Timbers: Damn the Flow

Damn the flow


Seventy-nine minutes into the match, Darlington Nagbe was fouled by Steven Lenhart. Nothing surprising there as only David Ferrera and Javier Morales have been fouled more often than Nagbe this season, and the five fouls suffered by the Timbers attacker in this game took him past the 46 fouls he’d suffered in the whole of 2012. He’s basically getting kicked at twice the rate which reflects the Timbers greater attacking presence and his role within it.

San Jose’s 18 fouls committed sets a season high, and it’s the first time since March 2012 that the Earthquakes have been in such an ugly mood, which is saying something for a team with Steven Lenhart among their number.

Lenhart DefenceSpeaking of Lenhart, it’s kinda interesting, I think, to note that the striker committed three fouls in the match, all in the last fifteen minutes. And yet none of them were in his one half as San Jose pressed high and we struggled to break them down despite piling on the pressure. The foul on Nagbe, with him going back to his own goal, came three minutes before the Timbers were back in the game, but they blew their chance to grab a point late on, having surrendered two cheap goals after the break.

The first came from the penalty spot, so we can just chalk that one up to bad luck, because refs aren’t infallible you know, right?

Ach, you know what, I’ve watched it and gone from dubious but plausible, to a dive, to a Bale-like “searching for contact” move and it just underlines how hard all this is to do on the fly for one official. In this case the assistant had a ton of bodies between him and the ball and the ref’s view meant he was reliant on reading the body language of the players and direction of the ball to judge.

I know if it’s Nagbe going down there in exactly the same way, I’m screaming for the penalty. In this case we were on the wrong end of a call, but for all we pin this on the ref, the most interesting thing for me is that we were the architects of our own downfall.

SanJoseGoal1

A simple giveaway by Jack Jewsbury puts us on the back foot, and perhaps Chara nips Salinas in the heels whereas Zemanski seems to stumble and ease the pressure on the San Jose player, but the end result is we take our our fate and put it right in the hands of the referee in front of a home crowd.

That it came as something of a shock that the Timbers conceded the next goal is a testament to the spirit in the team this year, but it too came with a stink of poor officiating on it. Was Lenhart offside? Sure looks likes it in the freeze frame, but once again if we’d done our job it would’ve never been an issue in the first place.

SanJose Goal2The free kick sees the Timbers line-up in a row of five, with three active San Jose attackers and one passive. Theoretically, we’ve got a man spare with a 6’ 4” Jamaican as a last reserve, so all looks good until Jack Jewsbury gets drawn into the melee for the ball leaving Lenhart all alone at the back.

Both of these injustices were easily avoided by our own actions, so yeah, blame the refs, but that’s not going to help sort out the underlying problems that the officiating masks.

Our defense has generally been good this season, but that’s not to say it’s not being stretched on a weekly basis. A lot of our defensive success can be put down to Ricketts rolling back the years, but with Jewsbury at least partly culpable in the loss of both goals this week it shows what can happen when even a single part of that defensive wall starts to chip away.

The giveaways are unusual for Jewsbury, who is one of the team’s better performers in terms of passing accuracy.

Timbers San Jose Passing AccuracyOver the last two games only Ben Zemanski and Darlington Nagbe have shown greater accuracy than Jewsbury, but not all mispasses are equal as Jack has shown already. It’s a thin line for the likes of Jewsbury and his counterpart on the left, or the right, Michael Harrington to walk as they have to be able to judge when to push the play forward or keep it circulating.

Both of these guys have been among the busiest players on the team over the past two games, receiving successful passes for teammates over 60 times each. Nagbe and Valeri lead the way in this regard and by using these passing stats we can build up a map of the Timbers play against Philadelphia and San Jose so we can see how things changed.


Balancing the Attack

Passing Maps Combined

These pictures use the players average position over the match, and the wider the lines, the more passes between those players. This passing map shows us the primary avenues of play in the Timbers team by highlighting those players that exchanged the most passes.

What is noticeable is that the Timbers “network” was much more widespread against San Jose. Ryan Johnson is an isolated figure against Philadelphia, and his lack of involvement down that side is a stark contrast to the work of Rodney Wallace against San Jose. Welcome back, Rodney.

Wallace added a left side to the attack that stopped us playing in little triangles far from goal, but Ryan Johnson was only marginally more connected this time despite playing through the middle from the start.

The only two players with whom he shared more than seven passes were Donovan Ricketts and Michael Harrington, which tells you that Johnson wasn’t getting involved with his feet and this was leaving a big hole in the middle in te first half.

You can see by the positions of the subs that came on (the lighter green) that the Timbers were in attack mode from the bench, with Piquionne in particular adding a lot to the attack. In his half hour stint against the Quakes, Piquionne logged five shots.

A couple of moments aside, it was another Ryan Johnson performance that gave me some trouble remembering that guy who scored all those goals against San Jose in preseason, and who looked like the ideal spearhead of Porter’s attack. His recent form isn’t great.

After Johnson started 12 of the first 13 games, with four goals for his efforts, Frederic Piquionne commanded his place for the next few. Johnson has started the past four games, scoring in the comeback win against LA, but failing to complete a full 90 mins, with only 5 shots in all that time. By contrast, over the same four games The FP has had 8 shots at goal, or one every 19 minutes to Johnson’s 57 minutes. But then, for all Piquionne is getting shots off he’s generally wayward or blocked with only 2 of 8 shots on target compared to Johnson’s 3 of 5. So, yeah.


Creative Minds

Returning to the passing stats above for a moment though, the ball found its way to Nagbe and Valeri most often which you would certainly expect in an attacking team.

Nagbe Valeri combined passes last 30 mins SJThe duo traded 17 passes over the last match, a figure only topped by the 20 passes between Nagbe and Jewsbury, and the 18 between Harrington and Will Johnson, yet it was only in the last 30 minutes of the match against the Quakes that we really saw the partnership become effective.

A triangle of attacking play, with the apex pointed towards the San Jose goal reflected the pressing of the Timbers having given up the lead and being spurred into more direct action. This kind of play was in stark contrast to the play we’d seen from them previously.

Nagbe  Valeri comparison

Against Philly we saw neither player put significant passes into the box, but against San Jose, and largely in that last half hour as we saw earlier, suddenly Valeri began putting the ball into the most dangerous part of the pitch and Nagbe was there to profit from one such ball forward.

TimbersGoal

These kind of passes from Valeri come with a big reward at a high risk, with perhaps no greater example than Valeri’s flicked pass for Will Johnson in the first half. You know, there’s a part of me that’s annoyed with Will Johnson for missing that because that pass deserved a goal at the other end of it.

There’s a good reason why his teammates give him the ball so often despite his seeming wastefulness, and it’s not just because Coach Porter told them to. They know what he can do and you put up with the odd bad pass or misread signal here to there if you can get to the gold like these (near) assists.

Meanwhile, if you look at Nagbe’s 90% success rate, a lot of those passes are sideways with very few penetrating passes. True, a larger part of his game is built on driving with the ball at his feet for forward movement than is Valeri’s, but it was only when he began buzzing around the edge of the box that i was reminded of what i’d missed in his recent run of mature, reliable performances – the danger he brings to the attack.

The goal was his 6th of the season, but his 1st in over a month. Coming as it did, only three minutes after Lenhart had fouled him in his own half, the goal was the perfect response by Nagbe and put the side on the road to almost claiming a point, had Piquionne only picked a yard either side of Jon Busch for his late header.

So we return to where we started, Timbers on the receiving end of some tough play and poor officiating but able to take heart, I think, from the fact that we don’t need to blame this result on these factors because we can blame ourselves.

Seriously, go with me, how great is it to feel like we lost today because we blew it, not the ref? Had Johnson tucked that chance away, or Jewsbury not slacked off for a fraction of a second (twice), or Freddie picked a corner, we’re looking at a very different result and that’s all down to us putting ourselves in the position to have these chances at all.

Last year we weren’t putting ourselves in a position to blow it by not putting away these chances, so the losses felt very different. This won’t be shrugged off as just bad luck or a bad day at the office because every game is a lesson at this stage on the team’s redevelopment but neither will it be overly dwelt upon because there’s too much work still to be done.


A Good Trend

Our passing and chance creation improved dramatically against San Jose and this is encouraging, but what is less so is the lack of goals from recognised goal getters. Piquionne’s touch was good and Johnson’s got a good eye for goal even if he’s finding him starved of the ball when everyone is feasting around him, but neither of them are scoring.

Three goals in four games for the Timbers isn’t good enough. The strikers have contributed to two goals in that time – Johnson’s strike against LA and Piquionne’s assist for Nagbe against San Jose this week.

If not these two, who? Dike is still some time away, so that leaves Valencia? While it would be nice to see Trencito let loose from the start, aside from a late cameo against Vancouver last May where he scored and had three shots in thirteen minutes of action, he’s rarely been used as an attacking threat, and despite over an hour of play over the past four matches, he’s failed to take a single shot at goal.

Throwing him into a Cascadia Cup match, against a team two points behind us in the table, would be a big risk and games like this call upon an old head.

Zemanski subbed for Chara, and there was very much a sense that it was a subbing with the Colombian’s place on hold for now. Zemanski did well, neat and tidy on the ball and, as the passing maps above show, matching Chara’s performance in many respects.

Chara could return as early as next week, so you’d expect him to start which leaves the question of Jewsbury’s role. He was at fault for both goals, but is generally a positive part of the team. Ryan Miller, and potentially even Ben Zemanski, are candidates to take over if the run of games is getting to Jack. These guys bring something different to the team, but having run with this backline for bit, perhaps Porter will refer to stick with what’s worked in the psat and trust that he and his team can work on the errors that were made that we can actually do something about now.


Kah, the original playmaker

One thing that came out of the research for this post was how important Pa Modou Kah is to the Timbers. Only Jewsbury can join the exclusive club of players who have received the ball more often than Kah, along with Valeri and Nagbe. These four were the only players to be consistently involved in over 20% of the team’s successful passing moves in both the last two matches, highlighting Kah’s role as a defensive playmaker, every bit as influential in his own way as Diego Valeri at the other end.

His most regular links were with Jean-Baptiste and Harrington, which makes sense, and he was often a source of balls into midfield or even straight to his attacker counterpart. He linked up with Nagbe against Philly, and found Valeri more often against San Jose.

In the absence of Silvestre, Kah has stepped into the defensive playmaker role, setting the tempo and dictating the angle of the next probe at the defence. It comes without the glory of Valeri’s position, but is a large part of why the team is able to keep its shape without resorting to long ball football.

It also comes with a high degree of risk as Kah found out a while ago and Jewsbury did tonight where all your good work can be undone by a couple of mad moments. Kah recovered from his stumble to put in assured performances lately, so we’ll see if Jewsbury can bounce back, though after being roasted by Danny Cruz it’s hard to shake the feeling that it might be time for Jack to rest those legs up in anticipation of a potentially longer-than-we’re-used-to season.

Defeats are never easy to take, but lessons will be learnt from this one and actions put in place so that we don’t make those mistakes again, I’m sure. We’ll stumble again, that’s certain, but it’s the picking ourselves back up that matters.


Decisive

No one likes to lose but I get the sense that defeat is literally painful to Caleb Porter, as in he’ll be spending his Sunday racked in agonizing stomach cramps all because the Universe dared to fuck with His Divine Plan. The Whitecaps will fancy their chances of taking something considering the Timbers poor run, but the match gives the home side the chance to equal their record of 5 straight wins in front of the Army – a record set when Jeld-Wen first opened – as well as putting some distance on our rivals and putting yet another tough July behind us.

What is it about that month that the Timbers don’t like? 4 points from 4 games this season is better than 3 points in 6 games last year and the 4 points in 5 of 2011, but it’s still slim pickings. The bright side is that 3 of those 4 games this season were on the road, which means the Timbers are about to embark of a run of three straight home matches.

Caleb Porter won’t be thinking (on the record) beyond Vancouver, of course, but past them lie FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake; every one a potential playoff rival.

If July was tough, August is downright crucial. Those three matches are followed by trips to Seattle and RSL in a month that will cast a long shadow over the Timbers campaign one way or another.

It’s not a time we want an attack floundering or a defence showing cracks, but no one said football was fair. It’s tough waters ahead, but a win against Vancouver puts the Timbers on the right foot to build momentum towards the playoffs.

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4 thoughts on “Timbers: Damn the Flow

  1. Good analysis. Valencia needs longer minutes to make impact but I don’t think Porter trusts him to play starter minutes yet. Valencia and Piquionne are only forwards able to create their own space with tight marking. Valencia is the the goal scorer we need…but can he mature and gain Porter’s trust this season?

  2. Fabulous stuff, Kevin. As always.

    I’m torn about the whole Ryan Johnson vs Piquionne debate, and for exactly the point you brought up. Piquionne shoots a lot but doesn’t score. Ryan doesn’t shoot much, but DOES score. Maybe not every game, but still. And I’m so tempted to say that Freddy’s a better passer, but I’ve seen Ryan make some lovely passes, as well. So I don’t know what to say.

    Actually, I DO know what to say: thank God we’re not reliant on our forwards to score. We spread the goals around, which I wholeheartedly approve.

    But it’s been a dry spell, boys. Let’s start filling the net again.

  3. I’m surprised we don’t score more from set pieces with Piquionne, Kah, Baptiste, Johnson, Valencia and Wallace. It seems like we would be a tough team to match with.
    This last game I was frustrated with Wallace not making the crucial pass in the final third that should have opened the door. I will let it slide because his timing seemed off for being gone so long but I expect to see that corrected against Vancouver.

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