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Bit by Bit: Depth Cuts

Jeremy Ebobisse, Kendall McIntosh, and Dairon Asprilla hoist their log slices after the Timbers’ 2-0 win over San Jose in the 2018 US Open Cup
Kris Lattimore

A Timbers team of mostly T2 players played a San Jose team made up largely of last year’s starters to a comfortable 2-0 Open Cup victory on Wednesday night. While San Jose’s starting XI haven’t featured as much in their MLS campaign this year, they had played a combined 3,817 MLS minutes so far in 2018, compared to the Timbers’ 1,673 (900 of which came from Diego Chara).

Two Halves, Two Styles

The Timbers trotted out a familiar-looking 4-2-3-1 with a lineup that would be largely unfamiliar to anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to T2 this year: (From right to left), Kendall McIntosh; Modou Jadama, Lawrence Olum, Bill “Old Bill” Tuiloma, Vytas; Renzo Zambrano, Diego Chara; Dairon Asprilla, Marvin Loria, Jack Barmby; Jeremy Ebobisse. Meanwhile, the Earthquakes lined up in a 4-4-2 diamond.

In the first half, the Timbers played extremely conservatively, completing 94% of their 298 passes, which is neat, but look where they were.

Portland Timbers first half shots and distribution

Lots of swinging it around the back, very little going forward, only a few successful passes into the box, and almost nothing into zone 14. The four Timbers with the most passes in the half were Vytas, Jadama, Chara, and Tuiloma, in that order. It also looked like the Timbers’ front five were out of sync for good portions of the game, which can be easily attributed to them not having much playing time together. Barmby and Ebobisse are both coming off injuries, Asprilla has spent a lot of time playing as a center forward for T2, and obviously Chara spends his minutes with the first team.

This didn’t prevent the Timbers from taking shots—and five of their six total shots on target were from this half—but the lack of cohesion combined with the hyper-conservative approach did mean there were a lot of times when a lone Timber would dribble into the box and have no options for a forward, or even lateral pass. It’s somewhat telling that Ebobisse’s goal was entirely a solo effort.

Defensively, the Timbers kept the Quakes totally shut down in the first half. San Jose had five shots before halftime, the only one of which was on target was a long-range effort by Jahmir Hyka that was easily gathered by McIntosh. That was also their only shot on target of the entire game. Further, the front three of Chris Wondolowski, Quincy Amarikwa, and Tommy Thompson didn’t manage a single shot between them until Amarikwa’s effort in the 65th minute.

Here’s what Timbers coach Gio Savarese had to say about their halftime adjustments: “It was more of the information that we gave the team at the second half to make sure that we changed a few things we could have done better. We started very well in the match. I think towards the end of the first half it became a little bit more difficult because we gave them some space. Then when we came back in the second half, we brought back that energy, and I thought it was very good.”

The Timbers indeed played a much more energetic, attacking style in the second half. As you can see, there was a lot more higher up the pitch, some key entry passes, and, most notably, Chara’s assist.

Of course, that success on the counter was aided along by a game state that forced San Jose to throw more numbers forward and open themselves up as they searched for an equalizing goal. Fatai Alashe, in particular, went from sitting in front of the centerbacks and distributing to having to join the attack on a regular basis. As such, he went from four tackles and 36 total passes in the first half to zero tackles and 23 passes in the second.

Sweeper Keeper

It’s worth mentioning how McIntosh plays much more like a sweeper keeper than either Jeff Attinella or Jake Gleeson, and it’s honestly pretty neat to watch. He’s hyper-athletic and very comfortable with the ball at his feet, which allows him to push well forward to contribute in possession. Here’s his distribution and defensive actions.

Although we didn’t see him tested much last night (again, San Jose’s only shot on target was from well outside the penalty box), more first-team minutes would probably not be a bad thing for McIntosh. Future Open Cup games seem to be a promising venue for us to see more of this promising young keeper.

Game of Firsts

As a finishing point, the Timbers had seven players (Jadama, Langsdorf, Loria, McIntosh, Vuelta, Williamson, Zambrano) make their competitive debut with the first team. With Chara suspended for this coming weekend’s match against Sporting Kansas City, it wouldn’t be surprising to see one of those names (likely Williamson, maybe Zambrano) starting in his place on Saturday. The Timbers have the strongest depth they’ve had in years, and if Wendesday night’s performance (especially when combined with T2’s successes this year) is anything to judge by, they’re using it better than they ever had as well.

As Savarese explained last night, “We have worked very well with T2 in making sure that we practice almost at the same time, together. So we have been interacting a lot. Exchanging players from one practice to the other practice. The first team staff has been watching every game of T2; T2 is collaborating and watching and being very close with the first team and that’s why this helps a lot to make sure the players are on the same page. And I think one of the most important parts is the mentality is great all around. Everyone wants to compete. Everyone wants to step on the field. Everyone that puts the shirt on wants to represent in the best possible way.”

This sort of integration is something that hasn’t been done in years past, and so far it’s shown to be of benefit to both squads.