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?
While the result, and how that result was achieved, will certainly not be lost on the soccer world I do feel and think there is a cause for concern to consider as the Timbers prepare for Vancouver, and beyond, this Sunday.
The decision to replace Lucas Melano with George Fochive in the 85th minute.
As a caveat, this view is not intended to be a player-specific critic – but more about the general team performance (reaction) given the substitution, what might be drawn from it, and how the impact of that substitution might influence decisions made as the playoff run continues.
And no – no heat maps or passing charts – you need video analysis for this assessment.
In watching the overall tenor of the game (before and after the 85th minute) I’d say the ability of Sporting to possess and penetrate was better, not worse, after George Fochive came on.
And for most of us this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Throughout the course of this season the Timbers have played somewhat deeper (ceding possession) in working a double-pivot tactical strategy that plays more to counter-attacking than possession-based attacking.
This approach has been a two-edged sword; usually the opponent comes away without scoring a goal, but alas, so it also goes for the Timbers.
That said, unfortunately, we have seen some teams win – and win big – (Philadelphia, FC Dallas, and LA Galaxy come to mind).
So should we really be surprised that Sporting got the equalizer near stoppage time and a second goal in extra time?
I don’t think so, and that remains a cause of concern for me as the Timbers move forward against Vancouver, and beyond.
First off – I sense it is reasonable to expect that over the course of a season, when playing one basic tactical approach, players will develop patterns of behavior (on field habits) that they’ll play to, regardless of some finite, tactical adjustments made by the head coach during the game.
In addition, it’s my belief that the tactical move to replace Melano had a negative impact on Darlington Nagbe’s ability to influence the game – if the Timbers are working towards more attacking, and possession-based ball movement with five attackers, then it stands to reason they’ll be doing less of that with four attackers.
Meaning Sporting is going to have more of the ball.
So, when you’re up one goal with less than 15 minutes to go, at home, do you really want to set the conditions for the opponent to tactically, by default, and through general pattern of behaviour, have more of the ball? Not really…
In thinking about this game it brings to mind an example of what I mean.
Recall the devastating draw the US Men’s National Team had with Portugal in the 2014 World Cup.
Jurgen Klinsmann made (in my view) a decision that was also cause for concern, that many missed.
He pulled Graham Zusi and replaced him with Omar Gonzalez – in other words he pulled an attacking midfield player, on the left side, and replaced him with a central defender.
This decision meant (tactically) the US Men’s National Team had no-one occupying, and therefore defending, the same exact zone where Ronaldo delivered the cross that got Portugal the equalizer.
Almost the exact same thing happened last night…
Melano got pulled and replaced with Fochive.
In turn, after the initial corner ball was cleared (to the zone one might expect Melano to patrol after a defensive clearance) Zusi delivered an equalizing cross where he was under absolutely no pressure – he had clear time and space to deliver his cross just like Ronaldo had against the US Men’s National Team!
But the real issue here isn’t that specific example, it’s bigger than that and also cause for concern; especially if this (up one goal) scenario occurs again.
So while all the hoopla goes towards the stunning, and heart stopping result, of yesterday Caleb Porter has much to consider.
For me, I think it’s worthy that the Timbers will be conducting some in-depth video analysis to better understand (throughout the entire game) how the impact (and influence) that Melano had on the game compared and contrasted with the impact (and influence) Fochive had on the game.
And I don’t mean with respect to the individual player’s and their execution but with respect to the overall tenor of team performance, in attacking and defending, for both Portland and Kansas City.
Bottom line here:
The game had a great scoreline, with the players and tactics used up to the 85th minute. Did the change in tactics (with that player substitution) alter the construct of the game enough to create a condition where Sporting may have been more likely to score a goal?
I think it did but my view isn’t the one that matters. So as an analyst – I would submit that question needs to be asked – and I sense Caleb will do that.
Perhaps another, less talked about decision, was Caleb Porter’s decision to open in a single-pivot.
For me, that sets the stage on his intent to continue with that approach, as a first choice option; others may view that differently.
And while I think and feel that is a very reasonable path forward, in battling the teams who like to counter-attack, I also think it’s sets the stage for future player decisions.
By that I mean, if you run (by choice) a single-pivot, do you really need five central defending midfielders on your roster?
And can you sustain a reasonable attacking path forward with just two players (Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri) who can command the attacking responsibilities associated with that approach?
I’d say no…
So all the while the playoffs are happening there oughta be someone in the front office looking at attacking central midfielders to shore up what appears to be a very good tactical shift on the part of Caleb Porter.
The playoff races really begin at this stage of the year – it’s pucker time for most to even include those battling for the Wooden Spoon.
Here’s my lay down on who falls down or rises to the occasion.
Sporting KC versus Houston Dynamo – I’m not really sure anyone needs an education in team performance this year to figure out that a win here for Houston is highly unlikely. And with dropping three points to DC United last weekend Sporting are probably set to go full steam this game.
That, in and of itself, might be the exact thing Houston is hoping for. Dominic Kinnear is a crafty guy and he likes his team to have grit and play physical.
I don’t imagine there will be a lot of free and open space in this game – given that a set-piece goal could win it if the Houston back-four can cover the wings.
Sounds like a load of bollocks, I suppose, but there is no love loss between these two teams and, Houston, as silly as it sounds, still have a shot at the playoffs; especially considering that the Eastern Conference is such a mess.
I’m not sure why I like Houston in this game but I do… there…
Seattle versus Colorado – The Sounders should be riding a huge wave of positive emotion after that smashing victory against Portland last weekend – will there be an emotional let-down? Perhaps – but I think Seattle want to make the best of every remaining home game knowing that they still have two games to go against LA Galaxy…
A win here for Seattle means just as much as that win last weekend in Portland – I don’t look for them to take their foot of the pedal at all…
Besides, Colorado are not part of the Cascadia trio – and if Seattle is really going to want the chance to rub salt in the wounds of Vancouver or Portland – I’m sure they’d prefer to try and beat one of those two teams in a playoff match as opposed to boring old Colorado.
Not really a reasonable thought for a Head Coach to have – but perhaps it’s a reasonable, cynical, thought for an Emerald City Supporter to have? Others will know better than me about that.
Toronto versus New England – Another classic match-up on who possesses the ball more.
With both teams playing a somewhat counter-attacking style I suppose this game could end up being really boring unless one team gets an early goal and the other looks to press forward to draw even; making the counter-attacking approach even deadlier.
For now, with Defoe out injured, I can see New England winning; they don’t HAVE to win given how pear-shaped the Eastern Conference is but three points would do the Revolution well…
Montreal versus Columbus – One of the most boring games on the slate this weekend in the MLS – will Montreal have a larger home crowd than Chivas this weekend? Probably – but does that team deserve it? Probably not. If not for Chivas USA and the complete collapse of their ownership this year Montreal would be the out-right ‘organizational laughing-stock of this League…
If Columbus lose – wow! What a nightmare loss of three points that will be for Berhalter, Inc…
Chicago versus Dallas – An interesting match-up in betting who possesses the ball more. Neither team really likes to enjoy possession and I’d figure this game might resemble a ping-pong match more than anything.
The challenge, again, for Chicago, will be to shut down an opponent with a defensive set-up that simply isn’t that good.
Even worse for Chicago is the speed that Dallas will bring. As much as I’d like to believe Chicago will look to possess the ball this game it’s almost like they really can’t afford to do that given the strength of the Dallas counter-attack.
At the end of the day this game could be pretty boring – a long ball affair for Chicago looking to get second chance balls and an attempt by Dallas to possess with the slow intent to penetrate and score. All told I would offer Dallas wins this by virtue of having greater speed…
Vancouver and Portland – Both teams need three points and both teams have a long history of playing each other. The two things are mutually exclusive.
I look for Caleb to play a tighter game out of the back and no… I don’t honestly think he runs that tantalizing formation (never did) – it was more to prove a point that significant (player/performance) changes need to be made in the back-four to have this team compete at the highest level.
All said and done who wins this game probably comes down to who controls their emotion and discipline the best.
Who lacks it probably loses and who controls it probably wins. In that, if history has any bearing, it is likely Vancouver who wins.
San Jose versus Real Salt Lake – Here’s the game where San Jose really need to take stock and win. Their defense is pretty strong and if their attack can manage to put at least one past Nick Rimando then the Earthquakes could win…
DC United against New York Red Bulls – For me the biggest challenge here is how well the DC United defense can shut down a resurgent Bulls. Too much power in attack versus a cerebral United that plays smart and handled Sporting KC quite easily last week.
If this game was simply a match between Olsen and Petke it’s an easy pick, for me, with DC United.
But Thierry Henry is really – really good and New York does have a habit of making mincemeat pies against other Eastern Conference competition. All said and done my gut instinct screams New York but my heart hopes for DC United.
Chivas USA and LA Galaxy – Is a pre-game prediction really needed for this one? I’m sure Cabrera will do everything he can to prepare his team for the Galaxy – and these games have been known to be pretty tight at times.
All that said can Arena, Donovan, and the Galaxy really afford to throw away missing three points in this match-up? I don’t see it… Galaxy should win but I don’t see the Galaxy looking to run the score up.
All for now – looking forward to the Sporting kickoff here in an hour or so…
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Over a year has passed since my first broad strokes about Possession with Purpose were applied to Major League Soccer; since then we’ve had one full year to look at it and how things have played out.
So how do things stack up today versus Week 17 last year, and, is something going on with DC United (besides the new strikers) that is different this year?
To begin; here’s a look at the teams after 17 weeks in 2013:
The top five Western Conference teams were Portland, Real Salt Lake, LA Galaxy, Vancouver and Seattle; the only team not to make the Playoffs last year was Vancouver.
Upon reflection, it was their defense that let them down, and the most probable reason why Martin Rennie got sacked.
In looking at the top five Eastern Conference teams they were Sporting KC, New England, New York, Montreal, and Houston – the same top five teams that eventually made the Playoffs.
So how about this year?
In looking at the Eastern Conference teams, the top five are Sporting KC, Columbus Crew, DC United, New England and New York – the odd one out, at the moment, is Toronto vice Columbus.
It should be noted that Toronto also have at least two, and no less than four, games in hand – so it’s not exactly “apples to apples yet” but should be in about 3 weeks time. As for the Western Conference, the top five so far are LA Galaxy, Seattle, Colorado, Portland, and FC Dallas.
Again the games in hand vary somewhat.
The HUGE, if not inordinately large question here is… Can the Portland Timbers turn their defensive nightmare of a season around with a healthy Norberto Paparatto, Pa Madou Kah and newly signed Liam Ridgewell, for three solid center-backs? And, if so, does that fix the defensive issues?
Now an even tougher question…
Is the level of accuracy, last year, to be expected this year (nine for ten in teams last year making the Playoffs, based upon 17 games of data)?
I’m not so sure… And a good reason for that is the emerging clarity on how effective some teams have become (this year) in winning or drawing games with less possession…
In other words, playing to a counterattacking style, that sees some teams offering the opponent higher levels of possession, penetration, and shots taken.
So is there another way to try and answer the question about accuracy in the CPWP Index?
How about the CPWP Predictability Index – what does that offer after Week 17?
In looking at the CPWP PI, the numbers seem to indicate that Sporting KC, Columbus, New England, New York and Philadelphia have the best chances of winning, given historical team performances this year.
So the PI sees Philadelphia with an edge over Toronto… (reminder – TFC have four games in hand though)…
And does that Head Coach change, where Curtin is now in charge over Hackworth, reflect the Hackworth predictability of Philadelphia or the Curtin predictability of Philadelphia? More to follow on that in a later article for sure…
As for the Western Conference; LA leads with Colorado, Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland – that sees FC Dallas dropping out with a smaller chance of winning and Vancouver sliding in…
And yet, neither Index has Real Salt Lake in the top five – could that be? Has the loss of Saborio, Beckerman and Rimando impacted RSL that much in such a short time span; and what does that say for the second half of the season? Lots of questions with no answers yet…
Now… take a look how far down DC United are in the Predictability Index (5th worst predictability in winning) – might that indicate how fortunate they have been in scoring goals or is that a reflection of something else going on?
DC United have the second best Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal of all the teams in MLS (42.12%); FC Dallas lead MLS in that category with 44.26%. Clearly the addition of Espindola and Johnson (even if they don’t play together) has added extreme value to this team.
Especially when their percentage for this same statistic, last year, was just 16.66% I wonder what the Expected Goals look like for DC United and how their shot locations may have changed this year compared to last year? Perhaps one or two folks who specialize in Expected Goals can help answer that one?
I did check to see if they have been awarded more PK’s than other teams – no – only 2 PK’s awarded so far this year.
As for Opponent Red Cards?
Perhaps that has created a positive influence in Goals Scored? Their opponents have had 5 Red Cards this year (two by FC Dallas in one game) – that is tied for 3rd highest (best/most advantageous) in MLS.
Has that helped? I think so…
DC United have 10 points in the four games where their opponent has been red-carded and nine of their 24 Goals Scored have come from those games.
So, in retrospect – if the opponent’s for DC United “play-fair” it is (likely?) that will negatively impact DC United in the League Table.
That’s one advantage of the CPWP PI – it is not ‘doubly’ influenced by opponents being Red or Yellow Carded – it’s strictly five of the six primary data points of PWP.
Still plenty to play for and any team, and I mean any team, can get on a winning streak – just look at Chivas USA their last three games.
How all the ‘defensive bunkering’ folds into the PWP Indices and Predictability outcomes has yet to play out. When every team reaches 17 games I’ll regenerate this article with updated information.