Portland Timbers 3 Philadelphia Union 1

This isn’t a match report. You’ll find loads of those, written by guys much better at that than I could ever hope to be, at sites like Oregon Sports, Stumptown Footy or Timbers Insider, to name but three. This is just a place for me to post my random thoughts on the Timbers opening MLS match of 2012.

Long Story Short…

Timbers won 3-1, coming from behind to win for the first time as an MLS club. Each goal was unique too – two scored by debutants (Jean-Baptiste and Boyd) and the third by Kalif Alhassan, his first goal at Jeld-Wen Field. A stodgy first half, gave way to a much more open second, and the Timbers Army rejoiced as their team got 2012 off to a resounding start.


Diego Chara won’t grab many headlines with his understated style, but I was impressed once more with his showing, and he really is crucial to this side.

An overlay of Chara’s average position with the successful passes made by the Timbers shows a pretty striking correlation between Chara and “clusters” of successful passes.

Though he operates in a deep role, his ability to keep the ball moving – and to do it successfully more often than not – is the basis upon which many Timbers attacks are founded.

Much of Portland’s passing came down the left, or in deep left midfield in the first half as Union did a good job of restricting space in their own half. But the Timbers play opened up in the second as Palmer got more involved down the right hand flank and they were able to be more effective higher up the pitch down both flanks. This helped open up the until-then resolute Union defence.

Boyd Watch!

The debut of Portland’s new striker, Kris Boyd, generated a lot of buzz in the run-up to thew match, and Timbers fans were excited to see what the Ayrshireman was capable of. Comparisons to Portland’s previous big name striker, Kenny Cooper, were inevitable, but let’s take a look a little deeper.

Taking the average positions of Kenny Cooper in last years home opener, and Boyd in 2012, the difference in the two styles is pretty clear. Boyd is very much the focal point of an attack – you can see his positioning almost follows precisely the outline of the (annoyingly hard to remove) arrow, to a point in the penalty box.

Cooper meanwhile roamed out wide, into areas Boyd never would. This often left Timbers without their focal point up top.

What is often overlooked when people say Boyd is “just a goalscorer” is the footballing intelligence needed to get himself into the positions, time and again, to score in the first place. This ability to think two steps ahead of the defence was demonstrated early on in the first half.

The link-up play with Perlaza in this move is particularly nice to see so early as developing that telepathic relationship all good striking partnerships have is key to Portland having a great year.

It’s not just being able to read what his partner is going to do that matters though, as Boyd showed with the goal – neatly anticipating exactly where Alhassan was going to swing the ball in to.

By the way, this might get overlooked a bit, but that really is an absolutely outstanding header. Moving at speed in one direction, and deftly flicking it over the keeper and into the far side of the net – takesa great deal of skill.

All in all…

A good night’s work for Wee John’s boys. What could’ve been an immensely frustrating night was turned around by moments of inspiration (Kalif’s third was either a thing of exquisite beauty, or a slice of luck depending on your view – I prefer the former). There are still questions to be addressed – more than once Union had an opportunity to exploit space down Portland’s flanks, but passed it up. A better team pounces on those mistakes and punishes them.

There’s also the argument that Portland still lack a truly creative presence in the centre of the park, and all to often it leads to the team running down dead ends.

But hey, we won 3-1, Boyd scored, it rained, a Timbers are 100% for the season. Got to smile, right?

Green is colour…

11 thoughts on “Portland Timbers 3 Philadelphia Union 1

  1. This is really, really excellent, I love this kind of analysis. Hope we’ll have more match reports like this! Cheers from Portland.

  2. Good analysis — thanks Kevin! One request: Can you use a color other than red for heat maps and the comment tags on the photos? I’m red-green colorblind, and while I can see the red parts, it takes some effort. About one out of 15 men are in a similar boat. How about yellow?

  3. Fantastic, nuanced analysis. From my vantage point 20 rows up, Boydy’s goal happened so fast that I couldn’t appreciate the subtleties of the movement.
    Frankly, there aren’t many MLS strikers that can hit a glancing header like that: managing to get both placement and velocity. MLS defenders are on notice.

    1. You’re right, the skill involved in the header deserves special mention. There are a few strikers who could buy the space and time their run like Boyd did. A few who have the skill to flick a header in like that. There aren’t many in the league who can do both, and do it consistently. He’s a predator in the box – all killer instinct.

  4. Great analysis. I loved your work on the first goal. When I watched my recorded version of the game Boyd’s dummy just looked fantastic, because he really sold it by going aggressively toward that ball, faking a head-lunge to it, and then peeling off to receive Perlaza’s through ball.

    I was a bit surprised that MacMath got up so quickly from that shot – it looked a pretty nasty blast to the ribs.

  5. Nice work, are you married? single, dating? 🙂

    Seriously, even a n00b like myself could understand this analysis. Thanks!

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