The Timbers made their first visit to Houston Dynamo’s swanky new stadium, their second visit to Texas this year, and left the Lone Star State with another hard-earned point in their second goalless draw on the bounce.
John Spencer saw little to change in the line-up after the draw with Columbus – a match I attended after 12 hours in the air with a toddler and an infant, and as such have only the barest recollection of, but great thanks to Sheba for the tickets all the same – with Steven Smith coming back in to start at left back.
It meant Jewsbury continued at right back, and Palmer took up his new role as midfield enforcer with Nagbe and Boyd leading the line, and Songo’o and Wallace giving midfield width. Danso and Mosquera partnered at the back, hoping to build on a very promising beginning against the Crew.
Though it nominally looked like your typical Spencer 4-4-2, the reality was in took more of a 4-4-1-1 shape as Nagbe spent much of the game dropping deep to get the ball.
Whether accident or design, Nagbe’s ranging deep to get involved spoke to the isolation of the front line, and not for the first time.
It seems like the strategy over the past couple of matches has been to close the back door, and you could understand why – this was a team that had lost 13 goals in 8 matches prior to the Columbus match. And while you have to say it’s worked so far – two matches, no goals conceded – it has left the creative attacking players so detatched from play that they may as well take lawn chairs onto the pitch with them.
The defensive shape has to be praised though. For a team that has so often lacked defensive discipline, or shown a tendency for concentration levels to drop, the work the midfield and defence did to maintain order was, for the most part, excellent.
The lower screengrab highlights especially the good work done defensively to close down the space and hold their lines. You have two tight banks of four, no more than 30 yards from goal – it’s an intimidating sight for an attacking team to break down. Just ask Barcelona.
However, the flip side is that as good as those lines are defensively – where are the attackers? The gap between midfield and attack is more a chasm, and it’s one reason why it’s so difficult to get the ball to them effectively and build attacks.
The policy of dropping off and almost daring Houston to try and break them down is highlighted by the above shots, as well as this breakdown of where each team was tackling/intercepting play.
You can see at a glance how clustered these events are in and around the Portland box, and indeed the vast majoirity occur in the final 30 yards. It should also be noted how the play is being funnelled towards the centre.
Given that BBVA Compass Stadium has the same pitch width as Jeld-Wen Field of only 70 yards, it’s no surprise that the Timbers would look to narrow the play and really congest things in the centre.
Houston’s defensive play, as you can see, if more more spread out and they had a tendency to press higher up the pitch.
The Timbers’ defensive strategy worked for much of the game, with a few cutomary late chances given up as tiredness and injuries started to open up space. Danso was struggling laste on, but was unable to come off as all three subs had been used. One of those subs had been to replace Jewsbury with Chabala after Jack fell awkwardly in the first half. I don’t have the figures to hand, but I have a strong suspicion that Portland lead the way in enforced injury substiutions.
Palmer, often a lightning rod for criticism, did some good work covering at the back.
Palmer didn’t have a bad game at all – though someone needs to tell him that he doesn’t need to shoot everytime he has the ball within 40 yards of goal – but when alongside Chara in the centre it leaves the team very asnaemic in an attacking sense through the middle.
Chara was his usual self, buzzing around the midfield and getting stuck in, but neither he nor Palmer could offer the thrust through the middle that the team need.
Chara also seemed a little off the pace at times, which is unusual for him.
Palmer does his job well, but Chara is caught on his heels rather than being alive to the danger.
And again, he fail to match the runner, which forces Danso across and leads to a decent chance for the Dynamo.
On the whole though, the defence did their jobs well and I’m sure the second clean sheet in a row was greatly received by the coaching staff. Troy Perkins deserves big pats on the back for a couple of crucial one-on-one saves. Given he’s already wearing a mask, surely it’s not much of a leap to get him playing in a cape too. Superkeeper to the rescue.
The problem is at the other end. It’s now 427 minutes since a Timbers player last scored – at least, I don’t think we’ve signed Chance Myers yet – and that is a seriously long time to go without troubling Timber Joey to turn his chainsaw on.
To put that into context for a nerd like myself, you could watch the entire Star Wars trilogy (original, of course – no special editions) and still have time left over to get halfway through the Holiday Special, which coincidentally would probably leave you as depressed as watching your team fail to put the ball in the net in over 7 hours of play.
I mean, Bea Arthur, what the fu-
Sorry, back on topic. Given the isolation of the front line, it’s little surprise that good chances are as thin of the ground as Sounders fans pre-2009.
The introduction of Sal Zizzo after a lengthy lay-off gave the Timbers a bit of spark. He replaced Rodney Wallace on the hour after Wallace had had a poor match. He was wasteful in possession and generally looked like he wasn’t comfortable at all. I had held out hopes that Wallace would slot right in at left midfield as I felt his greatest weakness was his defending. I may have to revise that opinion as, on this evidence, his attacking isn’t so strong either.
Zizzo gave the team a bit of zip when he came on. In Zizzo the Timbers finally have someone who will take a player on, and go round the outside rather than look for a pass back. Nagbe and Songo’o are also good at taking defenders on, but these guys rely more on trickery to beat a man, whereas Zizzo will do it with good old fashioned pace, drive and strength.
Zizzo’s driving run leaves a defender in his wake, and he gets his head up to lay a nice pass off to Nagbe who doesn’t take the first time shot, and then can’t dig the ball out from under his feet in time.
In the end, a draw was probably the fairest result for both teams. The Timbers will hope to build on their defensive foundations, adding a bit attacking verve, as they look ahead to back-to-back home matches against Chicago and Vancouver.
It was interesting to note this on twitter after the match…
Strange for an owner that hates 0-0’s to have a team that has singularly failed to sign a truly creative midfielder.
But what do I know?
Till next time, #RCTID