It was a great day to be at Providence Park on Sunday.
Just hours after the Thorns set a new NWSL attendance record and defeated their bitter rivals for the first time in nearly two years, Portland Timbers 2 ended their seven-match winless streak and made amends for a frustrating early-season draw as they defeated New Mexico United 3-2 to conclude a successful nine-point weekend in the Rose City.
Foster Langsdorf (3’)
After a long stretch without scoring a goal, Langsdorf found the back of the net for a second consecutive game — and he did it in style.
New Mexico was able to clear the first ball in from the corner kick, but it fell to Langsdorf, who chested it down and took the shot first-time.
The killer strike was Langsdorf’s sixth of the season and put T2 on the board first, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
Ryan Sierakowski (58’)
Sierakowski put T2 two goals to the good early in the second half with another fantastic strike from outside the box.
After some buildup play, Sierakowski got the ball on the right side of the box and decided to have a go. It turned out to be the right decision as the ball knuckled into the top left corner for the team’s second goal of the day.
Santiago Moar (72’)
After a relatively calm twenty minutes, New Mexico got on the board thanks to forward Santiago Moar.
After some slow buildup, Josh Suggs played a cross-field switch to Moar on the right. He squared up T2’s Nathan Smith and dribbled past him before beating Aljaz Ivacic at his near post.
The goal was the Spaniard’s tenth of the season and gave the road side life after a relatively unimpressive first 70 minutes.
Todd Wharton PK (74’)
It only took T2 a matter of minutes to respond to New Mexico’s goal. Foster Langsdorf was fouled in the box after being slipped in by Gio Calixtro, and the ref didn’t hesitate to point to the spot.
T2 captain Todd Wharton stepped up to take the penalty and beat the keeper to the right post, putting T2 comfortably back on top.
David Estrada (87’)
New Mexico pulled a goal back late to make the ending at least a little interesting.
Estrada and Toni Soler played a give-and-go as Estrada was able to lay the ball off before finding plenty of room behind the T2 backline.
The former UCLA Bruin made no mistake with the finish, but it turned out to be too little too late as T2 were able to hold on and secure their first win since a 2-0 victory over Orange County FC on June 22nd.
Taking advantage of space at the top of the box
As both teams grew into the game, it seemed as if New Mexico was going to be content with sitting back and allowing T2 to have possession.
When opponents are going to sit back, the smartest thing to do is take advantage of the space just outside of the box and letting a shot or two go to keep the defense honest. Sure enough, New Mexico allowed space in those areas — and T2 took advantage. Thanks to the skill and technique of Langsdorf and Sierakowski, they found two critical goals that gave the team confidence throughout the match.
New Mexico head coach, Troy Lesesne, must have noticed that his team was allowing too much space in these dangerous areas and changed up his team’s game play quickly. New Mexico ended up out-possessing T2 57.1 percent to 42.9 percent, but T2 took advantage of their opportunities and were able to win the game.
Now not every team is going to sit back like New Mexico did at times on Sunday night, but when opponents do, it’s nice to know that T2 have some players that can take advantage.
Two standouts: Langsdorf and Calixtro
While the entire team put in an excellent performance, two players that stood out were Foster Langsdorf and Gio Calixtro.
Langsdorf played perhaps his best game of the season as he scored the opening goal and contributed to the second goal by drawing a second-half penalty. While he will show up on the score sheet, what might have been more critical was his movement without the ball. Too often Langsdorf seems reliant on outside service and can be taken out of the game quite easily. That wasn’t the case on Sunday night as he seemed to be everywhere in the attacking half. As you can see from the distribution and shot chart below, Langsdorf was accurate holding the ball up and playing it backward; he looks to be a lot more involved. In what has been a relatively disappointing season for the Stanford product, the last few games have seen him pick up momentum, and it will be interesting to see if he can carry it forward.
And while Langsdorf may have had his best game in quite some time, you can argue that Calixtro was the man of the match. T2 played through the midfield a lot more today, and the young homegrown seemed to be the beneficiary. When T2 was in transition, Calixtro did well at carrying the ball forward as well as slotting some excellent passes into the final third. Calixtro’s distribution chart from the game is mostly green and shows just how well he did at maintaining possession in the center of the park.
Players such as Calixtro and Langsdorf have begun to look more comfortable as the season has progressed, and if they can continue to play as they did on Sunday night, then T2 might be in for a late-season resurgence.
Playing through the midfield once again
In its seven-game winless streak, T2 seemed to shy away from the midfield consistently. Whether it be through direct balls over the top or just funneling attack out wide to the wings, there appeared to be a disconnect in the center of the park.
As you can see from the heat map above, on Sunday night, the ball seemed to be much more concentrated through the midfield. Having the ball in these positions is advantageous because it gives the team more options in possession other than continuously cycling the ball back when facing a defender or sending multiple aimless crosses into the box. With the ball in the midfield, the team can play a one-two with the wings and keep the defense on its feet or find a way to bypass lines and get the ball to a creative midfielder.
Against New Mexico, T2 did much better at dictating attack and tempo while transitioning through the center of the park instead of out wide. While the team lost the possession battle, each attacking movement seemed to have more purpose and produced many more opportunities than in weeks past.
No matter how you slice it, T2’s win on Sunday night was an important one heading into the season’s final stretch, especially against a quality opponent like New Mexico United. T2 will have the opportunity to carry this momentum forward when they step back out onto the field at Providence Park at 7:30 p.m. next Friday against the Oklahoma City Energy.