the midfielders will add support for Powell.  I figure Diego Chara and Ben Zemanski in a double pivot as the first recourse should be for Portland to get at least one point.

In thinking about the left fullback.

I’m hopeful Zarek Valentin gets the call but Porter has gone with Jermaine Taylor before.  It was Taylor and Powell who paired up during that two-goal outburst by Houston last weekend…  And given the stingy defense of Colorado it’d be a nightmare for Portland to go a goal down in the first ten minutes.

However viewed the fullbacks do not man the wings alone – it’s likely both Chara and Zemanski start in a double pivot as Porter is going to want to give his team a chance to get at least one point.

And with the double pivot that doesn’t mean Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, and Lucas Melano won’t have defensive responsibilities – they will and Melano cannot afford to ball-watch this game.

Here’s the same diagram offering up information on the Timbers attack:

PTFC Team Stats

Probably a tad more balanced in attacking touches than Colorado – but the same lean towards taking shots from the left sides appears for Portland as well.

Of note – while Portland has played somewhat more direct this year there average number of long passes (per game) is about 10-15 fewer than Colorado – from a tactical viewpoint that probably translates to slightly more MF play between Valeri, Nagbe, (Chara and Zemanski).

It doesn’t mean both teams won’t try to stretch the defensive back-four with long balls – but given Powell’s tendency to push higher up the pitch Nat Borchers might be really busy this game.

A key indicator on the attacking scheme will be to watch how deep and how quickly the fullbacks for Portland push forward – the less tendency to push forward the more likely Porter is thinking defense first.

So how do the fullbacks work in Colorado?  I asked Chris Brown, to share his thoughts with me on Friday:

Colorado’s fullbacks have been key in shutting down attacking threats, getting narrow when they need to crowd the box but also making smart decisions to step out when they have adequate cover from midfielders Michael Azira and Sam Cronin.

Marc Burch is the first choice left back for the Rapids and Mekeil Williams usually plays at right back. When the cover is there they step out and close down attackers, preventing crosses from coming into the box but also positioning themselves to try and limit the danger from the other teams fullbacks overlapping.

Colorado plays defense first, so the midfield is always there in support, clogging channels and disrupting the attack.

Time and time again Colorado’s opponents have been able to get to the top of the 18 yard box but met with Cronin and Azira, ahead of a narrow back four, have to slow down their attack and pass sideways. If given time to set the defense up in its proper shape, Colorado extremely difficult to break down.

In closing:
Colorado team defensive performance this year as been first class – they are second best across MLS in limiting quality attacking by their opponent.  On the other hand – Portland is the highest quality attacking team in MLS this year.  Below is a diagram intended to show three things:
  1. Dark red bar – Colorado opponent’s average percentages in six categories,
  2. Dark green bar – Portland’s average percentages in six categories, and
  3. What gaps exist between each of those six categories.

CRFC DPWP vs PTFC APWP

In other words:

CRFC opponents average possession percentage is 51% while PTFC, in attack, averages 49% possession.

  • Likely meaning Portland and Colorado will be pretty near even when it comes to possession – the major ‘tell’ on that will be a couple of early goals for one team – most likely driving their possession numbers down as a wayh to protect their lead.

CRFC opponents average 75% passing accuracy while PTFC average 78% passing accuracy.

  • For me this means the best (normal starting) passers on Portland {Nagbe, Zemanski, and Borchers} need to be tuned in and see lots of touches… or the Rapids are paying so much attention to Nagbe that his gravitational pull is making space that others ‘are’ using.

CRFC opponents and PTFC penetration averages are the same.

  • In other words, I wouldn’t expect the defensive tactics for Colorado to be any different this game then any other game this year…

CRFC opponents and PTFC shots taken per completed penetrating pass averages are near the same.

  • As in the previous one – this is likely to mean the percentage of activity offered by Portland, in attack, really isn’t that much different compared to other Rapids opponents…  Meaning – if the Timbers fail to create space atop the 18 yard box it’s likely it’ll be a long day.

CRFC opponents are far less successful in converting shots taken to shots on goal – and shots on goal to goals scored.

  • For me this represents a major concern for Colorado – the quality of finishing (who’da thought that’d be said about Portland this year) by the Timbers is superb – so even if Colorado stays pretty tight at the back – that ‘pretty tight’ might not be tight enough!

It should be a classic battle of a potent attacking team against a potent defending team.

Best, Chris

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