On Wednesday night, all three of Portland’s soccer teams played on the road. By night’s end, the three teams managed to secure just one out of a possible nine points — and that point came courtesy of Timbers 2.
Sandwiched between the Timbers US Open Cup semifinal match and the Thorns rivalry match in Tacoma, T2’s game against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC flew under the radar. The last time the two teams met, a second-half brace from Foster Langsdorf helped T2 come back and steal a point. Wednesday night’s game had a similar script as Ojeda opened the scoring for the visitors, while Langsdorf found a late equalizer once again.
Cristian Ojeda (35’)
After spending a majority of the half trying to break down the Switchbacks’ defense, T2 finally broke down the door in the 35’, thanks to midfielder Cristian Ojeda.
The Argentinian midfielder started the playoff with a precise switch to outside-back Harold Hanson on the right flank. Hanson sent a good cross into the box intended for Foster Langsdorf, but it found its way to Ojeda off a deflection. All Ojeda had to do was run onto the ball as he sent a rocket off a defender’s face and into the back of the net.
It was an excellent individual strike from Ojeda and, for the first time since June, T2 found themselves with a lead.
Ismaila Jome (48’)
T2 may have grabbed ahold of the early lead, but they couldn’t hold onto it for long. Just after half time, a strong back pass from Todd Wharton forced keeper Aljaz Ivacic to dive on the ball at the top of his six-yard box to prevent a near-certain own goal.
The resulting free kick was hammered into the back of the net by defender Ismaila Jome for the equalizer.
It was a terrible set piece for T2 to give up, mainly because Colorado Springs wasn’t pressuring the ball that hard, and Wharton had enough time to play the ball in any other direction. It was a silly mistake, and it cost the team dearly.
Saeed Robinson (67’)
The Switchbacks’ final goal came courtesy of a give-and-go between winger Saeed Robinson and forward Austin Dewing. Before T2 seemed to know what was happening, Robinson had the ball inside the penalty box and beat two defenders before chipping the ball past Ivacic.
It was a well-worked goal by the Switchbacks that gave them a temporary lead midway through the second half. Thankfully for T2, that lead only lasted two minutes thanks to the efforts of …
Foster Langsdorf (69’)
He finally did it. After what seems like an eternity, Foster Langsdorf found the back of the net for T2, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The goal was set up by Ojeda, who unleashed another rocket with his left foot that clanged off of the top post, forcing the keeper into an attempted save. The ball deflected back into the 18-yard box and fell right to Langsdorf, who headed the ball home into an empty net.
For the second time against the Switchbacks this season, Langsdorf found the equalizer, and this time he helped ensure that T2 return home with a valuable point.
A more cohesive direct strategy might be needed
As has been mentioned in this column before, T2 is a team that likes to bypass the midfield and play a lot of direct balls into the attacking third. While this has worked previously, it doesn’t take advantage of some of T2’s most talented players in the midfield, and most of these lobbed balls seem to go over everyone and out of bounds.
Against the Switchbacks, it looked like T2 was trying to play out of the back to entice the opponent to come forward and vacate space in behind. When T2 found this space, they often pinged a long ball into the area, which provided mixed results. T2 finished the game with just 43.9 percent of possession, with most of it ceded on these long, direct balls over the top.
Shown below is the distribution map from the defenders. As you can see, there is a lot of green in the team’s defensive third, while there is a lot of red in the attacking third.
For a team that won only 23.1 percent of aerial duels, it might have been more useful to try to figure out a way to advance possession to allow the team to have some of the ball in its own attacking half. The team has the talent in the midfield to run a possession-based approach, and with players such as Williamson, Ojeda, and Anguiano manning the midfield, it could be something worth trying in due time. There’s always this weekend.
Another thing that caught my attention on Wednesday night was how T2 played out of the back in goal kick situations.
Often Ivacic booted the ball towards midfield to clear lines and allow the defense time to set up. The whole aspect of punting the ball is fine, but with many of the long balls becoming turnovers, T2 just ends up losing possession before they can even begin their attacking phase of play.
As shown in the distribution map above, Ivacic connected on just five of his fifteen goal kicks on Wednesday night. The Slovenian keeper has proven to be good with his distribution, but the game plan called for him to go deep a majority of the time with kicks that require a lot of precision; that is simply not asking for success.
In the upcoming two games, T2 will be in a better position where they will be able to try and play with the ball out of the back. If that is the case, it will be interesting to see how Knowles works with this dynamic. Will he have his team try and play more short balls out of the back to a player like Williamson and Anguiano to build up more possession, or will he attempt to tweak the area of the field he asks Ivacic to distribute longer passes to? There are a lot of kinks to be worked out in this facet of play, and I believe that it will be something worth keeping your eye on in T2’s upcoming homestand.
Avoiding mental mistakes
From slipping and falling at the back post to leaving a pair of runners unmarked, T2 has made a lot of mental errors in the defense this season that has cost them.
On Wednesday night, it was an unnecessary back pass that eventually resulted in the equalizer. If T2 continues to make unforced errors like that, then it doesn’t matter how they might adjust or plan for a game because it will be over before they have the chance to try to establish their tactical plan.
As you can see below, Wharton had time to plan a pass or boot it out of bounds. There was no need for a rushed back pass in this situation, especially with just a one-man press.
Thankfully, errors such as these are not week-to-week commonalities. As long as Knowles and his staff can iron some of these mistake-prone moments out, then the team will be able to focus on more pressing issues, such as how they might want to play out of the back or how they can integrate the midfield into the game more. Either way, getting rid of some of the kinks now means more time to work on what needs to be fixed in the long run.
T2 may not have won a game since June 22 and are currently outside the playoff picture, but they will play their next two games at home, where they will look to pick up some points and make the climb up the table. The homestand will kick off against New Mexico United on Sunday at 6 pm as the team looks to avenge their earlier defeat to the expansion side.