Recap: Moving on up Edition

Dike's in space. Whatcha doin up there, man?

Quick Recap:

The Portland Timbers put cross after cross into the box in the first half, but no Timber was able to get on the end of them -- until the 45th minute, when Bright Dike finally got on the end of one from Sal Zizzo and put it in the back of the net. In the second half Portland fell back into bad habits and sat back more than they should have, but they were still able to see the game out for the 1-0 win.

First Half

Some people would have termed the start of this game as "high energy". I don't think that is accurate -- it felt more like it was a spastic start, because there seemed to be a lot of turnovers after some high energy movements. Both teams played with the ball around the back line and then either worked it down the wing or hit the long ball to their big target forwards. Most of the time the ball down the wing would end up passed to an opposing player, or the long ball would be too long.

When Portland did get the ball down the wing and behind the defense, it looked like a good attack until the final ball. Usually it was Sal Zizzo who over hit the ball or hit it right at a defender. The good thing about the whole sequence despite the end ball was that Zizzo made a habit of blowing right by Tyson Wahl and was routinely able to hit an uncontested cross. On the other side of the field Franck Songo'o did not blow by his defenders, but he was usually able to use his ball skills to get around them before hitting an uncontested shot.

With all the good Portland was doing on the wings, the battle in the middle of the pitch was not going Portland's way. Anytime the ball was played into the middle of the pitch, it rarely advanced forward, instead being played back to the defense or square to the wings. When Nagbe or Chara did try and move the ball through the center of the pitch Colorado were able to create a turnover and then attack themselves.

Colorado's attacks were just as disjointed as Portland's, but they were able to get shots on frame in the 5th and 17th minute. The 17th minute shot was by far Colorado's most dangerous chance of the half. After working the ball down their right side, a wall pass freed Martin Rivero for a shot. Donovan Ricketts was able to get his hands on the shot, but Hanyer Mosquera's helping header only cleared the ball to near the penalty spot. Tyrone Marshall was the first to the ball, but his shot was blocked by Hanyer Mosquera, deflecting it to Jeff Larentowicz, whose shot was also blocked. The next rebound went all the way out of the box to Hendry Thomas, who shanked his shot well wide of the goal.

After that flurry of activity, neither team recorded a shot until 35th minute -- which is a nice way of saying there was a whole lot of nothing offensively going on for either team. In fact, every time either team got close to the opponent's box, the progress was undone by a poor quality final ball. This all changed around the 40th minute, when Portland found another gear and started to attack with energy.

Over the last 5 minutes of the half the Timbers recorded five of their six first half shots. Most of them ended up as deflections or blocked shots, but one early in the 45th minute was the best chance for Portland up to that point. Just like in the early going of the game, Sal Zizzo had the ball on the wing and was able to get an uncontested cross off. This one was perfectly placed for a wide open Franck Songo'o, who readied himself for a first time volley. The volley deflected off of a defender, changing the direction of the ball and requiring a Save-of-the-Week-quality kick save from Matt Pickens to keep it out of the goal. If you watch the replay, Songo'o's shot was headed in if the deflection had not occurred. Once again it felt like Portland had no luck.

Their luck would change less than a minute later. Colorado brought the ball down after the great reaction save from Pickens and advanced it upfield. With the ball in Portland's box, Mosco was able to dispossess Conor Casey and bounce the ball to the feet of Captain Jack Jewsbury. Jewsbury hit the ball up field to Diego Chara, who passed it 20 yards up the field to Nagbe. Those two quick passes immediately took all Colorado's midfield out of the play and allowed Nagbe to attack the back line.

As Nagbe attacked the back line, Zizzo bombed down the right wing, while Dike made a run to receive the ball centrally. Nagbe elected to play a great ball ahead of Zizzo, allowing him to get behind the defense with his speed. At the moment Nagbe's pass was released Dike slightly altered the direction of his run, sprinting to the goal. With Zizzo behind the defense, the last defender, Marvel Wynne, was forced to make a decision between covering Dike and blocking a potential shot from Zizzo. He instead went with a third option: to try and cut off the cross he knew was coming.

Wynne was unable to stop a perfectly placed curling cross from Zizzo and it found a wide open Dike at the edge of the 6 yard box. Pickens did everything he could to get in front of Dike, but Dike got past him with a side foot shot into the goal. It was a prefect counter. From the point Jewsbury controlled it to the goal, five Timbers put eight total touches on the ball, sending it 100 yards in ten seconds. Backflippiness ensued.

Portland had another golden opportunity in stoppage time to add to their lead. Songo'o hit a perfect curling through-ball behind the defense, placing it right in front of Darlington Nagbe. Nagbe was then 1v1 against Pickens, but after his deft first touch elevated the ball and forced the keeper to commit, his toe poke over Pickens went just wide of the goal. Portland had to settle for going into the have up 1.

Second Half

At the start of the half Colorado showed their intentions right away as they took off Brian Mullan and added another Forward in Omar Cummings. This changed Colorado's shape and formation to more of a 4-4-2 instead of the bunker-like 4-5-1. The change looked to have paid off, as Colorado held a lot of the possession early in the half and was able to advance the ball into Portland's defensive third.

Even with all of possession favoring Colorado, you just didn't feel like they were creating anything dangerous. The stats support that feeling, as they only recorded three shots in the first 15 minutes of the half. Of those three shots, one was an easy save, while the other was right at Ricketts but hard enough that it forced him to palm the ball over the bar.

Portland, meanwhile, fell into a trap of absorbing the pressure and looking for a long ball to Dike for their offense. This anemic offensive strategy failed to create any chances and allowed Colorado to pin their ears back and go for the goal. The feeling that Colorado might score started to grow larger and larger as Portland continued to bunker and not possess the ball with regularity.

The Timbers did have one promising chance in the second half, though, in the 54th minute. Nagbe, breaking forward on a counter-attack, found Franck Songo'o on the left flank. Songo'o switched across to Zizzo, who cut the ball in before crossing into the 6-yard box towards Nagbe's head. Tyrone Marshall stepped forward to head it away, but the interception fell right to the feet of Jewsbury, with oodles of time and space to set up a shot from about 30 yards out. Jewsbury smashed a perfectly placed shot to the upper left corner, but Pickens was somehow able to reach out and tip it over the bar.

Once the 80th minute hit and Portland still had not given up the equalizer, Colorado started to have a higher sense of urgency. This added urgency almost paid off in the 86th minute. A ball was played into the box, and Kosuke Kimura was late to recognize he had the job to mark Omar Cummings. Omar was wide open and able to rise and meet the cross but his uncontested header went wide of the goal. Personally, I think it was the Hannibal-Lector-like mask Kimura wears that scared Omar.

After that miss Portland was able to see the game out, as Colorado became more and more desperate and resorted to hitting long balls at every opportunity. Great win for the Timbers: now to replicate the result (if not the second half play) on the road.

Observations

  • Despite the play in the second half, it was great to see a confidence-building clean sheet for the defense.
  • I love the Nagbe we have been seeing these last few games.
  • Colorado's CMs are so physical; they created problems for Nagbe and Chara.
  • Tyson Wahl will be having nightmares until after Wednesday because of Sal Zizzo. If Zizzo can continue his routine torching of Wahl, it might be something Portland can exploit on Wednesday.
  • When Songo'o is on offensively he is amazing. Too bad his volley got deflected and Nagbe was not able to put the 1v1 away.
  • Portland is continuing their forward progression towards decency, and that is always a positive.
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