Timbers 1, Quakes 0: Duelling Sanjo(se)s

This will be shorter than usual, thanks to time constraints, but there should be a longer one looking back over the full 180 minutes against San Jose. C.I. DeMann did a good job hitting the main points in his Six Degrees article. Besides which, MLS Live is still blacked out here, so I can’t sit down and re-watch it. There’s a few points I’d like to expand on that aren’t covered by the highlights, so they’ll have to wait.

Following the win last week, confidence was high going into the game. San Jose have still to beat the Timbers in MLS, and the Timbers stretched that record for at least another week with a 1-0 win.

Others have written more eloquently about the whole Alan Gordon farrago so I’ll just link to my favourite take on the matter by Roberto at 5mTKO, and I’d prefer to write about football than the wankers LARPing as 1980s style hooligans.

So, on to the football. Well it’s another win, which is always welcome, and it pushes the Timbers up to 3rd in the table, which is nice even if it doesn’t mean much this early on. The actual game, well, it was a bit of a slog, especially in comparison to the Houston match. It might not seem that way to glance at the stats, where you would see the Timbers’ highest possession figure of the season and that they had outshot the Earthquakes by 11-6.

A second glance though starts to hint at the problems the Timbers had. In terms of shots on target, San Jose had the upper hand by 3-2, and, perhaps most crucially, they won the “duels”, erm, duel by 55%-45%. The reason this figure has, in my opinion, a particular influence on the Timbers in this match was that Caleb Porter’s game plan seemed to be predicated on winning the majority of those battles.

First off, what is a duel? Well, Mr Opta defines a duel as a “50-50 contest between two players of opposing sides in the match”, so you’re two big guys going to head the same ball, or the 50/50 challenge on the ground.

Secondly, why did the fact the Timbers lost these battles by 71-54 matter so much when the Timbers are a passing team, who look to (and usually do) control possession?

Well, as Porter himself has said in interviews, the Timbers aren’t one thing. There is, really, no such thing as Porterball. The game plan will change from week to week, and while some aspects will remain constant, the whole demeanour of play can change dramatically depending on circumstance.

Against San Jose the Timbers were a long ball team, more often than you might expect. The most marked example of this change in attacking philosophy is in the distribution of Donovan Ricketts.


Ricketts’ figures were broadly the same from Houston to San Jose: he went long (ie, over the halfway line) 63.6% of the time against Houston, 68% against San Jose; recorded passes went from 22 to 25, and overall success rose from 54.6% to 56%. Not much to write home about, but when you compare the two side-by-side it’s pretty cleat that Ricketts went longer against San Jose, and more of those balls were aimed directly down the middle, rather than trying to get it to the wide attackers.

There’s are three main reasons why Porter might’ve wanted the keeper to go direct. Reason 1, he perceived an aerial weakness in the heart of the San Jose defence. Reason deux, he wanted to take the weight off Futty Danso, whose ball skills might not be the greatest. Reason III, he just wanted to change it up and catch San Jose off guard.

To be fair to Futty, despite my pre-match concerns that he was the weak link at the back by some margin, he put in a decent showing. Got caught out a couple of times, but never panicked and his distribution was actually pretty decent – he had the same number of passes as Silvestre (47), but was successful with one more (41-40).

That Ricketts’ rockets hit their target more often against San Jose than against Houston (35.3% to 28.6%) didn’t translate into goal scoring chances. If you were to look at Ryan Johnson’s figures in that zone where Ricketts’ was mortering, he had 1 successful flick-on and 4 that were unsuccessful. So, even when Johnson was winning the ball, the Timbers weren’t really profiting from “going long”.

Winning the aerial duel is only half the battle though, as oftimes winning the second ball is more important. To get a sense of how the Timbers did in this regard we can look at “Recoveries”, defined by Mr Opta as “where a player wins back the ball when it has gone loose or where the ball has been played directly to him”.


For comparisons sake I’ve also included the same data from the Houston match. It should be pretty obvious that the Timbers weren’t winning enough of these loose balls in the San Jose half, so even if Johnson’s challenge was enough to put a defender off-balance, it mattered naught because the Timbers weren’t picking up the “second ball”.

Darlington Nagbe played long spells of the game as a second striker, but failing profit from the quick ball forward simply left him too far forward to really get involved. It was only when he dropped off that he seemed to come alive.

This failure to get the attacking players involved as much left us looking a bit like a paper tiger at time. All very impressive when you’re sweeping the ball around, but lacking any real bite. The possession the Timbers did have didn’t really force San Jose to exert themselves greatly to close down, which rendered much of the Timbers play impotent. If we’d been really working them, and making them hustle, even if we weren’t creating clear cut chances there and then you’d at least feel that it would pay off late in the game, but I never got the sense that San Jose were having to work particularly hard.


As you can see in this chart, the Timbers managed to get 3 attacking players – Johnson, Nagbe and Wallace – involved more than most against Houston, but in this last match only Wallace remains, and he had more of a defensive onus on him with Wondolowski playing on the right of the San Jose midfield/attack.


What we also saw was less of the high pressing we’ve seen from Porter’s team. This may have been part of the overall attacking strategy in that it was designed to allow San Jose to play a little further forward, hopefully opening up the space in behind for Nagbe to profit from a Johnson flick-on. It never happened, and by the time the Timbers did get the goal it was very difficult to change tack and go for the jugular as they did against the Dynamo, instead looking to bunker down during an, at times, nervy last few minutes against nine men and a hobbit.

I doubt we’ll see the same strategy next week from Porter’s boys. We may see more of a return to the high-press, fast-pass style, or Porter may yet have more rabbits to pull out of the hat.

Yet, despite it not quite working as he’d have liked, Porter still ended the night with another “W” on his record. At this stage, it’s good to see us winning without playing particularly well for long stretches of the game. With a makeshift defence and the team’s most creative player not in the 18, Porter’s boys found some way to get through it and beat last year’s Supporters Shield winners while limiting them to their fewest shots at goal since the opening day of 2012.

That’s not bad going. Not bad, at all.

9 thoughts on “Timbers 1, Quakes 0: Duelling Sanjo(se)s

  1. Kevin,

    I asked this question last week and it went unanswered, so I thought I’d try again. You’re usually pretty thorough in your analysis, but last week you dismissed Futty without explaining why. This week you mentioned ball skills, but I was hoping you could flesh out your critique a bit. I know he’s no world beater by any stretch, but I’ve always rated him as about equal with Horst… a flawed CB (with a different mix of strengths and weaknesses than Horst) that has skills that can be valuable on an MLS club… at his salary anyway.

    I really respect your analysis, which is why I’m hoping you can give me a better understanding of how you rate him.

    Thanks as always for the thoughtful article.

    1. Sorry, I must’ve missed it last week.

      I dismissed him last week as, for me, a 30 year old who has never managed to really hold down a place in a defence that was already one of the worst in MLS isn’t a guy that’s going to come in and be a rock at the back. I’ve never rated his ability on the ball (sorry, I don’t have the time to go back throuhh the last couple of years to pull out figures), or his reading of the game. Nor is he particularly quick. His strength is in the air, and that’s an asset, but in a ball-playing team I felt trading a marginal gain in aerial presence for a loss in ability on the ball results in a net loss for the defence as a whole.

      Injuries, and Mosquera’s situation, forced Porter’s hand and, to his credit as I said in the article, Futty did well. He surprised me as I thought he’d be the weak link at the back that SJ could exploit, but save for a couple of moments where he got caught out of position, he was never really tested and looked pretty comfortable. A big part of that, for me, is down to the presence of Silvestre and Jewsbury on either side of him, covering for him. Last season, with Mosquera and Kimura, he doesn’t get that protection, and it probably costs us.

      I’d agree with you that there’s not much between Horst and Danso, but I think Horst’s performances last season earned him a spot above Danso in the pecking order, and I put AJB above both of them, though he’s still raw and needs careful management which means letting him sit now and then. Horst being a couple of years younger, and a good bit cheaper helps out too. Though, as you say, Danso’s hardly on Boyd money it doesn’t strain the cap that much to keep him hanging around, just in case…

      I think Danso’s value is as last resort cover. This situation happens next year, I think DTG gets the start. It’s just too early to throw him into a game against wily campaigners like Gordon, Lenhart and Wondolowski. I don’t think Danso’s a starter because he isn’t, as I said earlier, that good a footballer. He’s a battler, and will throw himself into those blocks and last ditch tackles, and fight the good fight in the air, and sometimes you need a bit of that, but that doesn’t mask what are, for me, pretty significant deficiencies in his wider game. That’s why I don’t think he’s the answer, long term at least. Especially not the way Porter wants his defenders to play. But as a short term quick fix in a crisis? Sure.

      I’m pleased he did well, a little relieved too, but if AJB gets fit I put AJB back in.

  2. Excellent insight, Kevin. As always, I know more now that I did when i started. I think the most enlightening graphic was the “defensive actions,” which compared the last 3 games. Very interesting.

    I hope we come out next weekend with a completely new strategy. It’s sort of fun to see us changing week to week.

    1. Thanks. I thought at the time we were a little deeper and the front four weren’t pressing quite as hard as I’ve seen under Porter, but I was surprised to see the difference was so marked on the charts.

  3. As always the best, most informative breakdown of the match. I am hoping that San Jose has pissed off the soccer gods and we can get six points from them and no more injuries. That maybe asking too much but so was the Fakes on field and their fans off-field shenanigans. We also have Valerie coming back to give us a different look. I worry just how bad the next game will get if Portland again goes up by a single goal and dominate possession again.

  4. I am not sure where to ask this, so I will tag it on here. Perhaps the site might benefit from a place where people could post questions to be answered by some of the elite among us.

    I notice that sometimes keepers kick the ball in the air, and at other times quite consciously put it on the ground. Is there some tactical advantage to one or the other? Does kicking from the ground allow more precision in placement? Or is it pretty much simply a matter of personal preference at that particular time?

    Also, in some other sports with ball distributions (such as basketball) the teams develop plays so the inbounding player can throw to a pre-designated spot–it is the responsibility of the receivnig player to be at that spot when the ball gets there, almost like a pass pattern in NFL football.

    Do football teams do this? Do they design and run plays for keeper kicks or for inbound throw-ins? If not, why?

    Even at the highest levels, it seems that in football the team throwing in the ball has only about a 60-75% chance of ending up with the ball, and on keeper long balls it seems lower than that.

    What am I missing?

    Is it the distance the ball has to travel, thus increasing the hang time and the opportunity for the defense to see it and respond? But isn’t the hang time on downfield passes in the NFL comparable?

    Is it the difficulty in the first touch to control the ball? (A skill I saw practiced widely in my short time in Brasil).

    Thank you, all, for your patience with my learning curve.

    1. This is my total guess but I think throwing it is the best case scenario as it provides to greatest likelihood of completing the pass. However, the throw is probably pretty easily defended if it doesn’t happen right away and thus the booming kick is done to get it out of the danger zone as quickly as possible, of course all the while aiming in the general area of a teammate.

      Regarding the comparison to the NFL, I think it mostly has to do with the fact that soccer players cannot use their hands. Comparable hangtime or not, controlling a soccer ball (both in receiving and the direct aftermath) is far more difficult than in American football.

Wise Men say...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s