Portland Timbers 2 concluded its two-game homestand on Saturday with a disappointing 4-2 defeat to the Oklahoma City Energy on Friday night.
Between a win in its last game against New Mexico United and scoring in the opening five minutes against OKC, T2 looked to be flying. Add on top of all that the quality of recent goals, and it seemed as if T2 was ready to begin its climb back up the table. Instead, it all fell apart before the hour mark as T2 suffered another eye-opening defeat.
Gio Calixtro and Ryan Sierakowski found the back of the net for T2, but it was OKC’s Christian Eissele that stole the show on Friday night — scoring a brace — as T2 shipped its most goals since an end of June matchup against Phoenix Rising.
Gio Calixtro (4’)
The Oregonian opened the scoring for T2 early after some good buildup play.
A beautiful ball chipped to the left flank by Nathan Smith found Christian Ojeda, who served a beautiful ball into the center of the box. Foster Langsdorf was the first one to get to the ball, and he headed it down into the path of Calixtro, who ran onto the ball and powered it past Cody Laurendi.
At that point, T2 looked to be flying. The well-worked goal was the team’s earliest in quite some time and put them on the front foot throughout the rest of the first half.
Christian Eissele (20’)
It did not take all that long for the visitors to equalize. After some buildup play out of the back, Callum Ross sent a pinpoint cross into the box that just curled teasingly around Adrian Diz Pe. Eisselle was there to tap in the cross, and at that point, there was nothing that T2 keeper Aljaz Ivacic could do.
That type of cross to tap-in would define the night for T2, who just seemed a step slow on set pieces — and they got burned for it endlessly.
Ryan Sierakowski (28’)
It did not take T2 long to pull back in front, thanks to another spectacular long-range strike from Ryan Sierakowski.
Just a week after sending a rocket into the top corner against New Mexico United, he did it again against the Energy. After a cross into the box took a few deflections, Ojeda was able to set up Sierakowski with a weighted header, and the young striker made no mistake with the finish.
Mekell Williams (53’)
The game started to turn around after halftime, as OKC kicked off the second-half scoring. The ball came off of a corner won after Owayne Omar Gordon carried the ball from midfield into the box and forced a deflection. The in-swinging ball found Williams in the center of the box, and all he had to do was redirect the ball on frame.
The goal kicked off a furious Energy rally that saw them seize hold on the game that they would not relinquish.
Christian Eissele (56’)
Just minutes after finding the equalizer, the Energy struck again. Before halftime, T2 had a one-goal advantage. Just before the hour mark, they faced a one-goal deficit.
After sent in behind on the right, Gordon delivered a low cross into the box that Eissele tapped in for his second of the night. T2 was too slow in picking up the forward’s run and paid dearly as the Energy got a second tap-in on the night.
Christian Ibeagha (86’)
Once again, T2 gave up a goal on a tap-in from a low cross. This time, it was Ibeagha who reaped the benefits of being in the right place at the right time.
It was a disappointing goal for T2 to concede and slammed the door shut on any potential late equalizer.
Dealing with crosses
If there is any aspect of Friday’s game that hurt T2 the most, it was dealing with balls — such as corners and crosses — being sent into the box.
T2 gave up three goals on crosses and tap-ins alone as the Energy turned what should be the least efficient types of plays into their bread and butter throughout the night.
As you can see below, most of OKC’s attempted crosses became key passes; just one of fifteen (!!) successful crosses resulted in nothing. These crosses often connected because of a T2 player’s lack of tracking a runner or even just failing to keep track of their marker in the box, even for just a split-second.
In that vein, dealing with long, direct balls over the top also seemed to hurt T2. Some of the Energy’s most effective attacking possessions came from going route-one over the top of the T2 defense. By being able to bypass the midfield with purposeful direct balls, the remaining players were allowed the freedom to have more opportunities in the attacking third and to load the box.
T2 have looked better lately, as they have tried building possession through the middle of the park more and more. However, if they cannot get the basics, such as defending long balls and crosses into the box down, their hopes of making it into the playoffs for a second consecutive season could be out the window.
Settling too much
When opponents sit back and allow a team space at the top of the box, one of the best things that a player can do (if they are capable) is shoot the ball. Against teams that sit back, testing the keeper from this range can keep a defense honest, and it allows for at least a little bit of room in behind. However, this strategy can also be overused and cost a team the game. Once they become too reliant on these types of shots, the rest of the offense will be negatively affected, and a larger-than-necessary portion of possession spells become about attempting to be hit these long shots in hopes of a lucky goal.
That came into play on Friday night, as T2 lost most of its possession after a shot from long range did not come off. While T2 nicked one from Sierakowski, the rest of the attempts barely troubled Laurendi; if anything, this allowed OKC to have the ball back even quicker in dangerous attacking situations.
Look at the chart below and where all the shots come from. T2 attempted a whopping seven shots from outside the box, while OKC only attempted one. Instead of trying a low-percentage play, they chose to work the ball inside the box or continue cycling it until they found the perfect look. It’s no coincidence that they walked out of Providence Park with a commanding victory.
While taking these shots from time to time can be considered a good thing and keeps a defense honest, there is a balance that has to be struck to maintain an efficient offense. Against the Energy, T2 struck no such balance, and it came back to bite them in the form of lost possession and eventual frustration.
Positive 1-2 play in transition
One of the things T2 did the best against the Energy was speeding up the pace of play with one-two passing, especially in transition.
Over the past few weeks, I have mentioned in this column how T2 like to play direct and somehow bypass the midfield. Recently, the quick passing has helped T2 advance the ball into the attacking third in a much more efficient way. The ball still gets sent out wide like it used to, but now players such as Carlos Anguiano, Todd Wharton, and Gio Calixtro can make their own runs with and without the ball while supplementing the players out wide.
These quick balls help shift a defense that opens up gaps to exploit, whether by a pass or by dribbling through it. The priority on quicker passing and possession has seemed to help T2 gain more opportunities while opening up a host more of options. While it is still a work in progress, the strategy seems to be yielding positive results, which is a good thing for T2 to build on throughout the rest of the season.
With Friday night’s defeat, T2 sit neck-and-neck with Los Dos on 32 points — which is good for the eighth and final spot in the USL playoffs. T2 have shown many positives over their recent homestand, but have also shown a majority of areas that need improvements. Luckily for T2, they will have plenty of opportunities to make more adjustments starting next Saturday as they head to Las Vegas to take on Eric Wynalda’s Lights FC.