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Back-Four to the Future

Last year the Timbers pretty much crumbled in defending - this year CLEARLY needs to be different.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Before giving some thoughts on the back-four this year, I think it is worthwhile to look back on the Portland Timbers' defending last year and point out some of the tactical things Caleb did to readjust - albeit a bit too late...

Recall these two articles written in late October:

Defense wins games

Better Defending Leads to Better Attacking?

The 2014 season was split into three distinct sections - the first not my choice but that is moot now.

In the early going the average amount of possession was 53%, shifting slightly to 52% midway through the season, before eventually dropping another point down to 51%.

That alone isn't the big deal but it was an initial indicator that some things may have changed.

The real big deal was the volume of penetration that the Timbers allowed in order to maximize their counter-attacking opportunities.

Against the run of play they actually ceded possession and slightly more penetration to their opponents later in the season but yielded fewer goals while also increasing their own goal output.

Bottom line: in Phase I the Timbers scored 1.13 goals per game, Phase II 1.88 goals per game, and Phase III 2.20 goals per game - all the while seeing overall goals against drop from 1.63 to 1.27.


So now recall the quote Chris Rifer offered up in his article after yesterday's training session from Porter: you 'gotta know how this league works...'

Here is how the league works:

By and large in Major League Soccer it is a game played with slightly less overall control (ball to ground possession-based) than some leagues in Europe; certainly lower than the English Premier League.

As such, the best opportunities to try to gain time and open space are more associated with a mistake made by a team's opponent in over-committing, rather than the grind and patience an attacking side needs to move the ball about for 20-30 passes before finding a self-made gap of time and space.

How does that information we know translate for this new season?

First off, the Timbers have added a huge veteran with extensive MLS experience in centerback Nat Borchers.

Borchers not only provides a great physical presence, but he also provides a superior mentality and can play an optimal positional role while minimizing yellow and red cards. Cautions, along with an overabundance of tackles, are a great indicator of a defender who is consistently out of position.

In addition, Liam Ridgewell will now have a strong run of games under his belt, which he can draw upon as the new season arrives.

Norberto Paparatto will also have a full season in MLS to work from as he looks to continue his adjustment to the league.

As for the fullbacks, Jeanderson joins Jorge Villafana and Alvas Powell to bulk up the defending on the wings.

By bulk up I also mean physically - if you have not yet seen Powell, you should know he's put on some weight - most noticeably in the upper body and thighs if my eye-sight is any good. In addition to his speed and pace, Powell has now added power.

Villafana, on the other hand, is more wily and wiry, with a wicked left footed cross as his primary weapon.

So for me, while the attacking side of the pitch may have some early-season question marks on who goes where and when, it is the defensive side of the pitch that is critical.

In closing, I would look to the defensive side of the pitch as being the key to a great early start; goals will come as time and space become available, but what the Timbers can not afford is goals against.

Best, Chris