Wednesday, May 24, 2017

After Match Analysis - Looking Back on Timbers v Impact

There was fight from Sebastian Blanco this past weekend
I love technology, but it doesn't help when you fail to use it correctly. As I continue to complete the transition from just a write to the full time staff here, it's been a struggle at points. Instead of being the guy who just has to respond to the requests, I am actually the person in charge of content. With my wife heading out on a long overdue vacation, I meant to get in front of the prediction emails for the Montreal match. So imagine my surprise when it was the Thursday prior to kick and I found nothing in my sent folder. In hindsight after the result, perhaps it was a match best left forgotten, but there are some points that I want to make about what happened based on my perspective of watching this team - and several previous iterations over the years.

I used to be worried about our side showing fight or phoning in results, but honestly, I have come to be less concerned about that over time. I know they give everything they have and yet sometimes, the results don't come close to matching the expended effort. With the Timbers having their full corp of attackers fully available - Darlington Nagbe was back after being injured versus FC Dallas weeks ago - Portland could indeed put out the foursome of Fanendo Adi, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and Nagbe in front of David Guzman and Diego Chara, and most experts would feel the Timbers should be extremely competitive under the circumstances. At least for the first few minutes, I saw some promise in movement and communication and while the chances weren't being converted, it seemed as though the team was getting back on some track until things came crashing down in a 10 minute sequence.

I've been extremely vocal for years that officiating in MLS needs to improve, and most regular viewers wouldn't disagree with that assessment - as some of the officiating performances over the years have alternated between inept to pure dumpster fire. One of my many asks about it is consistency - especially since I know that mistakes will occur because you have humans involved with making split second decisions based on analyzing a snippet of data with thousand of eyes and potential critics watching their every move. Training, communication and working matches to build experience and chemistry will work to build a quality resume, but ultimately it comes down to what the people with the whistles and flags are able to see and discern. What I found most troubling about what happened between the 10th and 20th minutes of the Timbers' match versus the Impact was that the Timbers did actions that forced the officials to become involved to make a decision. Disciplined teams avoid this trap as best they can, and while both situations might seem very minor, they influenced the match greatly. Smart teams avoid actions that involve an official from having to make a complex decision quickly, especially since in those moments, the choice can either go in your team's favor or go terribly wrong.
Tortie is ready for this weekend's match - lots of goals

When Sebastian Blanco came to defend Impact midfielder Blerim Dzemaili in the Timbers box, Blanco got his hand up near the neck and head, and it was there when Dzmemaili fell to the ground. Did the Impact player fall down easily - honestly I've seen lawn chairs hold up better in a brisk wind that what happened here. Did Blanco contact the player significantly - the replay seems to show extremely light contact if anything. However, the combination of actions forced Center Official Jair Marrufo to make a decision, and he chose to award Montreal with a penalty that was easily converted. Six minutes later, Diego Chara was involved in an altercation with Impact midfielder Ignacio Piatti and his hand got in the face of Piatti; Piatti crumpled to the turf and Marrufo ejected Chara to put the Timbers at 10 men. The fact the play was away from the ball was of little concern as the assistant official witnessed the entire altercation, and suddenly the Timbers task got a little more grand. Did Piatti go to ground easily? Of course he did, but at that point, the better question would be what was Chara thinking by putting his hand in the face of the Impact player? It was a rather idiotic decision that not only cost the Timbers a key player for the rest of the match, but Chara won't be available for this weekend's Cascadia Cup clash at the Clunk.

I will give the team credit for hanging in there, especially when Valeri scored before the break to push the scoreline up to 2 to 1, giving the visitors some much needed momentum. Piatti tallied his second on a broken defensive play to give Montreal a 2 goal lead, and while Valeri and Adi both had chances to bring it closer, the Impact sealed the deal later with the Timbers stretched trying to overcome the deficit. Portland never seemed completely overwhelmed, but there were bouts of questionable decisions in addition to players making impatient decisions in an attempt to get back in the match. It's never a good sign when teammates are grousing at each other about missed passes or rushed shots, which again goes back to being disciplined. It was going to be an extremely difficult task for the Timbers to come fully back versus the Impact, but adding insult to injury with impatience wasn't going to help the cause. I'm not even upset that Marrufo didn't give the Timbers aid later in the match when Impact defender Laurent Ciman took a ball off his elbow in the box, and there was no call for a penalty. I'm not exactly sure what Ciman was supposed to do about the passed ball to react, but in terms of handballs, it seemed like incidental contact. What concerned me more was the repeated actions of Ciman, Marco Donadel and Kyle Fisher to initiate contact repeatedly on various Timbers to impede progress or slow down the tempo, and many of the actions weren't called consistently. I get that Adi is a larger player and he uses his body a lot to create space, but it also appeared that Montreal decided draping on him while fouling other players was an effective defensive strategy.

Just remember this & travel safe this weekend if heading North

For me, the tactics of the match changed dramatically when the team had to go to 10 men, and while the movement seemed better, the approach allowed the Impact to settle in the middle and absorb the pressure. When the Timbers' offense is flowing more freely and using the wings to relieve pressure, they are a difficult matchup, but in this affair - and honestly, it was a theme versus Atlanta and San Jose - the central attacking wasn't creating the expected results. Until Portland can effectively use the wings to stretch the defense, the offense will have trouble breaking down opponents. Granted, injuries to Nagbe and Valeri combined with uneven efforts from Darren Mattocks and Dairon Asprilla haven't helped, but the offense has been troubled with limited contributions from Vytas and Alvas Powell when they've pressed forward. While Powell did get the assist on Valeri's goal, his crossing and passing has been terribly suspect for weeks now, and having regular contributions from the fullbacks on offense is needed. I understand that injuries happen and the opponents' quality has been improved since the early schedule, but if the Timbers are doing what they are capable of, they should be able to hang with any team in MLS with relative ease.

I understand that statement might be hard to read, but I realize the reality that Portland likely won't have huge moves during the summer transfer window either, so the roster is not as fluid as in past seasons. We know a reserve center back is coming to help with the Liam Ridgewell/Roy Miller pairing, which should allow Lawrence Olum to return to playing defensive midfield more regularly, especially with Guzman on international duty for much of June. Portland is currently using 26 of their 30 available roster spots as Gbenga Arokoyo is on injured reserve, and Portland could add 2 players to their senior roster plus 2 more to the reserve list. With just 1 international spot available, the questions are always - is there anything realistically available that is better than what is already on the roster? I'm sure there are fantasy scenarios where Portland ends up with a legendary talent, but honestly, I don't think there will be huge moves this summer. It will really fall upon Timbers Coach Caleb Porter and his coaches to maximize what is currently on the roster, and while there is skill about, the club is in a funk right now with several huge fixtures - at Seattle on May 27, followed by home versus San Jose on June 2 and FC Dallas on June 10 - looming. Despite the issues recently, the Timbers still sit at the middle of the Western Conference table with 22 matches left this year - which is plenty of time to get it sorted out. Wouldn't it be awesome to have the calibration start this weekend in hostile territory? And for those inquiring minds, predictions are back for this weekend, so cue the cats!!

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