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Through the Looking Glass: Derby Thriller Set for Sunday

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Portland has had an interesting year so far and as pucker time approaches the importance of earning points magnifies.

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

In considering previous away game trends what might we expect as the Portland Timbers travel to that City up North this Sunday?

You shouldn't need a memory the likes of Freud to remember the run of games where the Timbers got thrashed 3-0, 4-1, and 5-0 in away games earlier this year.

During that difficult road stretch the Timbers played a very aggressive, high defensive line that looked to take the opponent to task as if Portland were playing in the friendly confines of Providence Park.

More recently, and even at home playing a much-maligned Chicago Fire, the Timbers have dropped deeper - a tactic that has had good success, not only this year, but last year too. What does that mean?

For the most part, when the Timbers play deeper they end up ceding possession and almost encouraging the opponent to over-commit in attack.

Not only do the eyes usually witness this but the statistics support it.

For example, Portland earn more points on the road by ceding possession - all told their average possession when winning on the road is 42%; while when losing or drawing it's 55% and 47% respectively.

That is a considerable difference when seeing that the average number of passes in an MLS game this year is nearly 400.

The volume of overall passes attempted into and within the attacking final third is 93 per game when winning, 105 when drawing, and 122 when losing. In other words, when the Timbers lose on the road they average 30 more passes into and within the opponent's defending final third than when they win.

It would appear that the statistics show that when the Timbers play more aggressively in penetrating the opponent's defending final third, they do worse.

So, as the window of total passes gets smaller, when the Timbers win what does that look like with respect to completed passes and shots taken?

All told, when winning on the road the Timbers average 57 completed passes within and into the attacking final third, versus 80 when losing and 71 when drawing. Percentage wise, the Timbers' passing accuracy within and into the attacking final third is 61% when they win, 65% when they lose, and 67% when they draw.

Yet their overall shots taken per penetrating possession when winning is 27% versus 15% when losing and 15 when drawing.

In other words, when taking a less aggressive penetration approach they wind up with more shots taken that end up getting them more goals scored.

But the game is played on both sides of the pitch. What does all this look like from a defensive viewpoint?

Teams that lose when the Timbers play away average 153 passes into and within the Timbers' defending final third versus 115 when they draw and 109 when they win.

In addition, when the Timbers' road opponents lose, they average 113 completed passes into and within the Timbers' final third versus 78 when they and 74 when they win.

In closing:

When considering both the team performances in attack and defending it would appear the Timbers are far more successful on the road when ceding some levels of penetration and possession.

In taking this approach the outcome of the game should lead to us seeing the Timbers score goals on quick counter-attacks or through set-pieces, as opposed to lengthy possessions of multiple passing that cycle and recycle the ball inside and outside the opponent's defending final third.

This isn't to say that type of attacking approach (can't) happen nor is it offering that 'bunkering' is the style that suits best.  But it is acknowledging that where the opponent makes mistakes in the midfield, like committing too many players forward, the Timbers are more likely to create and take a shot that has a better chance of scoring a goal.

A thought on the starting line-up:

With the main attackers we may see Rodney Wallace start again, but I sure would like to see Diego Valeri, Lucas Melano, and Darlington Nagbe work together in front of behind Fanendo Adi.

Best, Chris