Football is the game of opinion. That reason alone is why technology in our game sits years behind that of other Sports. We, as supporters, thrive on post-match analysis, we debate the ego of the footballer and most of all, we wrap ourselves in tabloid newspaper; building players up and taking their legs away when we feel egos have bloated too much. In reality, Football is the “great leveller”. Once you tread over the white line, it’s just you and your faculties. In other words, if you’re not good enough, we all know it. Rarely over the course of a season do you feel a Champion is unjust. Portland Timbers were levelled on Saturday by Colorado Rapids. After a week of “Flounder Baiting”, the Cascadia Cup bragging rights still remain with Portland temporarily at least, but the bigger issue of “our season” took a big blow in Commerce City.
The Timbers Army firmly believed that a win against Seattle would swing momentum in our favour. We knew the trip to Colorado was going to be tough, regardless of their form. We did, however, think we’d put up more of a fight.
Off the bat, the statistics show the game in a naked light. Colorado had 6 shots on target to Portland’s 2. They won 6 corners, made 12 crosses in open play, won 59% of the duels, and held 59.8% of the possession. Scarily, they made a total of 534 passes (with 83% accuracy) to Portland’s 359. The evidence backed up what was shown on the pitch, we were thoroughly bossed.
The Key Battle – The Midfield.
In my preview of the game, I discussed Colorado’s midfield as their greatest threat. They have a modern, fluid front 5, this time spearheaded by targetman-incarnate Conor Casey. I’d picked out Martin Rivero as the dangerman, and he did have a successful game. Making 3 key passes, and a brace of successful crosses, he was the expected link-up man and influenced the game greatly. However, the man who made the difference was Jaime Castrillon. Statistically, he had a strong, varied game. An 86.7% pass success rate, 3 tackles won, 7 recoveries made – the stuff of a strong, defensive midfielder. However, he also had 2 shots on target, a header on target and, of course, a goal. Performing the holding role was Jeff Larentowicz, who hit an 88.2% pass success rate, made 9 recovery tackles and 4 interceptions. Even wide midfielder Brian Mullan chipped in with 2 interceptions, and 5 recoveries. Colorado pack the midfield. They pack it, and control it. What did we have to counter and chase? Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe.
Chara had a game consistent with almost every game this season. Unfortunately, that also prevailed with the fact he got another yellow card, putting him out for the visit of San Jose on Tuesday. Chara was our best player, again. 51 passes made, 46 of them successful. He lost the ball in possession a mere 7 times, made 4 tackles, 1 clearance and 6 recoveries. A performance to match any made by a Colorado player. The difference being it was our only performance that matched them. Nagbe was once again rendered ineffectual. His ball retention was good at 83.3% success, but he won nor lost (?!) any tackles. He made no interceptions. What the fuck was he doing for 90 minutes? “He’s sitting atop of the diamond!” you hark. Well, he attempted 1 dribble. He lost the ball 10 times. He made 1 key pass and he had 0 shots on or off target. It was patently obvious that we were losing the game in midfield. Even if you were playing as an advanced central midfielder, you should be adaptable enough to get stuck in at the back. Fucito can do the running required in the final third. As I said, Brian Mullan put in a defensive shift – so what about our wingers Zizzo or Songo’o? Well… even with their efforts combined, they come up short in comparison to Mullan alone. They attempted 3 dribbles between them, all unsuccessful. They made 3 recoveries and 1 interception. I’m about to discuss why we lost the game, why we conceded… but these guys did nothing to protect our back 4. I’m about to lambast our defence, but I hold Nagbe, Zizzo, Songo’o, Fucito and Boyd just as responsible.
It’s obvious that Colorado created more and it was thanks to their industrious midfield play. I was really impressed by the way they kept the ball and stretched not only our defence, but the whole of our team. They had a rhythm and a system that showed discipline and patience.
The star that shone brightest was that of Jaime Castrillon and his box-to-box performance. For me, however, man of the match should’ve been awarded to Colorado’s Right Back, Hunter Freeman. He and Brian Mullan schooled Smith, Chabala, Jewsbury, Songo’o, Zizzo, Alhassan, Palmer et al. in wide play attack and support. Freeman made 69 passes at a Xavi-like success rate of 94.2%. He also made 2 successful crosses, 1 assists, 1 key pass, 2 interceptions, and 6 recoveries. He essentially turned the game with a burst of pace past Steven Smith, hitting the byline and placing the ball through 2 defenders, directly in to the feet of Castrillon to fumble it into the net. It was from the same area that Mullan was allowed to cross, putting the ball onto the dome of Casey. The lead up to the goal included Freeman providing support to Rivero, who had almost run into trouble. The simple art of the Full Back supporting the men ahead of him culminated with a goal.
Flat Back Four
Futty and Horst played terribly today. I don’t really need to go into great detail about it either. I think a few images are all I need to show my point. First, I want to show the difference in discipline between the two sets of defence. The heatmaps below show time on the ball and influence each player had.
As you can see, the pattern of play from Right-Back through to Left-Back is almost symmetrical. There is a system, there is an expectation and each player obviously knows how to play it. Portland do not have that. It’s Futty Danso’s heatmap that worries me the most. There’s a distinct lack of time on the ball, next to no influence on the game. Compare his map to Marvell Wynne’s. No contest. If the heatmaps aren’t conclusive enough for you, then (as well as the above pictures), the below evidence is incriminating.
The first goal was just shocking. Not just from Futty, but from Steven Smith also. He was turned far too easily and let Freeman get to the byline with ease. But Futty. Oh Futty. His foot should’ve been through that ball before it even thought about bobbling off the calf of Castrillon. It was a real lack of awareness on his part, and as a center back, he should be ashamed. I know, mistakes will happen… but this happened time and time again. Today we were punished by it.
In my very first post-game review, I attacked our Full Backs. I didn’t rate Jewsbury (as a Full Back at least) then, and I still don’t. Where the importance of the Full Back was shown in Colorado’s route to victory, it played a huge part in our downfall. The second goal wasn’t his fault per se, but as Captain he should’ve been able to read the warning signs. Jewsbury was beaten comprehensively in the air twice before the second goal, with Castrillon forcing a save and Casey heading over.
The Captain (regardless as to whether he was the victim or not) should be raising his voice with Futty and Horst and identifying that he is in fact Colorado’s target. Both Casey and Castrillon had him beat. But why isn’t Futty identifying this and saying “give him to me next time”. Unfortunately, it’s because he was also at fault. In the first picture, Futty is nowhere to be seen. In the second picture, he’s COMPLETELY misjudged his jump and the ball goes over his head. The third picture, is a carbon copy of the second, except Casey scores. I know, I’m being harsh on Futty but he really was in the middle of everything poor about or defence. In saying that, David Horst disappeared for the full ninety minues. It wasn’t all Futty Danso’s fault… the below shot explicitly shows a back four as structural sound as tea-sodden Rich Tea biscuit.
This was a little later on in the game, Casey wrong footed Horst (putting him on his arse, again – does Horst play in plimsoles?! Johnson’s goal for Seattle..) and pulled a shot wide of the near post. But, if Casey hadn’t already scored, if he wasn’t returning to the team and on a mission to prove his worth, they could’ve easily gone 3-0 up much earlier. Not only is Futty 5 or 6 yards away from closing down Casey, but Jewsbury has come to the penalty spot, Horst and Smith are out of the game, and just look at the 3 Colorado players begging for the ball to be played into the hashed area. Shocking defending, a real lack of organisation.
The third goal? Well, they’d given up. Futty showed his lack of awareness again – he may as well have stopped running at the half way line. A great ball from Rivero (it has to be said), split our defence in two. Jewsbury seemingly had no idea that a slide-rule pass was legal, and was left for dead. A great run by a fresh Cascio, coupled by a lack of defensive cover dragged Perkins out into a position he really didn’t want to be in, and an absolutely exquisite flick beat him. It really was a deft touch from the left-winger – fair fucking play. However, I still think Danso and Horst could have something to say in the matter. Futty should’ve been haring himself to the goalline, Horst was caught the wrong side of Jamie Smith (who was again in between 2 Portland defenders – neither one claiming responsibility) and the rest, as they say, is history.
Defensively shocking, yes. But in each and every goal, you have to ask – where was Franck Songo’o when Freeman picked up the ball and rolled it into Mullan? Who allowed Rivero to have the time on the ball to slide a pass through to Cascio? In fact, why didn’t Zizzo notice the run? Why did Kris Boyd only make 14 passes all game – 8 of which successful? He barely touched the ball. To be honest, neither did Fucito. Why are we playing with 2 out-and-out strikers? We may be playing a “Diamond” formation, but apart from Chara, you’ve got 2 hug-the-touchline wingers in Zizzo and Songo’o, who don’t get stuck in and perform defensive duties. You’ve also got a winger-cum-striker-cum-I-don’t-know-the-fuck-what-he-is in Darlington Nagbe, who also doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, certainly not defensively. So you’ve essentially started with FIVE natural forwards, some of which playing out of form and position and asked Diego Chara to do the rest. No wonder our defence looks naked, vulnerable and absolutely sick of their lives. For me, Fucito and Zizzo were luxury players. Colorado gave us a lesson in modern-day formation.
With the 2-1 win over the Sounders, John Spencer may have shaken a little of the weight from his shoulders, but post-match, he didn’t do anything to help himself. Using the LA Galaxy 9-points-in-a-week example, he questioned why his team couldn’t do the same and propel themselves up the Western Conference. He started with the same team that lined up and defeated Seattle, showing confidence in them. But again, he’s pushed the blame on his players, quoted as saying “I said to them, ‘You’ve got go out, you’ve got to match it. Everybody’s eyes are on us again, saying can you play away from home, can you do this, can you do that.”
Forgive me if I’m wrong, or a little too left-leaning, but I’m sure Spencer’s missed an opportunity to ease the feeling of pressure on his players by building on the confidence created at Jeld-Wen Field last weekend. Instead, he amplified the team’s flaws and turned what should’ve been an exercise in keeping momentum into a “must win game”. Yes, he may feel let down after putting confidence in the starting 11 that played against Seattle, only to pay witness to such a poor performance. But the man who notoriously rebuffs his critics needs to realise that it is in fact him who the eyes are currently “on” again.