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?
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The Seattle Sounders have one of the most advanced statistics programs in Major League Soccer.
And while I don’t have a specific gauge that tracks the effectiveness and efficiency of their statistical analysis it’s a good bet their approach has had some level of influence in how their organization performed this year.
NOTE: Given recent developments this article has been offered up on the SB Nation Blog, as a Fan Post, for the Seattle Sounders.
To read the article, in its entirety, click here.
As always feel free to offer comments here or on the Sounder at Heart SB Nation Fan Post site.
Pedigree and consistency of purpose are two words/phrases that come to mind when I consider these teams. Both are currently doing very well and in my Composite PWP Index, after 12 weeks, they sit in positions four and five.
In considering this early-to-mid-season marquee match-up I’ve put together a few diagrams that might help paint a picture on how effective these two teams are.
My approach will consider how well Real Salt Lake has performed on the road this year versus how well Seattle have performed at home this year; I hope you enjoy it.
But before starting the Capt. Obvious — both teams have some players missing. With this being Week 13 RSL have used 15 different field players this year while Seattle have used 18.
So although key-players are missing I don’t really think it matters that much – what matters for me, is the beginning words; pedigree and consistency of purpose through the course of this season so far.
And given RSL are unbeaten while Seattle have 26 points with 13 games played the ‘key-player-missing-theme’ just doesn’t work for me.
Given that here’s my latest Doughnut Diagrams for Real Salt Lake versus Seattle; first one up is showing the weighted averages on how each team has attacked their opponent this year (RSL in away games) and (SSFC in home games).
Not much separates the two teams when looking at what percentage each of the activities in PWP amounts to in relationship to each other – the only one showing any real difference is the amount of Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken for Real Salt Lake.
Given the same rough volume of Shots Taken per penetration (7%) for both teams, RSL are more effective in converting those Shots Taken to Shots on Goal.
In viewing the next percentage – converting those Shots on Goal to Goals Scored there is a slight edge to Seattle.
In total though, both teams are +5 in their Goal Differential (RSL on the road) and (SSFC at home).
Early indications are this should be a very tight game.
The next diagram offers up how each team performs in defense against their opponents attack:
While some may disagree with this view I would submit this diagram helps speak to how these two teams defend differently yet they end up with the same result.
Note that RSL opponents have yielded less volume in their opponent passing accuracy within and outside the final third but greater volume in penetrating and creating shots.
For me that indicates RSL have a tendency to apply pressure higher up the pitch.
On the other hand the Seattle opponent percentages seem to indicate to me that their defense tucks in a bit more in the final third with the intent of giving their opponent a wee bit more possession outside the final third.
However viewed both teams appear matched evenly when it comes to preventing Shots on Goal and Goals Scored.
An interesting thing to watch for in this game might be how high up the pitch Alonso ventures versus Grossman (the likely replacement for Beckerman).
I would offer the more Alonso commits himself outside the final third the more likely RSL are to score.
On to the standard team performance percentages from the six steps in Possession with Purpose:
Below is the diagram showing the percentages of RSL and how they defend on the road, versus SSFC and how they attack at home.
I’ve highlighted two areas; the Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken and the Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal; note that when Seattle attacks 40% of their Shots Taken end up on Goal with roughly 28% of those hitting the back of the net.
Conversely, when RSL defends on the road they are pretty stingy when it comes to yielding Shots on Goal; ~30%, but when the opponent does put that Shot on Goal about ~37% of those shots hit the back of the net.
All told the other indicators seem to support a high level of passing accuracy and possession; if the opponent (dark blue bar for SSFC is 46% then SSFC averages 54% at home in attack.
Next up the view on how RSL attacks on the road versus how SSFC defends at home.
Again the highlighted area for RSL is Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken – clearly (given the lower amount of Shots Taken per penetration) (light blue bar – ~18%) RSL takes its time in setting up shots that are more likely to be on target – and scoring is not a problem given their +5 goal differential on the road.
As for Seattle, they yield, on average, about the same amount of Shots Taken per penetration but the resultant indicates they are more successful in preventing that Shot Taken from becoming a Shot on Goal < ~30%.
Another indicator reinforcing that they appear to work towards closing down their opponents more tightly within their defending third.
I’m not sure we see a tight game here – it’s mid-season and both teams might want to test each others’ weaknesses at full speed.
If I had to take a choice on which defense is stronger I would go with Real – on the other side if I had to choose if momentum were going to influence this game I reckon the strong supporter base of Seattle will pull them through.
If individual players are going to impact this game for Real Salt Lake I’d like to think it would be Ned Grabavoy or Joao Plata.
On the other hand if individual players are going to provide a positive impact to Seattle I can see Cooper or Martins taking that leadership; both can be dangerous goal scorers in different ways.
If I were in Seattle I would go to this game… just to watch two strong teams go head-to-head!