I have been really thinking about the first 5 games of the season and the steady climb of the team in terms of performance on the field. As I thought about that improvement I began to wonder why. The most obvious answer is time. Time has allowed all of our players to actually play in a meaningful game together, preseason is nice but it never has the same feel as a regular season game. As the team has played together the chemistry has really become more evident and you can see different combinations finally starting to click, such as the play between Jorge Perlaza and Kenny Cooper.
I am not so sure my next topic is main reason or a reason at all for the improvment but it sure seems interesting, at least to me.
I started looking at the line-ups from the first game until Sunday's game and found an interesting trend. The trend has to do with the number of players from the divisions lower than the MLS. Lets take a closer look at what I mean:
The line-up had only 2 Players from the lower US divisions that started and played the first half, which we all will recall was a terrible half. Those 2 players were Ryan Pore and Steve Purdy. The Second half was a different story as Portland played a much better half. The line-up that started the second half had 3 players who plied their trade in the USL. The two aforementioned players and David Horst. Kalif Alhassan did come on in the 66th minute. So in total 4 players from the lower divisions played. Was the difference betweens halves due to Colorado letting up or was it Portland having better players? I don't know but lets keep digging.
Portland Played better but still not great, sometimes they looked good but somethings still hadn't clicked. The starting line-up only included 2 players from the lower division, again it was Ryan Pore and Steve Purdy. The second half Jake Gleeson, from the Professional Development League, was called upon to man the pipes due to an injury to Adin Brown.
This is the game were it gets a little more interesting. The starting line-up had 5 players from the lower division. There were four former USL players Alhassan, James Marcelin, Purdy, Horstache and again the lone former PDL player in Gleeson. This game was by far the best game the Timbers had played to date. Was it due to the USL players or just the fact that the team had been playing together for 2 months now?
Again we see 5 players who played in the lower divisions start, the only difference from the New England game being Futty coming on in place of the injured Horstache. We also see a Eddie Johnson, who also played in the USL, come on as a substitute. No one can argue this was the best game to date for the Timbers. Once again the players who made significant contributions were a mix of former USL players and players who were already in the MLS or an equivalent league.
The same 5 players who started against the fire start against Dallas. Again the same result a win.
Some would say fielding a team with almost half of it's players, 45.5% to be exact, coming from the lower divisions would probably mean the Timbers would be losing most of their games. However when we have 5 players from the lower divisions play we are 2-0-1 with 7 points. However I really think Gleeson is the one outlier in this whole process as he wasn't placed in the starting line-up due to a drop in form from those in front of him on the depth chart. So in reality we have 4 players from the lower divisions that have really help the team to gain 7 points.
So minus Gleeson the Timbers have had 1 USL player start from the beginning, Steve Purdy. One started the first two games and get no minutes the next three, Ryan Pore. Two USL players replacing players who played on MLS teams the prior year, James Marcelin and David Horst in for Peter Lowry and Kevin Goldthwaite. They also had two players replace another USL player, Alhassan in for Pore and Futty on for the injured Horstache.
So the question is why have the USL players who have come on made such a difference? Is it because they are more hungry or want to prove something? Is it that the Portland really knows how to scout and find the players that fit in their style of play? Or is it that those players are just better than the previous players? Is it something else?
What do you think? Is having 5 USL players on the field the difference from game one to game five? Or am I just finding a nonexistent correlation?