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Stumptown Breakdown: Timing is Everything

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Two smart eighth-minute runs nearly gave the Timbers an early lead on Saturday.

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Okay, two weeks in a row doesn’t mean I’ve cursed this space. But yes, for the second week in a row, the goals on Saturday were of a relatively uninteresting quality for Stumptown Breakdown purposes.

Poorly denied service and loose marking in the box. Terrible recognition to close down Rodney Wallace’s right foot. Calling a bank shot off a teammate’s face.

Yawn.

So, we retreat once again to one of the non-goals, this time to highlight the good a pair of well-timed runs can do against an otherwise well-positioned defense.

We start in the eighth minute when Ben Zemanski wins the third ball off a pair of headers from Liam Ridgewell and Rodney Wallace, respectively. It’s a good win from Zemanski, who plays the ball forward to Fanendo Adi.

Our second frame is less than a second later, and here we have a few things to note. First, look at how much space Gaston Fernandez is in. That’s far from ideal marking of an opponent’s number ten when you’ve just lost a duel for possession. Second, the Quakes are out of shape here. Sam Cronin lost the duel with Zemanski and wound up the worse for the wear. Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi is just flat behind the play. All told, this is a really bad frame from the Quakes.

Also, where you going, Rodney?

Oh, that’s where you’re going. Rod, you clever so-and-so. This is a great run from Wallace. First, look back and note how early Wallace starts the run – before Fanendo Adi even touches the ball. Wallace is thinking two moves ahead, and as a result has his nose well in front of Pablo Pintos. Also, Wallace angled his run perfectly to stay just onside at the moment Fernandez sent the ball through.

That perfectly timed run by Wallace leads to this – Wallace has an easy cutback on the recovering Pintos, giving the Terp plenty of time to pick out his pass. But note how well the Quakes have recovered here. Jason Hernandez picks up Adi and Victor Bernardez has recovered from his midfield stumble to provide support to Pintos and a potential front defender for Adi. Meanwhile, Jordan Stewart has tracked Fernandez and Pierazzi has recovered to add a double. In this frame, the Quakes are in good shape to defend whatever Wallace is going to do.

But then there was Darlington Nagbe. Darlington threw a wrench in the Quakes’ recovery here with a cleverly mistimed run. Look back at the first picture. There, Nagbe is only a couple steps behind Fernandez, and considering La Gata has to play the ball, Nagbe could have easily joined to add a third runner into the box on the same level as Adi and Fernandez.

But he doesn’t, and that causes San Jose all sorts of problems. By coming in several yards behind Fernandez, Nagbe takes himself off Stewart and Pierazzi’s radar, allowing him to slip in completely unmarked beyond the back post even though San Jose have plenty of personnel available to account for him. Wallace arguably picks out the wrong pass here, as he elects to try to chip in to Adi rather than play across what would have been a difficult, but certainly not impossible ball for Nagbe.

I say "arguably," however, because Wallace’s chip to Adi is still a mischief-making pass. Bernardez has to play it, and when he does, the Quakes really have no idea where it will end up.

It so happens that in this instance it lands at the feet of the unmarked Nagbe, who hits a dangerous first-time shot into the ground that Jon Busch saves in quality fashion.

Typically when you hear the phrase "well-timed run," the speaker is referring to the runner just barely staying onside. And, indeed, in that respect Wallace’s was a well-timed run. But here we see two more effects of great timing. First, it put distance between Wallace and an initially slightly upfield Pintos, which forced Pintos into a recovery run and made him easy pickings for Rodney’s cutback. Second, Nagbe’s syncopated run added a second (or arguably third) layer to the attack, which substantially increased the degree of difficulty for the San Jose defenders trying to pick everything up.

The result was a golden opportunity that likely would have been an early opener but for quality goalkeeping and an apparent curse on poor Nagbe.