I managed to get a hold of a torrent of the game v. LA Galaxy. It’s the first 90 minutes of Timbers I’ve watched. I’ve been furiously swotting up on Portland and the MLS in general, but there’s nothing better than watching a game unfold over the full hour and a half.
The game was disappointing, sure. I’m going to be discussing the main disappointments, and I’m sure I’m going to come across as pretty negative on the whole. I apologise in advance. However, I thought our first half performance (especially after the first 5 minutes), was encouraging. I thought in particular, we started to look relatively cohesive. We lost that momentum in the 2nd half, and hopefully I can begin to dissect why that might be the case.
Specific Player Performance
For me, the most glaringly obvious disappointment was not that of the no-scoring forward line, or the wingers who made next to nothing in the way of chances, but in fact the two full-backs. Jack Jewsbury and Mike Chalaba were not only poor defensively (in specific their awful positioning), but they gave the ball away numerous times (they’re attributed to 30% of the Timbers ‘unsuccessful passes’).
Now, I know that Jewsbury is supposedly the Timbers Midfield engine-room and Captain, but as far as I’m aware, Mike Chalaba is a Defender by trade. 32% of his passes were unsuccessful, he was tackled in possession a whopping 19 times, and he picked up a stupid yellow card for jumping in for a tackle. Not only was his game poor over the course of 90 minutes, he was turned inside and out in the first 4 minutes before we were lucky not to concede. Too much of the LA possession was down our righthand side. I’ll concede that neither full-back got much protection from their winger, but It’ll not be a minute too soon before Steven Smith replaces him at Left Back.
Where I don’t think the out-of-position Jewsbury was as outwardly poor as Chabala, the stats are not as forgiving. From 62 passes, 15 were unsuccessful (or 24%). In my book, that’s not up to standard for someone plying his trade as a central midfielder. He was also caught out a worryingly 16 times in possession. I’m trying not to be as harsh on Jewsbury, as our Captain is better on the pitch than off it. However, since his spat with one of the Capo’s, he seems to be playing with a lot less vigour. Jewsbury was also at fault for the goal. Not Landon Donovan, who did not (in my opinion) block Perkins. The marking of Dunivant was poor. The question is, should he be marking the LA defender in corners? Traditionally, a full-back will stand on the post with your centre-backs marking the aerial threats.
On the plus side, bar the very poor defending for the goal, the centre-back pairing of Mosquera and Horst seemed to work. Between them, they only misplaced passes 13% of the time, won 9 headers and made 7 interceptions. They look stable, if incredibly stretched by a poor full-back showing. This inevitably made the two look tired towards the end of the game, possibly a biased reasoning into why Hanyer Mosquera took a swipe at little Jack McBean.
Yes, they did have a decent game, but I think that was because of the superb Diego Chara. My initial thoughts were that he didn’t get involved as much as I’d have liked, but I was wrong. He provided vital protection to the back four (Mosquera and Horst in particular), winning 5 tackles, making 4 interceptions, recovering and winning the ball back 7 times and only misplacing 4 out of 53 passes (92.5% succession rate).
He did nullify the central threat of Beckham and Juninho, but there’s only so much one man can do. Chara doesn’t have an outlet or a creative foil. There’s no playmaker in midfield. Nagbe is not good enough to do this, but I don’t think Jewsbury has the nous or the vision. It’s not just Chara that would benefit from a creative spark in midfield, but Kris Boyd and Danny Mwanga would too. They had no outlet from when they did bring the ball down, a Grazzini (of Chicago) type of player to give the ball to and disperse the play.
Our wingers were OK in the initial phases of the game, I thought Songo’o looked lively early on, and Alhassan had a lot of the ball, but ultimately, they looked bereft of confidence and ideas. They need support from their fullbacks, they need a playmaker to find if they can’t get to the byline, and Nagbe (as said previously) is not that guy – yet. Alhassan and Songo’o came up with 1 successful cross from the 9 they mustered up. They collectively gave the ball away 51% of the time – a hideous statistic, contributed heavily by Songo, but largely derived from their inability to take their man on. They made 1 successful dribble between them. Nagbe rarely gave the ball away, but also did nothing with it. He attempted no dribbles and made only 1 key pass. Technically, his 91.7% pass rate is good for the Playmaker role Spencer thinks he’s better suited to, but creatively, I’m not so sure.
I’m not going to say too much about Perkins, Boyd and Mwanga as I don’t think they featured in the match enough. Perkins wasn’t fouled for the goal, his reaction to the corner was disappointing, but he made a good save very early on after a Chabala mistake. Boyd and Mwanga had no service. It was a promising debut from the latter, what he did do, he did well. He positive in his running and his link up play with Alhassan, whether he’s a bit too green to be consistently Green, we’ll see. Boyd had a mixed game, looked a little uninterested/frustrated, but a striker like him relies heavily on his service.
The Bigger Picture
We’ve been ravaged by injuries and it’s beginning to show defensively. We lost to a very poor Galaxy, who didn’t even play that well. Their overall pass succession rate was 72% compared to our 78%. We even had 54% of the possession. LA only had 3 shots on goal, and 9 (to our 17) Open Play Crosses, of which only 3 were successful. Donovan did hit the post, and they had their aforementioned early header though, which were much more clear-cut than the chances we fashioned. In short, we should’ve been able to beat an out-of-form LA Galaxy, especially after our first half performance.
I’m not 100% sure that the trade of Perlaza for Mwanga is going to be a good signing for the here and now, but it looks like the kid has bags of potential. I’ve no doubt he can play a better foil to Kris Boyd. However, he’s not going to do anything unless Songo’o, Alhassan or Zisso get a boost in their confidence and stick to Wing Play 101. Take on your man, hit the byline, and put crosses in to your strikers. I think the answer actually lies in the midfield. Chara is playing well and doing a job, but a playmaker will relieve some of the pressure for him to move forward, give him more respite time and focus his efforts at the back. A Grazzini, a Beckerman… someone with legs, vision and bite.
We gave the ball away far too much. LA did too, but that’s besides the point.
All in all, there’s a lack of partnerships, units and pockets of players. You need a solid back 4, which there’s not. You need Boyd, Mwanga and your 2 wingers plus the introduction of a playmaker to create chances and get goals for you. You then need that playmaker to link up with the rest of his midfield, making the game tick and setting the tempo. Chara is reliant on the playmaker outlet in order to let him protect the centre back partnership (preferably Mosquera/Futty or Brunner). The wingers and fullbacks have to support each other going forward and at the back, and the fullbacks need to cover whoever’s at the back. At the moment, there’s a couple of vital components missing. It’s John Spencer’s fault? Absolutely. Is he able to identify these holes and plug them? I’m not sure… either way, we’ve got some team from Seattle next…