Where to begin; oh - where to begin... Many of you may think this is too nice... sorry :) I chose this approach this week - perhaps my approach next week is different if we see the same type results....
Many different ways to analyze this game I suppose; IMHO I'm inclined to believe that this 1 - nil loss (at home) (in one of the toughest stadiums for opposing teams to play in) was gut-wrenching for many fans.
I'm sure the team itself is pretty gutted too and this time around Gavin Wilkinson did not provide the same candor in his after the match interview as he has previously.
Here's what Gavin had to say on team goals moving forward:
“I think you’ve always got to reassess. It was something that we were using to try and inspire the group to look at, saying, ‘Here’s where we would like to be.’ Is it out of reach? No. Would we need to go on a hell of a run? Yes. But when Merritt [Paulson] put me into this position, he said, ‘Start to try to find out more about the group.’ I think we have made some strides in certain areas. You could see the system that we were trying to play tonight. You could see what we were trying to do, how we were trying to create things. And again, I just think we missed that final product, but we will continue to reassess and find different ways to motivate the players.”
Okay, so what 'could I see that he was trying to do and how we were trying to create things'? They are, in no particular order:
1) Brent Richards was given the head nod to start this game in lieu of either Eric Alexander or Kalif Alhassan. That was a huge statement by Gavin saying that he is willing, by example, to make changes that may impact an outcome of a game. We need to continue to build from this as the rest of the season moves on; I would offer, however, that there may be another player who needs to sit in lieu of Alexander or Alhassan. Perhaps that will also manifest itself as the season moves on? So I would give this 'change' in our program a B+.
2) Diego Chara was playing his usual aggressive game last night but the huge change here was that he was positioned and was doing this from the attacking side of the pitch as opposed to being buried back deep in front of the back-four! We need to continue to maximize Diego Chara's strengths by playing him more in the attacking part of the midfield. So I would give this 'change' in our program an A+
3) Defense first and overlapping last was clearly the order of the day and you could see David Horst running the back-four and keeping them tight; of particular note was the complete turn-around on the use of overlapping fullbacks with our wingers. That pretty much came to a standstill last night and even though Ryan Smith was missing we just didn't make overlapping runs last night like we have in the past and that helped our defense think defense first. We need to continue to minimize overlaps and we need to continue to think defense first. So I would give this 'change' in our program an A+.
4) Songo'o; I continue to remain non-violently stubborn that he, along with Diego Chara, are our most effective midfielders in the attacking half of the pitch; Richards did a good job in his first MLS start and will only get better as he matures. We need to continue to leverage Franck Songo'o (like Diego) across the entire attacking half of the pitch. So I would give this 'change' in our program an A+.
5) Pushing higher with our back-four; for the first time in a long time, of MLS games, I saw our back-four playing much higher. We ran the line (on average) about 7-8 yards behind the midfield center line as opposed to about halfway between the 18 yard box line and midfield center line. That is something we need to continue to do so I would give that 'change' an A.
6) 'Switching play' - I'm pretty sure I have never seen PTFC attempt as many switches in play as they did this game; while not done a whole lot I did see the lads attempt to switch the run of play at least 3-4 times per half. There is value and goodness in being able to switch play and the greater value comes when it is done quickly so you can take advantage of the open space available. We need to continue to switch play a bit more aggressively; I would give that 'change' a C+.
7) Work ethic/rate (My WTWF) - For almost every player on the pitch last night their work ethic/rate increased from previous matches. I remain unconvinced that every player is maximizing their work rate based upon their potential. We need to continue to increase the work rates for everyone. I would rate the overall work ethic by the team as a B.
8) Long balls (trying to create things?) We played over 30 long balls this game and over 20 of them we played in the first half. Yes; many of them created half-chances but again none of them resulted in a goal or a 're-start' that resulted in a goal.
Long balls were pretty much unsuccessful in everything except minimizing our opportunities to learn how to play more patient and controlled ball beginning at the back. We need to get better at playing fewer long balls and playing more from the back - forward. I would rate our overall effort in leveraging long balls an F+.
As a wrap-up, those were some of the things I thought I could see that he (Gavin Wilkinson) was trying to do or how they (PTFC) were trying to create things differently this game; perhaps there are others. Would love to hear/read any thoughts or comments from others.
In closing; here are the thoughts from Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins
On reassessing the team’s goals: “We have thirteen, fourteen games left, and anything is possible at that point. There’s a lot of points still, and it just depends. We got to take it week by week. We keep going down this road, than yeah, but I don’t think we’re going to [make the playoffs].”
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