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.
Is this a likely pre-cursor to the MLS Championship Game?
I’m not sure, but given the wild west, and more predictable east, it isn’t beyond reason to think so. In preparing my information for your consideration here’s a link to my Total Soccer Index:
The Science (Attacking):
Toronto at home compared with Portland on the road.
The part of Possession with Purpose that stands out first is ‘penetration’.
- Out of an equal amount of possession and passing accuracy for both teams Toronto shows a greater (much greater) edge in penetration; the difference is striking; almost 20% more penetration per total possession than Portland.
- That considerable advantage in increased penetration leads to a 10% increase in the precision (putting shots on goal) followed by another 10% increase in finishing.
- Twenty six goals scored at home for Toronto vs seventeen goals scored on the road for Portland. Not only is Toronto’s quality better; their quantity is too…
It is likely Toronto will penetrate more often and offer up more shots than Portland – meaning a reasonable game plan for Portland will be to cede some space up top (maybe after the first 15 minutes) and then look to clog the middle and defensive third of the pitch.. relying solely on the counter-attack to get a goal, or two…
The Science (Defending):
Like the attacking side of the equation; the part of Possession with Purpose that stands out first on how opponents attack against these two teams is penetration.
- Out of equal amounts of possession and passing accuracy by opponents Portland shows opponents have greater amounts of penetration.
- Opponents of Portland see a 10% increase in precision (shots on goal) and a 20% increase in finishing (goals scored against) than Toronto opponents.
- All told opponents have scored 23 goals against Portland, versus just seven for Toronto.
- Portland opponents see an increase in quality as well as quantity; matching exactly the characteristics of how Toronto attacks at home!
It would appear penetration is the key for both teams… therefore, trying to regain possession of the ball in the attacking and middle third will be crucial in order to disable a quick counter-attack when the ball is lost.
As much as it pains me to offer this – Bradley is known for coughing up the ball in the middle third of the pitch – I’d expect both David Guzman or Diego Chara to pressure Bradley whenever he has the ball.
Bottom line: If Portland scores (at all) they will REALLY need to protect that lead and that includes protecting the wings from overload by Toronto.
Total Soccer Index: Final Thoughts
If you’re a betting person – it’s likely Toronto win by at least one goal – if not two… but as we’ve seen this year “parity” rules in this league.
And even though the eastern conference seems to show greater strength in possession with purpose competitive conditions of the wild west may better suit Portland in a game like this.
Questions: It’s the fantastic four of both teams that will make the difference in the run of play.
- How well will Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Victor Vazquez, and Michael Bradley work against a healthy Timbers defense?
- Can Toronto’s defense control the attacking nous of Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, and Sebastian Blanco along with the physically brutal aspect Fenando Adi brings as a true #9?
Set pieces win games…
The magic of one player, with one touch, that leads to one strike, and one brilliant goal awaits… as Diego Valeri, like set pieces, wins games too…
You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp
Re-tweets are not rude… 🙂
This time it’s about the weather; record temperatures in Portland this week are forcing the Timbers vs Galaxy match to kick-off at 11 AM ‘left coast of America time’ and it should be a doozy…
Here’s my take using my new publication format, for your consideration.
If you’re part of the Portland Timbers supporter-base or football organization this (should?) be a picture out your rearview mirror – not a vision on what’s ahead.
As noted by Porter in his latest post-game presser – there’s been some bullets flying… part of them their own making…
For me, even in defeat against Real Salt Lake, the most positive takeaway has been the open discussion about organizational failure – not individual player failure – when results didn’t go well. You win as a team – you lose as a team; professional or not…
Unlike some, I don’t think you ever forget that game against Real Salt Lake; you remember it, embrace it, and never-ever dismiss what it felt like to be so humiliated by that horrible team performance.
The next phase – let’s call it the “final attacking third” (math?) sees the Timbers with six games at home and six on the road. The most important game is the next game.
Houston: A team who’s been unbeaten at home this year.
As shown last weekend – when counted out – the Timbers aren’t out…
Any team, in any position in the league table, can beat any other team in this league… that may be disappointing to those who like to bet on a sure-thing but for those who thrive on second-chance football (another phrase for parity?) it’s great.
Porter has some guys returning – to include David Guzman, Alvas Powell, Darren Mattocks and Darlington Nagbe. As for Farfan, Vytas, and Ridgewell I don’t know…
I’d like to see Darlington Nagbe get a rest after the Gold Cup final but I’m not seeing that happen; I’d offer there’s too much at stake to see him begin the game on the bench.
So for the first time (in how long Mike Donovan?) we’re likely to see Adi, along with Blanco, Valeri, and Nagbe as the front four… or as I like to think of it the top half of a Christmas tree…
Adi up top with Valeri and Blanco roaming left, right, and center, while Nagbe provides the (holding) glue between and amongst them and whichever fullback or central midfielder decides to penetrate forward.
I’d expect Porter to be very excited to have these four starting in attack.
But we know there’s many views about football – here’s some thoughts provided by members of the Timbers Army Northern Alliance:
I’d love to see us make a formation shift to play Adi and Ebobisse up top. Ebobisse worked for every ball, fought hard and he showed the power and vision that a high draft pick like himself is expected to exhibit. His speed and vision with, Adi’s size and power, is a tough combo to handle. The work ethic he displays is also infectious.
I’ll need to see a couple more games with the effort we put out Sunday to believe we can make a run this season. Was good to see a makeshift lineup pull one out and play with some heart, which we’ve been missing. You want consistency but maybe shaking it up and letting some of the younger players get some minutes will light a fire under the veterans.
Haven’t looked sharp for a while and getting to that point where I was a couple seasons ago when I was just waiting for the season to play out so I could start fresh and be excited again for the next year. Funny thing happened though, went on a roll late and won the cup.
No matter what we do, our back line is going to be relatively weak. Embrace it and invest in extra attack. You can’t take advantage of our weak back line if you’re scrambling to stop our attack for 90 minutes.
I really hope Caleb makes the whole squad watch the Vancouver game film. We had nowhere near our First XI, but the guys who were there fought hard and made Vancouver earn everything.
It wasn’t the prettiest game we’ve played and the set piece marking was pretty bad, but I can definitely get behind a team that plays with that much passion and heart.
Many worthy thoughts…
I can see Ebobisse being a solid option in attack (off the bench), more-so than Darren Mattocks?
I also like the added grist we’ve seen from Dairon Asprilla; especially on the defending side of the wing.
Others (may?) disagree but it seems Ben Zemanski is more settled this year – I don’t see the uncontrolled wandering/tackling we’ve often seen in the past; his improved play is not misconstrued.
The bench doesn’t look so bad now.
And with Ridgewell, Vytas, and Farfan due to return soon places on the bench will be very hard to come by. I didn’t sense that earlier this season.
Bottom line at the bottom.
You can’t continue to expect to win if you cede goals; when Timbers have the lead, especially on the road, I’d offer more purposeful possession is needed.
You don’t need to penetrate, with the intent to score a goal, every single time you have the ball; sustaining possession, with patient and purposeful penetration, adds great value.
Especially since it means the opponent doesn’t have the ball – if they don’t have the ball they can’t score goals.
You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp
Retweets always welcomed…
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.
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
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’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?
Over the last three years there probably isn’t a team (and Head Coach) that’s been more focused on possession-based soccer than Columbus Crew.
When Columbus out-possesses their opponents they are about 75% more likely to earn points… usually three… when playing at home.
So in seeing early success for the Timbers, and a rematch (if you will) of the MLS Championship game in 2015, what might we expect to be some key points/areas of focus for this game?
Who’s in and who’s out may matter this weekend.
Even though both Head Coaches have a good cast of players to call on, to execute their respective playing styles, there is a drop-off with David Guzman and Darlington Nagbe being out for Portland and Jukka Raitala being out for Columbus.
Who slots in to replace these players isn’t clear, and with Gregg Berhalter finally working a different tactical scheme I’d offer there’s more than a few questions about how the teams line up.
Given that – what do we think we know about past practices and how they may come into play?
Clearances. Team clearances are critical for both sides. A key to either teams’ success has been the ability to clear corners and crosses when appropriate.
Columbus was wicked good at this in 2015 but lacked by a good margin in 2014 and 2016.
For Portland, the inability to clear the ball in 2016 played a huge role in points dropped on the road. In roughly 75% of road games played the lack of effective clearances led to dropped points.
Pretty much meaning defensive success, for both teams, relies heavily on their center-backs being able to clear crosses, while at the same time, seeing their fullbacks and midfield support doing well to shut down wing penetration.
All told, failure in defensive spacing and communication, from as many as two fullbacks, two center-backs, two central defending midfielders, and two wingers (for each team) is critical. Is this a team game of individuals or what?
But it’s not just about defense, as the Timbers have clearly shown with their three wins to begin the season – it’s also about attacking.
On the wings I’d submit there’s at least three players to watch for the Timbers.
These include (if healthy) Marco Farfan, Sebastian Blanco, and Alvas Powell.
As for the left midfield slot? Well… others may disagree, but I don’t sense Darren Mattocks is likely to offer many crosses – so if he starts – I see Diego Valeri rolling wide left on occasion.
If Darren does not start then I’d look for Dairon Asprilla as the fourth weapon for Portland.
If Columbus trot out in a 3-4-2-1 then it’s likely the two “wingers” have the key role in offering crosses.
With Jukka Raitala on international duty I’m not sure who plays the left side; maybe Nicolai Naess?
Figure Harrison Afful and, regardless of formation, Finlay to add value on the Columbus right side. If they line up in a 4-2-3-1 add Justin Meram to that equation on the left side.
I see four key match-ups this game.
Marco Farfan (Zarek Valentin?) versus Finlay.
Sebastian Blanco/Alvas Powell versus (Nicolai Naess?) or whomever stands in for Jukka Raitala.
With David Guzman out, it’s likely Ben Zemanski gets the head nod. How well Ben Zemanski (with support from Diego Chara) bottles up Frederico Higuain is another.
Finally, Fanendo Adi. A true #9 – there’s not many in Major League Soccer. He might not be the target of crosses given Diego Valeri now has two this year – but rest assured – balls played into him are likely to help create space for the Timbers on the wings. The better he can play with his back to goal the more effective he’ll be in supporting the Timbers attack.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’s striking partner is Fenando 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.
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.
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?
For those who like a bit of nostalgia – here’s what I offered to begin the 2016 season. Old Hat? New Tricks?
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