Well, did we see a Dr. Jeykll or Mr. Hyde this weekend? For me I saw both.
This was a game of two halves (actually only about 25 minutes or so of the second half the rest of the game didn’t matter!). Like that game against Colorado this one is not an easy one to flesh out unless you just want to say ‘we got thrashed and played terrible’. I don’t like to make it that simple cuz it isn’t that simple. So please bear with me, if interested, as I walk through some stuff.
1st Half = From a defensive standpoint we played a very good defensive game in the first half; we played the good side of a wicked, hard working, aggressive, possession fighting defense that won 1-v-1’s, played tight at the right time, won central midfield battles and had good passing in counterattack. Bottom line is we played defense first, defense second and for the most part played attack third. IMHO the right prescription for a solid approach to take one point and perhaps three points with a wee bit of luck in the second half. For me; that is my definition of a good Mr. Hyde; regardless of the system played.
2nd Half = From a defensive standpoint we played a very poor defensive game in the second half starting right around the 53rd minute or so. From that point forward RSL stepped up the pressure, was aggressive in the middle and wings, made some one critical 1-v-1’s ball possession wins in our defensive half, took advantage of open space above, around, and in the 18 yard box and scored two quick goals on cracking headers by Saborio. All else after that was pretty much of no consequence; apart from the five yellows and one red card we took!
So how did we get there?
Central Midfield: I would offer there are probably many different ways to approach this analysis; for me I am submitting this info below so that it (may?) help others consider what they feel may be the reasons why we imploded. We started this game with 3 defensive minded midfielders in what I would call an aggressive 4-3-3. What might that mean to influence our play and what happened?
1. It means the central midfielders work rate across the middle will be high; especially if we lose 1-v-1 battles in the midfield and must do a quick transition from attack to defense; IMHO two of the three midfielders selected to start are probably two of our slower midfielders; therefore it was critical for them to ‘hold the ball’ while the attacking formation took shape.
2. It means the work rate for our 2 wide strikers would be high in rotating back on defense to make sure we had at least 8 or 9 players behind the ball.
3. It means the work rate for our 2 fullbacks would be high in supporting wing play in attack or filling gaps in the wider midfield areas if we lost possession of the ball when attacking.
4. It means, on a hot day, at high altitude, we had no-one on our bench we could use as a late defensive midfield substitution.
5. It means, when we do lose ball possession in the midfield our back four has to rotate up and around to fill that defensive wing midfield gap.
6. It means at least one of the three central midfielders MUST control above our 18 yard box at all times.
7. What happened: It meant an excessively high work rate was required for Nagbe and Alexander to track back a lot if the three defensive midfielders focus on the center and don’t win ball possession battles early; I don’t know how many times I saw both Nagbe and Alexander playing on or around our own 18 yard box but they were there a lot! These guys were stretched constantly.
8. What happened: It meant that one of our least aggressive midfielder’s/striker (Nagbe) is again in a position where he must close down and play aggressive possession winning ball. I did not see Nagbe and Alexander winning many 1-v-1 possession battles; Alexander seemed to be a ½ step / ½ successful pass off all night and Nagbe, while playing some very useful balls on occasion, seemed to tire quickly; especially in the second half where he lost, IMHO, a very critical ball possession battle atop our 18 yard box; if my DVR recording had worked I would provide specific details on that one because I felt it was part of the breakdown that led to us allowing our first goal. Perhaps others can clarify here?
9. What happened: I don’t recall the Timbers having very many successful crosses, I think I counted 5 in total for the whole game and maybe one overlap but I’m not real sure why we would be overlapping in a 4-3-3; maybe someone can explain that to me? More often than not the midfielders pushed forwarded and didn’t play for the fullbacks, or when they did the fullback wasn’t there. For me the amount of aggressive ball movement from the central midfield worked counter to the philosophy of the 4-3-3 system; the central midfielders should more often than not play a strong holding role across the midfield and be a bit more patient in the buildup.
10. What happened: When we did lose possession in the attacking half one of our fullbacks would have to push forward to defend a midfield space, as such this rotation meant everyone in the back four would have to rotate to fill that fullback void; this rotation and the open space for the cross in the right midfield wing helped lead to Goal #2. I’m not sure where our central midfielders were on this lead up to Goal #2 because I missed it live and my DVR didn’t work but if I recall everyone rotated right as Kimura pushed up to close the empty midfield space, in so doing that left Smith as the last man to defend a header against a much taller and stronger Saborio!
11. What happened: As we seemed to operate from a counterattacking position It meant Mwanga was alone up front… I counted very few long balls that were ‘attacking long balls’ intended to stretch the defense; most were defensive ‘clearance’ type long balls… so when considering whether our system really resembled a 4-3-3 or a 4-5-1 I would say it resembled a 4-5-1; and given that description I would offer we had the wrong midfield players to sustain that system for 90 minutes of play. We did not win and hold the ball up in the attacking forward space with Mwanga.
12. What happened was our central midfielders did not hold onto the ball for others to position themselves in a low-ball attacking formation; I saw them aggressively push forward with or without the numbers and lose patience and eventually the ball; this is not to say we weren’t successful on moving the ball forward on occasion; but none of that ball movement forward led to a goal; and more often than not it was a short spurt of time and then we were forced back into a defensive position.
13. What happened was Jewsbury, Palmer and Chara would push wide, on occasion, due to aggressive ball movement and as such they tired more quickly in the second half. When they did, the top-of-the-18 yard box was open (free space); a cross was provided from this area and Saborio headed home Goal #1.
14. What happened: With the selection of Mwanga, Alexander and Nagbe to go with this midfield we had no attacking aerial force up front…- I counted very few aerial battle wins. Yes, we had many start-ups/free kicks/corners in this game and many of these were in-swinging balls – we did not, however, slot any of them home. The center-backs for RSL were solid and big and strong and own the aerial battles and war.
In conclusion; we offered up a 4-3-3; we played to a (somewhat) 4-5-1 system, we got tired, we lost concentration, and we didn’t’ control the central midfield.
Striking Partnership +1: There wasn’t a striking partnership until after the game was lost… nothing to add here other than Mwanga played alone up top – this resembled a somewhat dysfunctional 4-5-1 more than a functional 4-3-3.
Back four – DEFENSE – we did this in the first half; we rotated well and again I thought Horst was a beast – if not for him they could have scored 6 goals! In the second half we didn’t play well on defense; Futty got beat on a short cross that Saborio headed home and Smtih got beat on the back side as the defense rotated to support the void filled by Kimura when he pushed up to fill a defensive midfield gap.
In conclusion – I would throw this out to the sharks that again our best potential system to shut down the goals against on the road is to play to our strengths… our strengths are our center-backs and a 3-5-2 system suits that better than any other…
It is what it is…..