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Six Degrees: Set Piece Offending

Philadelphia 3, Portland 0

MLS: Portland Timbers at Philadelphia Union Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports

Despite being breathtakingly injured, the Portland Timbers somehow managed two straight shutout wins. Could they make it three in a row?

No. Turns out, the answer is no.

1) Fun fact I learned Sunday afternoon: the Philadelphia Union had players on the field who were 6’2”, 6’2”, 6’4”, and 6’6”. With that kind of height, they were probably pretty good on set pieces, right?


Though, to be honest, on this first set piece goal, height didn’t have much to do with it. We just left Kacper Przybylko wide open. Yeah, sure, he’s 6’4”, but he could’ve been 5’4” and scored that goal. Dude was wide the hell open. Just atrocious set piece defending from the Timbers there.

They learned their lesson, though.

2) Just kidding! They didn’t learn shit.

That’s Przybylko again with the first touch. Jeremy Ebobisse was closest to him, but only at the very end. Przybylko came racing in, completely unmarked, and Jebo looks almost surprised to see him standing there. Who the hell’s covering who on this play? Is it zonal marking? We’ve done that at times in the past and it never seems to work terribly well.

Whatever the hell our defense was doing this game, let’s immediately scrap it. It didn’t work. At all.

3) So that made it 2-0 for Philly, both goals from set pieces. Things got better, right? Wrong. More set piece goals on their way.

As you can see, that goal was called back for a handball, but it doesn’t change the fact that, for the third time, our set piece defense had let a Philly player put the ball into the net.

4) Anybody up for a fourth set piece disaster? As you wish.

And would you look at that? A set piece where a Philly player’s streaking through the box, completely untouched. Who could’ve ever seen that coming?

5) Did the Timbers have any moments in attack? Not a lot. Maybe one or two. Diego Valeri had a nice free kick early. Josecarlos Van Rankin had some nice moments cutting into the box from the right side. Marvin Loria had this one very Blanco-esque play where he dribbled into the box along the endline and made a nice pass to Felipe Mora in front of goal. That might have been our attacking highlight of the night.

But those attacks were few and far between, and anyway, they weren’t the story of this game. The story of this game was set piece defending, set piece defending, set piece defending. We were awful at it, we paid the price, and whatever the plan was, we need to throw it in the trash and find something better.

6) The truth, though? I can live with this loss. It was ugly and made me sad and we definitely need to fix a few things, but I can still live with it, mostly because we won our two previous games. Six points from three games is always pretty good. When it’s done while you’ve got nine... check that... ten guys injured, it’s even more impressive. So, yeah, it sucks we couldn’t get three straight wins, but let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. The Timbers did much better than a team this banged up has any right to do.

Now we’ve got an international break, which means three weeks to rest and heal before our next game. Which players will heal best? Who will be back for our next game? Sebastian Blanco? Diego Chara? Larrys Mabiala? Steve Clark? All four?

Let’s be extremely optimistic and say all four come back. The next question becomes: will the four returners slot back in smoothly and easily, or will there be an awkward and clumsy few games where everyone has to get reacquainted?

I have no idea. What I’m really hoping is that all those guys get healthy sooner, rather than later. Ideally, this week. That way, the team can spend these bye weeks working out the kinks on the training pitch, rather than having to work them out in an actual game.

And if those kinks get worked out, an extremely injured team that still managed two wins in three games suddenly becomes an extremely healthy team that should scare the piss out of the rest of the league.

That is, if we can fix our set piece defending.