“It’s a bunch of drunk, mid-30s type of crowd who are very well-educated, much more vocal. A little bit more crazy. It’s a little nastier playing down there, to be honest.”
Brad Evans, Seattle Sounders
I couldn’t quite work out what Evans meant by this. Was he trying to stoke the fire of the Timber Army? Was he taking aim, and hitting us with a cheap shot to our collective balls? Or, was he actually completely misguided and actually (unwittingly) doing down his own fans? Timbers fans are Football fans. Not Soccer fans. They are well-educated, they know their Football. They know how to create an atmosphere, and they know their integral part as the 12th man in a heated local derby. Where I’m from, it’s expected of you as a supporter of your club – I know it’s the same in Portland. Brad Evans described the archetypical rival fan, the fan that’s out to intimidate their hated opponents. For the first 25 minutes or so, the Timber Army certainly did that.
In my dissection of the game, I’m going to discuss some statistical points. I’m only going to use them as “evidence” to back up certain, ongoing points. I do not think that this game can be based on statistics and form. Games like these, stats go out of the window. To an extent.
I’ve been at Tyne/Wear derby games, and I’ve watched plenty of historically ferocious, local derbies over here in the UK. At times the tension is palpable. Often, not in a good way. There can be a nervous, aggressive tension, which often leads to a “too-scared-to-lose” draw, or worse, a capitulating loss. At Jeld-Wen, the players had a bounce in their step as they marched onto the pitch. The atmosphere was one of focused and raw positivity. The unveiling of the quite frankly awesome tifo was greeted by a unified roar. The chanting of “PT! …FC!” as the teams came out was not one of hysteria, it was one of focus and belief. Twitter was awash with slogans preaching belief in the team, belief in the players. As a slight outsider, I have to add that based on recent form… this “belief” was totally unwarranted. You don’t see that in English football. We all know the reaction of the players, we all know the result. This paragraph and comparison to English football is meant with the greatest of respect and is something we as fans should embrace.
So, let’s get some numbers out to show exactly why I think the influence of the 12th man was so, so important. Portland attempted 292 passes at a succession rate of only 69%. In comparison to the LA game, that’s an astonishing 131 passes less and a 12% drop in success rate. If we’d lost, we know where the finger would be pointed. In fact, compared to Seattle, we only had 3 to their 6 shots on target, of which our on target rate was 23% to their 40%. We made 10 less Open Play Crosses. We won 47% of the duels, and had less of the possession at 44.7%. In my preview of the game, I mentioned that based on the way Montreal, Chivas and Kansas had taken on Seattle, we’d have to take our chances and let them have the ball. Whether you like Patrick Ianni or not (for the record, it’s the haircut I can’t get past), they have a specific type of player who can deal with a specific type of play very well. Essentially, we’d have to try not to play through the middle and in the air, Seattle’s strengths. In their 1-1 draw, Chivas attempted over 30 crosses, but Seattle batted 28 of them away. Kris Boyd’s goal played exactly into that train of thought. A low, early cross from Steve Smith, took their high-line Defence by surprise. Guess who was there, peeling away from John Kennedy Hurtado as he tucked the ball past Weber?
I have to say, our threat from set pieces was one that surprised me. We didn’t show that against LA and Seattle tend to be good at this. Horst hit the bar early on, and then used his strength to score from a fantastic corner from Franck Songo’o. Cue jubilation. From there on in, that was it. We got ourselves ahead and we knew that Seattle wouldn’t like that. It’s a risky game to play though, and with players like Eddie Johnson, there could’ve been a heartbreaking twist to the game. I don’t want to be the gloom-merchant, but it’s not a sustainable strategy. We were lucky to see Troy Perkins in such inspired form – 5 saves, 3 catches and 1 punch.
To move back into positive territory, I thought the two changes that were made to the starting line up worked very well. The first, Steve Smith coming in at Left Back, was inevitable. See my review of the LA game to see what I thought of his predecessor Mike Chabala. Now, on paper, there doesn’t seem to be a statistical gulf between Chabala and Smith. Smith’s pass success rate was only 69%, he lost the ball in possession 14 times. However, he did make a very important assist and provided a much better supporting attacking role than Chabala with 3 attempted dribbles, 4 attempted crosses and another key pass (pass leading to on-target shot). This type of support is imperative to the basis of your wingers game, something I’ll address later. What impressed me most with Steve Smith though, was his defensive game. 4 tackles, 4 interceptions, 4 clearances, 1 blocked cross and 7 recoveries. The 14 times he lost the ball in possession was actually 5 occurrences less than that of Chabala. In a game like this, it’s always about the margins, which Steve Smith won hands down. His well-rounded game at Left Back epitomised the whole performance and improvement of the team.
A trio of players that fell foul of my assessment last week were Alhassan, Songo’ and Nagbe. I thought against LA Galaxy, they looked “…bereft of confidence and ideas. They need support from their Full Backs.” Well this week, they looked much more confident, and certainly had better support from their Full Backs. Songo’o had the aforementioned Smith, and Alhassan had an improving Jack Jewsbury – a steady 4% increase in pass succession to 72% this week. Now, we’ll all agree that Alhassan looked the most sprightly and dangerous. He performed a world-class bit of skill to take out 2 Seattle players and eventually draw 1 of the 4 fouls given in his favour. The stats don’t really add up on Kalif this time, but his performance can be placed with the TA 12th man in the “intangible” bracket of positive influences. Franck Songo’o, bar the perfectly placed corner, didn’t seem to have made the impression that his right-sided counterpart did. However, the stats suggest otherwise. His pass success rate was 71.4% (up by 6%), he made 4 key passes, 4 successful crosses and 1 assist. He also made 2 successful dribbles – 2 more than he did against LA. All in all, a much improved performance by Franck.
The two charts above I think illustrate the difference in wing-play in both games. Against LA, our wingers sat deep and our crossing was poor, aimed around the edge of the box. In the Seattle game, however, we completed 7 dribbles, most of which were into the final third of the pitch, and the crosses were aimed between the penalty spot and the 6 yard box – a much more dangerous area.
Darlington Nagbe, for me, was much of the same from the LA game. He didn’t do a hell of a lot wrong, but he also didn’t do… a hell of a lot. If you compare him to his opposite number, Mauro Rosales, a different picture appears. Rosales had a terrible game. He completed only 20 of 44 passes, a success rate of only 45.5%. Out of 17 attempted crosses, only 5 were successful, 4 of which were corners. The most alarming statistic for the ex-Ajax and Full Argentine International was the 29 occasions he was tackled in possession. I still don’t see Darlington as the central midfield foil to the immovable object that is Diego Chara, however he’s yet to really put a foot wrong.
Moving on to this bloggers favourite Timbers player… Chara did much of what he’s been doing for a while. Being a fucking boss. Lost the ball in possession only 4 times, 8 recoveries, 2 interceptions, hit a 92.3% pass success rate, kept Alonso and Rosales relatively quiet. Quite simply… bosh. Job done. I might as well have copied and pasted last week’s Chara-watch here.
I thought the way the game descended into a dust-up was more a reflection of the Seattle’s frustration, Fredy Montero specifically. As John Spencer said post-match, “You’d like somebody to put one on somebody’s chin and get on with it”. It was much ado about nothing, and merely a release of the cork. Praise has to go to Futty and Horst at the back, they built on what I marked out as a good performance by Mosquera and Horst last week. Unfortunately, Horst was at fault for Johnson’s goal… but a good goal it was, let’s not take anything away from that. Our 2 center backs made 15 clearances in comparison to Ianni & Hurtardo’s 9.
Last week I commented on a real lack of “units” and “pockets of players”. Against Seattle, I think we saw the nucleus of that idea. I thought both Full Backs supported the wingers infront of them well, and Smith especially provided another dimension going forward. Chara continued his role as the water-carrier of the team, breaking up play and giving the ball to a member of his team more often than not. I haven’t mentioned him much, but I think Mike Fucito put in a very good shift in what I call the “legs” of the attack. He played off Seattle’s (expected) high-line very well, playing off the shoulder of Boyd, stretching the Seattle back four every now and again. He provided another decent option going forward. Perkins was in inspired form, and he’s really beginning to look like one of the most important players in the spine of our team.
Again, as I have the benefit of geographical distance, it’s easy for me to find holes in the way we went about the game after going 2-0 up. The injury to Alhassan is slightly worrying as I thought we lost some momentum when he went off. Zizzo looked lively, albeit off the pace somewhat. The next game against Colorado is going to be tough, and it’s important that the improvement continues. The game we play against the Rapids is going to have to be very different, it’ll be interesting to see how Spencer plays it.
In the meantime, enjoy this. We’re closer to the Cascadia Cup than the Flounders and we’re not at the bottom of our Conference. It couldn’t have gone any better. Let me leave you with a quote from the great Sir Bobby Robson (RIP), a man of my club, Newcastle United:
“What is a club in any case?
Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it.
It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes.
It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city.
It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”