Once again a week as gone by and we are just over 24 hours to another kick off. This week Portland will battle a mile above sea level against the Colorado Rapids, a team that, just like our last opponent, is reeling and looking for an end to a disappointing run of results. However, winning on the road against such a team is easier said then done, especially for the Timbers.
I am going to go from front to back in this review, so let's start with the forwards.
Colorado rode a strong defense to the MLS cup two years ago but have not been able to reach the same form. Portland's forwards need to open up space, just like they did in the last two games, for Darlington Nagbe, Kalif Alhassan and Franck Songo'o to operate. If they can find the space the did in the Seattle game the forwards will put a lot of pressure on Colorado's defense because they will have to continually react and change positions. When a defense is changing positions this creates confusion -- and confusion is what allows Kris Boyd to get open.
Last week's game really showed how well Portland's offense can flow if it is clicking. The reason the offense clicked was because the outside mids were able to get into the flow of the offense and hit balls behind the back-line, to either an overlapping outside back or a forward. By hitting the ball behind the defense this allowed for a cleaner cross and the ability for Boyd to get on the end of those crosses.
The offense needs to continue to flow as well as it did in the first half of the Seattle game. Colorado's biggest strength in their midfield is in the middle of the pitch. If Nagbe can serve as a pressure relief valve and also switch the point of attack from one side to the other this will counter-act Colorado's strength in the center of the pitch.
Portland may have the best defense over the last 6 games, but in the MLS, or in soccer in general, a defense can never have a bad game. Saturday Portland may be facing a tough challenge, especially if Conor Casey and Omar Cummings are back in the line-up. Casey is a big target forward who likes to be physical and how Portland handles him, and the speed of Omar Cummings will be key.
In order to see how Portland has to handle Casey we need to look back at how David Horst and Futty Danso were able to handle a target forward, Eddie Johnson, and a technical and speedy forward, Fredy Montero.
Here is the first photo:
As you can see the ball is played from the back to Eddie Johnson. David Horst has come up the field to help defend and as the ball is played he continues to track him as well as Diego Chara.
As you can see not only does Horst help track Johnson but KAH and Chara both help to fill the passing lanes.
This picture shows how well the team collapsed on the target striker and cut off a lot of the passing lanes and forced the ball back so the defense could recover. One other thing you see in this picture is Jack Jewsbury and how he became a CB with Horst so far up the field and this shows his strength as a RB compared to the other candidates.
The previous three pictures show what has to happen in Colorado. In words what needs to happen is Horst or Futty has to follow Casey up the field and not let him turn while the rest of the team fills the passing lanes and forces the ball to be played back. If the ball is played back this will allow the defense to recover and get behind the ball.
As you can see Horst's initial position is pretty good and keeps Johnson in front of him and does not give him a lot of space to work with the ball if he were to receive it. The ball gets played to Johnson and this is how Horst plays that ball:
I've put a yellow blob over the ball, as it is tough to pick it out otherwise. As you can see Horst is no longer behind Johnson and has tried poke the ball while he was off balance. As you know Horst was unable to get the ball and Johnson got behind the defense. Once that happens the defense is out of shape and having to recover and a goal scoring chance is most likely to occur and in this case it was a goal.
Horst and Futty will have their hands full but should be well prepared as they practice against a big and physical forward day in and day out in Boyd.
Portland gets their first road win 1-0.