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Bit by Bit: Portland Timbers 1, LA Galaxy 1

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Samuel Armenteros and Fanendo Adi embrace after a 1-1 draw versus the LA Galaxy
Bennett Dewan

The Timbers saw their six-match win streak transformed into a seven-match unbeaten streak by the LA Galaxy in the Saturday afternoon affair at Providence Park. It’s always frustrating to lose a streak, so let’s dive right in to break it down, bit by bit.

Finishing

Both teams struggled in front of net today, albeit in different ways. The Timbers registered 10 shots on target from 18 total, while the Galaxy managed to put only three of their 16 shots on frame. It follows that Timbers were the more dangerous team, but they were undone by a seeming inability to place their shots anywhere other than directly at Galaxy keeper David Bingham. Out of nine saves, Bingham was only forced into a dive once or twice. (Our own C.I. DeMann has a nice video compilation of Bingham saves over in his Six Degrees.) On the other hand, all of the Galaxy’s shots off target were from inside or immediately around the box, which isn’t great either.

The xG for this match had the Timbers favored at 2.13 to 1.34, which definitely passes the eye test. As Diego Valeri said after the match, “[The Timbers] have to be more clinical in those situations. That’s probably what changed the game, at least in the first half.”

To the right, to the right

Tactically, LA came out with a clear plan: Attack the right and only the right. They consistently created an overload by pulling Sebastian Lletget, Chris Pontius, and Servando Carrasco almost exclusively exclusively to that side, and the result looked like this.

LA Galaxy Distribution in Portland 6/2/18

Which is absolutely nuts. The Galaxy didn’t just heavily target the right side, they all but ignored the other flank. With Bill Tuiloma, who’s not really a fullback, starting over there for the Timbers, I wonder if that was really the best strategy for the Galaxy. Of course, Valentin had a lights-out match defensively, but he’s been consistently good in that position throughout the Timbers’ streak. From a statistics standpoint, the fact that Romain Alessandrini had the second-worst pass completion rate in the game (73.5%, second only to Jorgen Skjelvik’s 68.8%) speaks to how well the Timbers defended that corner under a lot of pressure.

Either way, as you can see, the Galaxy won a healthy number of corners from that side, but weren’t particularly successful in entering the box otherwise. Also, credit the Timbers bank of three defensive midfielders for so heavily limiting the number of touches the Galaxy were able to find in the 20-or-so yards above the Timbers’ penalty area.

Wingless in PDX

When a team attacks one side or the other so heavily, it should, in theory, free up the opposing fullback on the opposite side to get forward. Unfortunately for the Timbers, that fullback was not a fullback, because Bill Tuiloma was filling in on the right for an injured Alvas Powell. When you combine that with the Timbers only having one true winger (Blanco) and two true fullbacks—Marco Farfan (on the bench) and Valentin—in their matchday 18, it becomes easier to see why they struggled to break down the increasingly compact Galaxy defense in the later minutes of the match. Simply put, when a team lacks wide attacking threats, they will struggle to stretch the opposing defense, and thus struggle to create meaningful chances.

As the match slowed down on Saturday, due in part to mid-afternoon heat on turf and in part to the changed game state after the equalizer, the Timbers were unable to create chances the way they had earlier in the match. In the last half hour, they had only two shots on target, both by Tuiloma.

So all of this brings us to Gio Savarese’s choice of personnel on Saturday. It’s hard not to imagine Farfan having provided more going forward than Tuiloma did. It’s also not hard to imagine Victor Arboleda or Dairon Asprilla having a good time attacking the wide areas in a match like this one. When asked by the intrepid Jamie Goldberg in his postgame conference, Savarese simply said, “Those were the 18 that showed best during the week.”

Considering that neither Asprilla nor Arboleda played for T2 this weekend, it seems likely they will both feature in this Wednesday’s US Open Cup match against the San Jose Earthquakes.

215 - Chara

Speaking of the Open Cup match, Diego Chara will probably also see at least some minutes now that he will miss the weekend’s MLS match against Sporting Kansas City on yellow card accumulation.

Chara had a brilliant match against the Galaxy. He completed 94.3% of his 70 passes, which means he completed more passes (66) than any other player on the field even attempted. Here’s what that looks like.

Diego Chara Distribution on 6/2/18

Not only is the number impressive, but Chara was essentially all over the entire midfield. It’s unfortunate he wasn’t able to finish his 22nd-minute chance, because the new club appearance leader deserved a goal for his efforts.

It’s also probably worth noting that he had six fouls, which is twice as many as the next-highest foul count (Perry Kitchen). Arguments can be made that Kitchen earned himself a yellow at various moments in the match too, but it’s hard to complain about Chara’s caution for persistent infringement after six fouls.

The Other Midfielder

Another small nod to Andres Flores, who played, by my count, three different positions over the course of 90 minutes: left midfield for most of the match, then right midfield once Farfan came on, then finally right back when Lawrence Olum replaced Bill Tuiloma.

He also won the penalty that allowed Valeri to equalize, so, a pretty good shift from the Timbers’ Swiss Army Midfielder.