Thursday, April 20, 2017

After Match Analysis - Looking Back at Timbers v Sporting KC

I like the new green kits better, but the reds aren't too bad.
I get that it's not Wednesday when this will be officially published, but I had started a naming convention for my extra analysis posts and last night, I was too entirely drained to write anything. I know the weather has certainly been a source of frustration lately - I like the rain, but I've yet to encounter a winter where there has been literally no break in the precipitation for more than a day - and my outdoor soccer team is on hiatus, but otherwise, events aren't enough to throw me completely off. Even the Portland Timbers' extremely uneven effort against Sporting Kansas City back on April 15, although it did cause me plenty of concern because it was essentially a boilerplate copy of the strategy that the New England Revolution employed when they visited on April 2. At least versus the Revs, the Timbers scored the first goal and put up some pressure until playing an extremely passive second half; versus Sporting, the Timbers struggled mightily in putting any consistent pressure against the Sporting backline and goalkeeper Tim Melia until the last 30 minutes or so.

I understand there are plenty of reasons for the result, especially since for some analysts, the result might not have been that surprising. On the road, Sporting has been a supremely effective defensive side having come into the match yielding 2 overall goals for the season and none on the road. They hadn't scored until Dom Dwyer out-muscled Timbers defender Marco Farfan for a cross in the box on a play that likely should have never occurred in the first place, but it was that kind of night for the Timbers. From unforced errors to poor restarts to rushed passes in the final third of the pitch, Portland was off their game by quite a bit. Granted, it's been a great start to 2017 with the team's offense putting up a plethora of goals with a revamped attack and a defense that has been sturdier than expected at times. If you would have told me that the main defenders getting minutes for this team in March and April 2017 for Portland would be Lawrence Olum, Marco Farfan and Roy Miller and the team has a positive goal differential, I would have been surprised. Injuries will do that to teams, however.
Marco Farfan learned a valuable lesson from Dom Dwyer

There were plenty of torrents about the officiating of Drew Fischer and his team of assistants, especially considering two troubling facts - Portland was whistled for 22 fouls compared to 12 for Sporting KC, and over the past 3 seasons, Portland has only been called for more than 21 fouls in 3 different matches yet in those competitions, it was Fischer that was the center official. I am not going to pretend that Fischer did a great job for this match because I found his calls questionable at best, especially since he seemed very whistle happy within the first 30 minutes. Players tend to use the first part of a match to get a feel how the officiating will work, and at least from my vantage point, it was apparent that Fischer zeroed in on calling minuscule contact, especially when players would fall to the turf.  Try and fight through it and get taken down later or show some resistance, it might not be enough to earn the call. As I've always heard from players after a match, the biggest thing they want from officials is consistency - call it both ways the same way all the time. What becomes troubling is trying to guess how they might react to a play when there hasn't been regularity in decisions, which is when you see players react with frustration, anger or other emotions.

For me, Fischer's biggest problems was his acceptance of Sporting's bread and butter tactics - initiate contact on the offensive side and fall down to exaggerate any interactions, especially to earn free kicks. Defensively, smother the opposition as much as legally possible across the board, especially since the official isn't going to call or see everything. With Sporting doing their best to ramp up the tempo when they had the ball and slow it down as much as possible on defense, the match had a very uneven flow to it during long stretches - and I'm sure that didn't help a Timbers offense that was having issues creating space in the final third.. I had a feeling it would be trouble when the Timbers starting complaining for calls to Fischer directly, a plan that I've never actually seen a Portland side ever pull off with any regularity. I know that officials don't actively pull for sides or certain players, but in my experience, they tend to tune out teams that constantly beg for calls. It got to the point where Fischer even went over to talk with Porter in the second half to tell him to quiet down, which told me the officiating got into the head of everybody wearing red.

The Timbers didn't get many clear shots on this night.

The thing is that Fischer wasn't responsible for the sloppy play that Alvas Powell made to retrieve a ball heading out of play for a recovery that led to the turnover which Sporting turned into their goal. Fischer didn't get boxed out by Dwyer on the cross in a veteran move that is bread and butter for most MLS strikers. Fischer didn't try to squeeze passes into the middle that kept getting blocked or deflected clear of the Timbers offense. Fischer didn't struggle with passing the ball along the backline due to pressure from the SKC forward trio. Fischer didn't put a goal kick into the leg of one of his defenders, nor did he hesitate in leaving his goal line on the goal. I said it in my post after the match - the biggest difference here between the Revolution and Sporting matches in terms of the Timbers' play was that Portland got the first goal with New England leveling late. Sporting got the first goal, then ramped up their techniques even more to milk the clock, which added more frustration to the home side. While Sporting played reasonably well by doing what they do best, the fact is that Portland got away from the things that they do best and it showed in their play.

The thing is Portland still had chances to steal a point late. Darren Mattocks, injured late in the road match in Philadelphia, forced Melia to parry away a shot in the 78th minute that gave Portland a corner. Powell headed the ball towards the left post expertly, but Sporting was able to clear it away albeit somewhat chaotically. On the next possession, Darlington Nagbe uncorked a shot from 30 yards out from a pass by Diego Valeri, and the laser effort was heading top shelf into the right corner of goal. Only a late finger tip deflection from Melia to push the ball into the woodwork kept that from leveling the match, and that effort earned Melia the Week 7 MLS Save of the Week. The emotions certainly would have been different had this match ended in a draw versus a defeat, but I don't believe the Timbers did nearly enough to warrant any result. My hope is that this collective regroups for a vastly improved Vancouver side that come calling this weekend for a midday match, especially since the Caps have played very well in recent trips to the Rose City and Portland isn't in a position to overlook anybody right now. I must be feeling a ton better because not only did this end up getting posted, but I updated the naming convention for future analysis posts without an issue. Sometimes, it's great to be the editor and creator in addition to the writing talent.

Diego Valeri had an escort everywhere he went.
Three Things I Liked: (1) Roy Miller has been better than advertised. Watching the former New York Red Bulls center back integrate into the Timbers backline hasn't been without concern, especially watching how combustible Miller was at points in NY. Here in Portland, he's been anything but. (2) Marco Farfan is learning on the job. Marco Farfan made one glaring error on the day, and it ended up being on the play that Dwyer scored on. However, considering the age of the players and relative experience, I'm still pleased at Farfan's development. The fact that he made several other good plays on the day shows he has an ability to overcome mistakes. (3) I am happy Darren Mattocks is back.  After existing the Union match due to injury and considering his history, I thought we might not see Darren for a while. I'm glad to be wrong in this case.

Three Things I Didn't Like: (1) Timbers begging for calls, not a good look. We already talked about this, but I still didn't like it.. (2) The sluggish start was troublesome. And it kept going for another match and beyond. (3) We haven't seen this team play a full 90 dominant minutes. There has been success for sure this season, but the Minnesota match is likely the only match where Portland was is complete control from start to finish, and that match even had a scary moment when Minnesota scored a goal with the Timbers only up by 2. I'm trying to be a positive half glass full type here and it's only April, but the lackadaisical play at times bugs me.

Evaluations: I decided to give everyone a 5 for the night. While this might be considered by many as a cop out, the fact is I really had trouble singling out any Timbers player that did so much better than everyone else. Doing your job effectively should give an average score, but there wasn't that many good plays that weren't outweighed by mistakes or questionable tactics. For me, it was an average effort that matched the result and putting out this type of performance isn't going to keep you near the top of the table for too long.

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