The Cellar Dweller Cup Final is now upon us, to be decided with a home and away series against the Colorado Rapids. If you look around the league, the only team that has been in as bad a free fall as the Portland Timbers over the last 10 games has been the Rapids. This season it has felt like any time a team has been in need of a win, the Timbers were the next game on their schedule. Right now Colorado is in need of a win. Hopefully that trend ends today.
Portland has been on the upswing, even though some of the results the last few games have not been what the fans or the Timbers have wanted. So let's see what Portland needs to work on and what they need to do to win.
*I am constantly tweaking my format on this series, as I am not sure what works best. So please let me if you like something about it or it isn't working, and I will continue to do or cut out those things. Thanks!
Analysis after the jump (WARNING PICTURE HEAVY):
This is the place Portland needs to improve the most, in order to consistently get results. Offensively, or at least possession-wise, the defenders and Donovan Ricketts have not been hurting this team, and I would say they are helping keep the ball more than they have been losing it. However, when it comes to their primary role, namely defense, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Just look at the goal Portland gave up in stoppage time of the first half against Vancouver and you will see the prime example of what Portland needs to improve on.
Here is the first picture in the sequence and it is of the first clearance of the initial corner which lead up to the goal.
If you look at the positions of all the defenders in the box, it actually is a really well defended corner. Hanyer Mosquera does well to get a head on it and get it out of the danger area but the clearance goes right to a Whitecap player. The picture below is from just after the Whitecap player plays the ball back into the box. Take a look at where all the Timbers have moved to.
As you can see almost all of the Timbers have pushed up, especially those who were the deepest and standing on the corner posts, specifically Kosuke Kimura. Now, the one player who has not pushed up even with the rest of the defenders is David Horst -- he is completely ball watching at this point. If you remember at this point in the game Smith gets a toe on the loose ball and pokes it out of the box to a waiting Whitecap.
Here is how the defense looked when the third ball was hit into the box:
Horst was just too deep, if you are not going to push out you might as well get your head on a swivel and find a player to mark. This next picture is what Kenny Miller saw if he looked up after controlling the ball (I really think the pass was just a terrible shot that was shanked so bad it found the right player):
As you can see, Ricketts sets his feet too early. If he had moved just a little farther to his right I think he could have saved it. I can't fault Ricketts completely, but as a goalie we need him to make the saves when the defense inevitably makes a mistake.
If Portland wants to win they cannot make those types of mistakes. If the defense gets beat by actual passing and sound offensive play, you can live with that to a degree, but you can't live with getting beat because of mental breakdowns.
The midfielders probably had the most complete game of the season at least as a midfield unit for the Timbers. They did their job defensively for the most part and created numerous goal scoring opportunities. Let's take a look at how they created those chances with the first picture showcasing how a 4-3-3 can be used as a fluid system with interchangeable parts.
With the ball near the touchline you can see in the picture how the midfielders and forwards can look like in a 4-3-3 formation. Again in the above picture you can see how in the Vancouver game this formation forced Vancouver to leave space in between the midfielders and the back line. This space is where Zizzo plays the ball to connect with deep run from Captain Jack Jewsbury. This type of run from Jewsbury and Eric Alexander create numerous opportunities and really created chaos in Vancouver's defensive scheme. To my untrained eye, Vancouver's defensive scheme was to shut down the wings and not allow them to get behind the defense.
However when this type of run was not there and Vancouver's defensive scheme was working, Portland was able to play it back to the outside backs and switch the field looking for a weakness or a possible long ball to Bright Dike. Which is exactly how Portland moved the ball around to score their only goal during the run of play against Vancouver.
This is where the ball ended up after being played around the back:
It was a great ball from Kimura to Dike and he now can either turn down the line and try to beat Demerit, or he can turn back into space and find a runner. He opted for the second route and found Alexander, who held the ball up and passed in front of another deep run from Captain Jack (shown in the picture below).
The run from Jewsbury causes a lot of change to occur in the Vancouver defense. If you compare where the defenders are in the picture above compared to the picture below you notice the passing lanes it created -- and the great run Darlington Nagbe made to exploit those lanes.
All it took was one pass and then one touch from Nagbe to easily beat four Vancouver defenders. The other heads-up play by Nagbe was slowing down after touching it past the defenders to get Joe Cannon to commit to a side taking his shot the opposite way. The goal was a thing of beauty and a team effort, as it started with a great defensive play from Horst, developed down both flanks, then ended in the middle of the pitch and into the back of the net.
If the midfield can continue to have the fluid nature we have seen the past three games, Portland will win and be competitive in games more often than not.
Bright Dike had a great game. I didn't notice it the first time nor the second time I watched it, but the third time I watched him specifically. His runs and ability to command the attention of the two center backs created a lot of space for Franck Songo'o and Darlington Nagbe to operate.
From the pictures above you saw the great run and the product of his subsequent pass that led to the goal. Not only did he make that type of run for the goal, but on numerous occasions he held the ball up with three defenders close, allowing him to lay it off to Nagbe or Songo'o, already close to full speed in their runs past the flat footed defenders.
If Portland wants to be successful the rest of the year running this type of formation, you need a performance like Dike had against Vancouver. They need a forward who can command the attention of the CBs and make runs to open space to receive the ball then hold onto it to pass it off or beat their defender. If they can consistently get that out of their forwards, Portland will win.
If Portland replicates the positives I just pointed out while eliminating the defensive negatives, Colorado will probably continue their downward spiral, taking Portland's place in the cellar. I predict a Portland win 3-0 -- it is payback!