Portland Timbers 2 Real Salt Lake 3

Losing a match is always tough. Losing it in the last few minutes of a match is even tougher. Losing it from a winning position in those last few minutes…

It’s little wonder then that emotions ran high among Timbers fans in the aftermath of a spirit-crushing 3-2 loss to Real Salt Lake. Having clawed their back from a 1-0 half time deficit to lead 2-1, thanks to two routine wonder goals from Darlington “Yeah, I Just Did That” Nagbe, it looked like the Timbers were going to score three crucial points in a tough battle for the play-off’s in the Western Conference. But back came RSL with a sickening 1-2 at the death.

It’s natural for people to look for an explanation for such a dramatic turnaround. For some, it was the ref’s fault, though I can’t follow that logic myself. The ref, or his assistants, didn’t have a great game by any means, but they didn’t lose this match for Portland.

For me, the match was lost because of individual errors, both on field and off.

But before I get into that, an apology.

On first, and second, glance I thought Wallace had made the mistake for RSL’s 1st goal in not stepping up. I was quick to get on his back, and I have to admit it’s because he’s a player who generally frustrates me. He’s too often wasteful in possession – panicky punts up park a particular peccadillo – and naive in defence, and when I saw he was involved in the build up to RSL winning the penalty, I just assumed he had to carry the blame. So I went looking for his mistake (apart from the handball which was, to my mind, as much bad luck as anything) and “found” it in his failure to step up and play offside. Case closed. Wallace to blame again. Bad Wallace. Bad, bad Wallace.

I was wrong.

Sorry, Rodney.

It is Jean-Baptiste who reacts too late, and plays Grabavoy onside, even taking Wallace out of the equation. Wallace actually does a sterling job of covering across for Brunner, who has pushed out of defence. Of course, had Wallace played offside with AJB, there’s a chance the offside call could’ve been given (wrongly) against Grabavoy, as you see so often when the margin is tight and you have defenders heading one way and an attacker the other at speed, but that’s a risk I’d rather not have my team take. I was wrong to blame Wallace, and the goal was down to good old fashioned intelligent interplay from RSL to open up the space. Had the ball not flicked up onto Wallace’s hand, and he’d got in to clear, we’d all be singing his praises.

If you want to go looking for someone to blame, you could nitpick about Brunner and AJB, but that’s just being clever after the fact.

Now, RSL’s second goal, it came about because Marcelin tried to shield the ball 30 yards from his own goal, with less than two minutes on the clock…

That in itself didn’t cost the goal on it’s own, but Marcelin compounded his error by then chasing blindly after the ball, and leaving Steele open…

To be fair, there was still some work to do before Steele could get his shot away, but a failure to track runners is a worryingly common thread for the Timbers back line, and it left them outmanned in the most crucial area of the pitch. Three Timbers players close down the ball, whilst RSL have a 4-on-3 advantage in the box.

And it also brings me to my last error. Spencer ballsed up the subs.

The change to bring on Marcelin for Chara only unsettled the team. They’d been playing with a nice diamond formation, Chara out right, Alexander left (Alexander, by the way, was excellent all game – my man of the match, even allowing for Nagbe’s two cracking goals) with Jewsbury deep. I thought Jewsbury looked much more comfortable and at home in that role shielding the defence, often popping up behind the back line to mop things up. Throwing on Marcelin only put another body in there, ceding territory to RSL and, in the case of the 2nd goal as you’ve seen, putting two men in the same place, doing the same job which means there’s a job somewhere else on the pitch that isn’t getting done.

If it was an attempt to “close” out the match, it backfired in some style. Sometimes the best team to close out a match is the team on the pitch. There’s no need to disrupt it, especially when there’s a guy on the pitch already who can, and is, doing that job. It’s just changing it for the sake of changing it, as if the reasoning was that 2-1 up at home in the last stretch other game, it’s just what you’re supposed to do, right?

And the other change… Well, I guess this is where people will disagree with me. At least, more than usual.

Three points: 1 – I thought Perlaza had a good game. 2 – He shouldn’t have been subbed off. 3 – He should start next week.

Okay, he missed a gilt edged chance. It was a bad miss, I won’t explain it away or excuse it. I’m sure he’s as disappointed by it as anyone. But strikers all miss chances. The best strikers will miss absolute howlers from time to time. But the reason they’re the best, is they get the chances in the first place.

Clearly, Perlaza isn’t a world class striker and no-one – not even Mrs. Momma Perlaza – would argue he is. But he’s a great option for the Timbers and a fantastic foil for Boyd. He works tirelessly, and will give defenders an absolute nightmare. Combine that with Boyd, and the opposition fear of the Scot that leads to them sticking a man on his shoulder at all times, and you have a front two that can combine to take the central defence completely out of the game, opening up space for an attacker coming from deeper like, oh say, Mr Darlington Nagbe Esq.

Perlaza is a perpetual motion machine, he just never stops moving. Sometimes his touch is lacking, and his finishing can be erratic, but if you think all an attacker is there to do is to score, you’re hopelessly naive. Yes, it’s important, but not all strikers are goalscorers – some are great foils and that’s the bracket I put Perlaza in.

Jorge Perlaza is Portland’s Emile Heskey.

There, make of that what you will. But what I mean by it is that Jorge is the #2 striker. He’s the guy who does the channel running and moving defenders around to create space for the #1, Boyd, just as Heskey would do for Michael Owen. Or, in the case of this diamond formation from Portland, the #3 attacker in Nagbe, who played at the point of the midfield, luxuriating in the space between RSL’s defence and midfield.

It might not be fashionable and it certainly won’t grab the headlines, but Portland worked a helluva lot better with Perlaza on the field than they did without him. What annoyed me about the change was that it could’ve been called before the match had even kicked off. Songo’o was always coming on, and Perlaza was always going off, regardless of how the match was shaping up.

Nagbe isn’t a #2. He’s a creator, a headline grabber, a fan’s darling. He’ll conjure up a bit of magic here and there and light up a match. He won’t do the tireless, thankless job Perlaza will do. And Portland are weaker for both losing Perlaza’s industry and denying Nagbe the chance to play in the role he is clearly most suited to.

I don’t think Nagbe is a lead-the-line type of player. Sure, he’s good enough, and eager enough, that if you tell him to go do it, he’ll try but he’s best suited to getting the ball in space and running at defenders and committing them, and he’ll do that best from a role just off the front line, where he can drop into pockets between oppositions defences and midfields, or into lateral channels.

There’s an interesting headache, in my opinion, for Spencer. How do you fit Boyd, Perlaza, Nagbe, Dike, Songo’o, Alexander, Alhassan, Zizzo, Chara, Jewsbury into those 6 midfield/attack positions? It’s a nice headache to have.

In my team, one of the first names down on that team sheet is Jorge Perlaza, and I make no apologies for it.

It’s Chivas USA next up for the Timbers. Three points is an absolute must at home against a Conference rival. Let’s go Timbers.

19 thoughts on “Portland Timbers 2 Real Salt Lake 3

  1. Kevin,

    I concede a few points about defensive frailty to your logical and well argued essay. Nice work.

    However, though I further concede that Perlaza’s work rate is admirable and can be highly valuable (especially in the last 20′), it shouldn’t earn him a starting nod over players with more quality.

    Working from the principle that quality trumps industry, Spencer should recognize Songo’o is in the best 5 (in front of Jewsbury and the 4 backs) and find a system to utilize him. Boyd will benefit from players who have the quality to link with him after the layoff, and provide service as Songo’o did a couple times after he came on. I would argue it’s not coincidental that the Timbers best spell of attack (in the 65th-85th minutes or so; working from memory on those times, might be off slightly) seemed to come with Songg’o on the field. It’s also when Nagbe scored to give the Timbers the lead, though I recognize Songo’o played no part in that one.

    The point you’ve mad about Heskey, is at first blush a good one. But ultimately I think it’s a false comparison. Having seen Heskey first-hand, he has quality – he’s not just a workhorse. In fact, when paired with Owen back in the day at Anfield, you’d have had to admit he was the obvious second choice at striker, though his strike-rate frustrated fans. Perlaza’s quality is not nearly as evident. If he were obviously in the best 11, I’d go with him, but it seems Songo’o brings more to the field. Perlaza and Heskey both work(ed) hard, but Perlaza arguably has a better player on the bench behind him.

    So to the problem Spencer has that you’re rightly noted: how to put these pieces together. What do you think of a 4-3-3 where Jewsbury plays the crucial holding central midfielder allowing Charra and Alhassan to go box-to-box, with Nagbe and Songo-o playing off Boyd? Personally, this is attractive to me as it gets my best 11 on the field. Keep in mind that Alhassan would likely drift or even start out wide, which is fine – symmetry is less important to the lineup than balance in quality. In the end, the goal should be to get our best, most creative players on the pitch.

    As for the frustrating Palmer and Wallace, I’ll leave that for another time…

    Keep up the good work here.


  2. To add a few other observations:

    1) Palmer was terrible yet again. MLS heat map says he had the worst passing, dribbling and tackling on the team. 3rd week in a row. Surely even Chabala would do better?

    2) Brunner took a free kick from halfway and put a laser on Boyd’s head that nearly went for a goal! Can he do this consistently? Maybe he should start taking all those kicks from 35-50 yards out.

    3) Spencer went to bed with a sub in his pocket (again). It seems like he’s not using every weapon he has, even if only for time-wasting purposes.

    I love your articles – keep bringing ’em!

  3. Kevin, I love your breakdowns much more than the Timbers’ breakdowns. :-/

    Subbing Marcelin for Chara was a head scratcher. Palmer is booking a room in the dog house. Can’t wait for Songo’o to be 90-minutes fit. I miss Mosquera, Futty, and Horst something fierce. Nagbe is going to be a star.

    I’m done beating my head against the wall now. Thanks for helping with the catharsis. Onward Rose City!

  4. With the offside- even if it was only Wallace a part would still have to go on the central defenders. Wallace doesn’t have a clue there looking to play offside- communication is crucial when trying to play an offside and it wasn’t communicate. Partly, this also comes down to Wallace lacking defensive instincts (he is a midfielder!). Watching the game last night I realized that a part of the reason why Wallace, and also Palmer’s, distribution is so terrible is because of a lack of options. Of course this is not in every instance, but often the wide men have drifted in and Jewsbury and Chara are too far away for easy passes. This happens often enough that I think that the fullbacks just get into the habit of punting it long. Wallace’s passing improves marketdly when he gets down the field and has movement and options.

    On Perlaza, I’d agree with you if it weren’t for the fact that Songo’o is sitting on the bench and Alhassan missed the game through injury. I’d love to see a top quartet looking like this in the future:

    Songo’o Nagbe Alhassan

    Having such dynamic and creative players behind Boyd can only lead to good things. In addition Nagbe and Alhassan will grow as players and I think those three could learn to play together very well!

  5. Richard, that’s not the first time Brunner has played a killer long ball. Remember the home game against New England? As I recall, Brunner launched a pass from midfield that found Nagbe right at the top of the 18. Nagbe played it off his chest but Reis smothered the shot.

  6. I appreciate your defense of Perlaza. He’s always been a favorite of mine for his work rate, speed and intelligence on the pitch. His opportunities so far this season have been promising and he will score goals. It just takes time.

    What I’d like to see sometime is Chara taking over Jewsberry with Nagbe as the ACM and Boyd / Perlaza up top. It would give us the creativity we need in the middle of the pitch to be highly competitive in this league.

  7. Great analysis, especially the thoughtful breakdown of play you do.

    My half-baked substitution scheme was more about getting Songo’o on and Nagbe into a more threatening scoring position than critcizing Perlaza; I posted that tweet at the half before either of our goals. (I also felt that Chabala might bring some tenacity and better distribution in at LB.) I agree with you (and Mike, above) about Perlaza’s work rate but I’d be a lot more impressed if he had something more tangible to show for it. I also thought you made a good point about letting the tenor of the game dictate the substitutions, rather than sticking to a preconceived plan.

    I’m not an expert on formations but maybe the 4-4-2 isn’t the best use of the players we have?


  8. Thanks for the good analysis. What about the final goal–leaving Beckerman wide open at the top of the box? Not clear who is supposed to cover that. I’ve seen some people blame the holding mids–Jewsbury and Marcelin. Marcelin was covering the ball (along with tow others) and jack was covering a man in the box. Meanwhile Boyd was standing maybe 10 yards from Beckerman but not doing anything.

  9. you’re offbase on perlaza…and jewsbury. you shouldn’t have to desperately search for indirect ways that perlaza is contributing to the attack. he’s not. and he hasn’t done anything of real value in some time. he runs away from defenders into open space (not sure how that’s a unique asset) and flubs most of his chances. to compare him to heskey – who uses his bulky frame to hold off 1-2 defenders with his back to goal while allowing the attack to develop – is highly inaccurate. you’re really reaching here on this perlaza thing. a player’s contribution should be evident, not needing detailed analysis of subtleties. and jewsbury didn’t “comfortable” to me – he didn’t look anything. not sure what he actually did.

      1. glad i could amuse you. i find your claim that perlaza is a crucial and indispensable part if our attack highly dubious, that’s all. its interesting to me, this has been floating around for a long time – everyone just accepts that the perlaza/boyd combo is a match made in heaven. i’ve seen little evidence of perlaza’s direct contribution to scoring chances, other than the occasional decoy run. explanations of his effectiveness usually come with some sort of “im more knowledgeable than you” explanation heavily relying on the subtleties and complexities to his game that average fans don’t have the worldly base of knowledge to understand. some sort of “see here, he runs over here, taking a defender with him, which opens up space for this player to go here which in turn results in a pass to boyd here, etc” what these examples don’t conclude, that i do, is that perlaza was largely uninvolved in the play.

        i appreciate this blog and what you are trying to do, just don’t see it on perlaza, i think he could away the team would be unaffected, maybe even get a little better.

      2. Since you’re taking the time to post replies, and my kids aren’t, it seems, going to let me sleep to night, I suppose I should add a longer reply as to why I a) fundamentally, whole-heartedly and totally disagree with most of what you’ve written and b) seriously, a).

        The fact you write “he runs away from defenders into open space (not sure how that’s a unique asset)” and that his off the ball running sees him “largely uninvolved in the play” tells me that we have absolutely nothing in common when it comes to how we watch, and interpret the game. It’s not that I know more than you, or anything like that before you get all worked up about me being smug again, it’s just that I think you’re wrong. You think I’m wrong, Big deal?

        I found your reply so amusing though because it was exactly that attitude I was detecting on twitter that caused me to write about Perlaza in the first place. It was like me saying I don’t like the Transformers movies because it’s a only a bunch of explosions, and then being told that they’re awesome because they have explosions. Fine if you don’t agree with me, but in pointing out why you don’t agree with me, you only made the very same points that I disagreed with in the first place and felt compelled to write about Perlaza. That is funny to me. I couldn’t have scripted it any better.

        As for the Heskey thing… I thought that since Perlaza is a good few inches shorter and more than a few pounds lighter, it would’ve been pretty clear that I wasn’t making a direct physical comparison between the two. It seems I was wrong. So, to clarify why I used Heskey as the illustration to my point, it was that he was the obvious example of what I was driving at – a second striker whose selfless play enables his partner to shine. The guy who does the work that won’t make the highlight reels, while his partner bags the glory in front of goal. Heskey is often (wrongly) derided as being nothing more than a lumbering presence up front, which is to be utterly blind to what he brings to a team.

        Perlaza is a different kind of player to Heskey. Clearly. He doesn’t have the physical presence of Emile. But he does a similar job, in my opinion, albeit in a slightly different way, but is no less crucial to the Timbers attack for it, especially with a penalty box striker like Boyd in the team. It’s Perlaza’s silly off-the-ball antics that create spaces for Boyd to move into and exploit, or for Nagbe to break forward into from midfield.

        But you don’t agree. So you don’t see football in the same way as I. Fine. For me, the work off the ball, the stuff that happens on the margins of the TV screen, is often every bit as crucial as what’s going on with the ball. When I watch a match, that’s often where my attention goes – I’m watching how players are shaping up to find space, or moving around the pitch and matching up. And for me, that’s where Perlaza shines. His “uninvolvement” as you see it is vital as I see it. Chalk and cheese. His running and movement into spaces, his creation of space behind him, is a great asset, for me. Without it, the Timbers attack is 2-dimensional and easy to deny space, leaving us to resort to long range shooting or hoping that a set play comes off, rather than creating openings of our own.

        But you don’t agree. I don’t mind. I don’t know what else to say to you, we may as well be speaking different languages on this. Feel free to tell me again how wrong I am, if you wish.

        Now I’m going to try and get some sleep, kids permitting.

        And by the way, I am cool. /smugface

    1. …although always a 20/20 hindsight on subs so we didn’t know if Chara could have kept it going or he absolutely needed to come out or if Marcelin would have had a breakout performance coming in. These come down to individual efforts and player by player decisions in the end just as your graphics point out.

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