The sawdust has almost settled on what was a special day last Sunday. There’s not a whole load more I could write about, however much I’d like to try. Portland now need shake off our collective celebratory hangovers, sling our bindlestiff over our shoulder and head on to Colorado. Whilst there was historical significance to the win over Seattle, the momentum required to fulfil this seasons expectations can and needs to continue against the Rapids. No mean feat. One thing we can’t forget though, is that this isn’t completely devoid of emotional charge. Our man, John Spencer, is only in the Colorado Gallery of Honor…
Colorado Rapids – last four games.
One thing that Oscar Pareja’s team are good at is ball retention. In the last 4 regular season games, they have never slipped under a 73% pass success rate, they actually average at healthy 74.4% over those games. Possession-wise, they’ve kept an average 50.6% of the possession – and that’s including an uncharacteristic slip at Montreal where they only clocked up 39.8%. They managed to win that game 3 – 2 by the way.
Their last game against San Jose Earthquakes, they played 44 more successful passes, and held a majority share of the possession at 52%. They lost 2 – 1 though. Of those 310 successful passes, they only made 8 key passes (where an effort on goal occurs after a pass). The Quakes had a success rate of 70.9% and only 266 successful passes, but made 12 key passes. Not only that, out of 13 chances, Colorado only hit 5 on target (38.5%), where San Jose hit 9 of their 15 (60%). The rest of the play marginally teetered in favour of both teams – Colorado edged a 1% better in Cross Success Rate, San Jose made 6 more interceptions, but Colorado made 9 more clearances… that kind of game it seemed. Where it did matter, was the taking and creation of clear-cut chances.
At Vancouver, it was statistically similar. The Rapids made 380 successful passes to Vancouver’s 293, but then the Caps had a marginally better success rate – 76% to Rapids 74%. In this matchup, it wasn’t the lack of Key Passes that pushed Colorado out (they made 1 less that Vancouver with 8), but it was their crossing that let them down. Both teams had a relatively low success rate: Colorado 13.8% to Vancouver’s 18.2%. What that doesn’t show is the 25 unsuccessful crosses made by the Rapids. 21 of those crosses were attempted in the final third of play, and were delivered by 4 players: Martin Rivero (10), Kamani Hill (4), Brian Mullan (4), and Tony Cascio (3). Vancouver made 37 clearances… all of them sending those deliveries back from whence they came. One thing we have to be careful of is not reading the “unsuccessful crosses” as poor crosses, when in fact they were dealt with correctly.
Following on from the previous point, was what I have dubbed “the Game That Statistics Abandoned”. Colorado 3 Montreal Impact 2. 10 man Colorado got thoroughly drubbed in a strong performance by the Impact that included 447 successful passes at a success rate of 84.2%, 13 key passes, a dribble success rate of 60%, 18 attempts on goal with 6 on target, 18 crosses from open play and 60.2% of the overall possession. The killer? A fantastic, deep and swirling free kick from Martin Rivero, sent straight to the back post; headed (literally) across the bar and back into the danger-area and nodded in by Castillon. Colorado take the 3 points. You can analyse the stats (and yes, I like to), but sometimes, you just have to make sure you drill your players into defending set pieces correctly.
Swimming Against The Current
Pareja’s arrival was supposed to introduce the free-flowing attacking game to Colorado. Recent form, bar the game against Montreal, echoes that style of play. They tend to have good ball retention, they get an average of 42% of their shots on target, and do have a better dribble success rate than we do 40% to our 26.3%. However, they’ve only picked up 4 points from their last 12. Portland, on the other hand, have picked up 7.
In terms of goals, Colorado have scored 6 but conceded 7. We have only scored 5 in the last four games, but we’ve only conceded 4. So on average, we’ve scored 1.25 goals and conceded 1. Colorado have scored 1.50, but conceded 1.75.
If we break down goals scored a little further, over the last 4 games, Colorado have had 37 attempts on target and converted 6, scoring a goal every 6.2 efforts. Portland have had 47 attempts on target and converted 5, meaning we score every 9.4 efforts at goal. Colorado conceded every 8.6 attempts on goal, their opponents amassing 60 shots at goal. Portland, on the other hand, concede every 11 attempts on goal, and tend to limit their opponents to less attempts – 40 in total.
Portland’s opponents have averaged 11 attempts on goal each game. Colorado average 13. By the above logic, they will score 1 goal against us. Colorado’s opponents average 15 attempts on goal, but Portland only average 12. However, working again with the above logic, we should score one, but hold more probability of scoring a second.
Away from the statistics
I believe that Colorado pose a threat to our momentum. I think the game is going to be a very tough one. Yes, we overcame Seattle on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean the same applies to this game. In fact, a lot of what helped us win the game, won’t be there – the support, the rivalry, the edge. This game is a very “Regular Season” game. These are the games where 3 points are imperative. I think a lot of people believe that the Timbers are on a poor run of form, the game against Cal FC and the poor standing in the Conference will give that impression. However, we’ve only lost 1 game in 6, and that was the LA Galaxy game. I think that either team have got as good a chance as the other to take the win. But, realistically, I think we’ll take a point on the road. That’s nothing to sniff at.
Martin Rivero v Diego Chara (or, simply put, The Midfield)
Who else would Colorado’s playmaker be up against? Those of you regular readers will know how much I rate Chara. He put in a good shift against Seattle, rarely giving the ball away, but more importantly, keeping Alonso and Montero from linking in midfield, frustrating both. I do believe though, that Rivero and the Colorado midfield are a different kettle of fish. So much so, that I believe the battle of the midfield is where this game will be won and lost.
They’re not as wide and flat as Seattle, and they don’t line up in the more traditional 4-in-midfield like Portland. Instead, you’ll see Rivero playing a more attacking role, looking to supply and play in the effective and tidy but laborious Conor Casey. Brian Mullen tends to float to the right-side of midfield, but keeps to a “Wide Midfield” role, rather than that of a winger. Again, playing into the Rapids keep-ball philosophy. The midfield seems rather imbalanced on the left, but this gap is filled by the mercurial Edu, who drops deep and also gets involved with moving the ball between the 5 supporting players. Larentowicz and Castrillon lay the foundations to this midfield. They’re hardworking, traditional central midfielders, happy to move the ball about. They get stuck in when required though, making 6 interceptions, 6 clearances and recovering 10 times between them against the San Jose Earthquakes.
Reading the above, Colorado can seem an intimidating force. I’d like to see us employ 5 in midfield (Chara, Nagbe and another), but I don’t think our squad can handle that. With Alhassan out, it’s inevitable that Zizzo will take his place. However, I’d prefer to see our midfield set out with Eric Alexander and Chara in the middle, both aiming to break up play and get the ball moving. With that, I’d put Nagbe behind Boyd, and then I’d play Zizzo on the right, Songo’o on the left. I do think we’ll see Fucito and Boyd up front, and Chara and Nagbe in the middle. Spencer doesn’t fancy Alexander it seems. Where I’d be happy to see Fucito play (I thought he completley harassed the Seattle defence in the first 20 minutes), I’m concious we may subsequently get overran in the middle of the park. Suffice to say, I’m looking forward to seeing how this game pans out.