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?