It’s getting to the time of year where Timbers 2 will have to start picking up points ... and quickly. Coming into Saturday night’s game against Sacramento Republic FC, T2 had picked up just six points over the past six games and WERE slowly falling down the Western Conference standings.
In a hectic game, it was Sacramento that broke through, scoring the opener at the stroke of halftime before holding off wave after wave of T2 pressure. The last time the two teams met, T2 came away with the 1-0 victory. This time, it was the Republic’s turn to flip the script and hand the visitors a 1-0 defeat of their own.
Hayden Partain (41’)
The game’s lone goal came courtesy of the Republic midfielder just before halftime. Building out from the back, Sacramento played through the midfield before the ball was sprung out wide to Juan Barahona on the left wing. The winger played a low cross into the box, which made its way to an unmarked Partain for the easy tap-in.
Looking at the second goal, we can see that Partain’s run was not picked up as he made his way from deep in the midfield to the far post. T2 may have had more numbers in their final third, but that is a run that should be picked up by one of the defenders nonetheless.
Playing against a back three
It’s not often that T2 has to worry about covering a back three, but that’s what they were up against on Saturday night. Most of their opponents this season have used a four-man backline to build out from. Sacramento employed a five-man backline, which forced T2 to play a numbers game.
With T2 playing mostly in a 4-4-2, they had to figure out how to apply pressure to the third Republic center back. Throughout the game, it looked like coach Cameron Knowles was content with sitting back and allowing that third player to possess the ball. Instead of added pressure, he decided to keep a man back and make it much more difficult to play through the midfield. In a game like this, the strategy looked to be effective: Sacramento decided to loft long and direct balls to bypass the midfield instead of taking advantage of the extra time on the ball at the back, forcing T2 to chase them down.
At the end of the day, they weren’t directly affected by their decision to not send three players to close down the ball. It was interesting to see how T2 might react in future situations against a back three; against a much better team, they might need to reconsider pressuring the ball with a front three of their own. Overall, it was an interesting tactical decision that showed T2’s emphasis on a sturdy defensive mid-block instead of one based around aggressive pressing and winning the ball high up the field.
Building possession using the creative playmaker
Last weekend I noticed that T2 like to drop their creative midfielder into the back line to start attacks from deep. That trend continued this past weekend against Sacramento, and it looked to lead to some of the best spells of possession T2 had throughout the game.
T2 is a team that enjoys playing direct and down the flanks. While it can be effective with the talent that the team has out wide, it can also lead to more losses of possession, while allowing the other team to crowd the box to invite (and deal with) inefficient crosses.
Against Tulsa, it was Carlos Anguiano tasked with carrying the ball up through midfield, and he did a pretty decent job of it. On Saturday night, Williamson played the role, and it was nice to have his ball skills and creativity back. While the role makes Williamson more limited in attacking phases because he has to track back and receive the ball deep, it also allows him to open up spaces for others and progress the ball up the field. The distribution map of Williamson (shown below) illustrates just how vital that specific role is to keep the team clicking.
Having the creative midfielder drop back and pick up the ball from the back line is an interesting wrinkle and one that could be beneficial in the long term, especially against teams that allow T2 to have more possession.
Loss of possession through direct passes
For better or worse, T2 is a team that likes playing direct. Sometimes it pays off, but most of the time, it just results in loss of possession.
Shown below is a chart containing all of T2’s incomplete passes from the match. As you can see, a lot of those are long balls played from the back line trying to completely bypass the midfield.
When opponents heavily press, T2 often opt to play the long pass instead of trying to pass through it. Some of the reasoning might come from the fact that T2’s current starting midfield is not strong enough or doesn’t have the personnel to pass through a congested defense. However, there must be another way for the team to advance the ball up the field that doesn’t involve kicking a hopeful pass intended for a teammate to bring down. Hopefully that’s an adjustment that Knowles is already looking into and can be adjusted shortly.
On another day, this is a result that could have gone T2’s way. Both teams nearly split possession down the middle, and each side had dangerous chances, including one from T2 that had to be cleared off the line. However, possession means nothing if you can’t convert. In purely a competitive point of view, T2 will have to start taking advantage of their chances if they want to stay above the playoff line and stop their recent skid of results.
T2 will conclude their two-game Northern California trip in Fresno at 7:30 next Saturday night when they take on Fresno FC. A result against the Foxes will help keep T2 near the top of the Western Conference before they return to Providence Park for a showdown against Los Dos.