It’s been nearly six weeks since T2 last felt the sting of defeat. However, it’s been just once in that span that they’ve felt the joy of victory.
After a come-from-behind draw in Austin, Timbers 2 was back in action in the Rose City on Sunday afternoon where a stoppage-time Ryan Smith goal allowed the team to steal a point from the jaws of defeat against Fresno FC.
Marco Farfan and Eryk Williamson were absent on Sunday afternoon due to being called up for the U.S U23 team while keeper Alijaz Ivacic made his debut for T2 and finished with four saves.
Todd Wharton (47’)
The first goal came courtesy of a 47’ penalty kick. Midfielder Todd Wharton made his way to the spot and calmly slotted the ball to keeper C.J Cochran’s right for his second goal of the season.
After a half in which T2 spent a majority of the time trying to play long, direct balls into the attack, one finally paid off right after the break.
Wharton started the play off himself, collecting the ball from Ivacic before springing outside back Nathan Smith down the left flank with a beautifully weighted ball. Smith attacked the end line before playing the ball inside to Brayan Hurtado who took contact and went down.
That penalty conversion brings T2 up to a 50-percent conversion ratio on a league-high ten spot kicks.
Elijah Martin (53’)
Just six minutes after Wharton opened the scoring, Fresno FC midfielder, Elijah Martin, found the equalizer thanks to a nicely worked team goal.
Fresno caught the back line of T2 napping as Martin made his run off the shoulder of Harold Hanson. A perfectly timed through ball by Jemal Johnson put Martin through on goal and all he had to do was take a touch before firing it into the bottom left corner past Ivacic.
Qudus Lawal (68’)
Throughout the second half, the Foxes were continuously able to find space between the lines and consistently made dangerous runs behind the back line. They found two opportunities over the top that attackers just barely whiffed on.
Just over fifteen minutes after Martin found the equalizer, Fresno forward, Qudus Lawal, finally broke through and put the visitors on top.
Once again it was a well-worked team goal as Johnson quickly popped up and touched the ball into the box which Lawal slotted into the netting.
For the second time of the half, miscommunication in the T2 backline allowed the Foxes to find a gilt-edged opportunity that they made no mistake with.
Nathan Smith (90+2’)
With a minute left in added-time, Smith was able to find a late equalizer which salvaged a point after it looked like Fresno was destined to sneak away from Providence Park with all three.
In what could have been their final attacking possession of the game, Modou Jadama served a high ball into the box where substitute Ryan Sierakowski flicked the ball on for Smith to attack. The defender made clean contact with the ball before running off in jubilation
The goal was Smith’s first ever for the Timber’s USL side, and the point keeps T2 afloat atop of the west.
Short to long
Throughout the game, T2 continuously tried to build possession from the back before spraying a long, direct ball to the flanks. This strategy yielded mixed results as multiple balls were intercepted or just given away, but one eventually did lead to a goal.
The heat map below shows that a lot of action took place around T2’s box before heating back up just after midfield. Most of the time, the team chose to bypass this area of the field with direct balls that set up their attackers in advantageous areas.
T2 finished the game with 67 recorded long passes and most of those long balls seemed to be easily dealt with by the Fresno defense.
The Foxes did a good job of pressuring T2 in their half, but it could be argued that a player of Eryk Williamson’s quality could help the team maintain possession throughout that part of the field as his main role is playing as a box-to-box connector.
While this strategy did eventually lead to their lone run-of-play goal, it also showcases how big of a role Williamson plays when it comes to playing through the midfield and how much this team still relies on him as the creator.
The Hurtado-Langsdorf pairing
The tactical element of this week’s Three Takeaways column comes from the partnership between Langsdorf and Hurtado.
T2 coach Cameron Knowles likes to employ a 4-2-3-1 with Langsdorf up top trailed by Ojeda, Hurtado, and Asprilla. As the game continues to progress, Hurtado (99) tends to sneak forward and join Langsdorf (28) along the front line while Asprilla drops back and plays as more of a connector between the midfield and attack.
Both Hurtado and Langsdorf have skills that benefit the other. Hurtado is more nimble with the ball at his feet and is capable of popping up and finding the ball deeper in midfield where he can shuttle it forward. Langsdorf does well at holding the ball up and controlling space. His hold up play allows Hurtado to make runs off of him which often leads to goal-scoring opportunities.
Both attackers playing off one another gives T2 a dangerous presence down the middle and allows for players such as Asprilla and Farfan (or other attacking fullbacks) to have space to attack into while providing themselves as an option in the box. While both players have their respective weaknesses, their strengths play well off of one another and allow T2 to be just that much more dangerous in attack.
While T2 did manage to finish the game with a point, all three were there for the taking had they been more clinical with their chances.
Early on, Asprilla had an open header in the box that he sent just over the post which would have put T2 on the front foot in the first ten minutes. Cristian Ojeda also had a great opportunity in the ninth minute, but his final touch betrayed him and the ball rolled harmlessly to Cochran.
In the 62’, Hurtado found himself one-on-one with the keeper, but Cochran was able to come up with the save outside the box.
And in the 78’, Roy Miller found himself unmarked at the back post on a corner kick, but he didn’t make proper contact with the ball and sent the ball just wide of the left post.
The chart below shows all the shots that T2 attempted throughout the game. Pretty much all of the attempts came in and around the 18-yard box, not from distance, so there were plenty of high percentage opportunities to put the game away.
While hindsight is 20-20, if any of these near misses found the back of the net, T2 would’ve been able to firmly establish their position on top of the West.
“I think when you look at the balance of the second half and some of the chances we had, it’s really encouraging because we had some good chances from inside the box and again we found ourselves in a position where we were behind and we had the character and the quality to make sure that we got a result,” Knowles said after the game. “We obviously feel like we dropped points, but still, to come back and get a draw is a great result.”
After Sunday’s result, T2 has lost just once in their last ten games, but only have four wins since the beginning of April.
With the point, T2 now find themselves sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference, just two points back from first-place Phoenix Rising FC. Next Saturday night they are back on the road where they will take on 12th place Orange County SC at 5:30 p.m.