PPP is Portland Post-Match Post-Mortem where Nick Garner mulls over the weekend game. There is praise for Jewsbury and a look at the ever changing centre half pecking order. He also ponders if Urruti has learned his lesson about diving in record time.
Seeing Danso go from 4th choice to 1st choice has been fascinating
by Nick Garner
It’s something of a running joke that rain provides a home field advantage to the Portland Timbers. The artificial turf at Jeld-Wen Field is generally watered before each match to provide a more consistently slick playing surface and to facilitate the Timbers’ preferred passing game, but it wouldn’t have been surprising if the remnants of a typhoon had put a damper on things even for the home side.
Fortunately for Portland, the rain didn’t seem to impact play too much.
Timbers keeper Donovan Ricketts did seem to have a hard time holding onto the ball a couple of times, though I suspect it had more to do with how wet the ball was rather than the goalkeeper reverting to his stone hands habits from last season.
His distribution was sometimes poor on long balls, but that may be attributable to the weather as well. Ricketts 6th minute block of a shot by Gyasi Zardes from distance deflected and could have been pounced on by Landon Donovan but Ricketts was able to get on top of it after the initial bounce. Zardes took another shot from outside the box in the 33rd minute that similarly rebounded. This time a defender swept up.
While Zardes had his chances, Marcelo Sarvas may have been the most dangerous player for the Galaxy. His shots were taken from distance, but Rickett’s inability to make controlled saves could have allowed opportunities for Landon Donovan to make attempts on second balls.
Zardes’ attempt in the 26th might have gone in had it not deflected off of Jack Jewsbury’s calf, as Ricketts did not appear to be positioned to block it on his own.
Jewsbury surprised me, and possibly Bruce Arena and the Galaxy too, by not only closing down Zardes pretty effectively, but by getting up field and contributing to the Timbers attack fairly consistently.
Accustomed to seeing him hang back, absorbing, and redirecting offensive pressure, it was a bit of a revelation to see him get forward as well as he did.
With Jewsbury going on the attack, Michael Harrington was left back more often than usual to defend.
This disconnected him a bit from Rodney Wallace, who took some time to compensate for lacking his usual attacking partner.
Goalkeeper Jaime Penedo also came up big for the Galaxy, with a one-handed save on a shot by Wallace that probably could have been more threatening if Wallace had been positioned a bit better.
Wallace might have had the goal if he’d been able to get on top of the ball and rifle it towards the far post rather than aiming high, though credit has to be given to Penedo for making an outstanding save. After an interception and give and go with Diego Valeri, Wallace had a second chance with his off foot, but wasn’t able to put enough power behind it from a poor angle and Penedo shut it down.
The Timbers played more of their game against LA than they had against Colorado the previous week, maintaining possession better in the first half, stringing together more passes, and keeping control of the ball on the ground. They still didn’t play from the back as much as some might like, possibly given the personnel on the field for the Timbers, as well as the threats presented by Donovan and Robbie Keane which one should never minimize.
Diego Chara and Will Johnson are settling back into their rhythm in midfield, the Timbers Captain having not quite been himself since injuring his shoulder several matches ago, but appearing to be fully healed now. Chara had a couple of mistakes leading to turnovers but, seeming to take it personally, usually redeemed each one by winning possession back almost immediately. Otherwise he was his usual self, creating plays for his teammates and crushing them for opponents with equal opportunity.
Keane continued to demonstrate his penchant for whining and diving, as he made appeals for phantom penalties and argued the lineman’s call after his offside goal in stoppage time. Aside from a couple of back heels to nobody, I didn’t notice him much the entire match, until the tying goal that he was able to sneak past Ricketts, if not the linesman. He did set up Sarvas for his dangerous shot from just outside the box, one of few occasions where Ricketts was under threat from the Galaxy, at least from close quarters.
Even though Keane had that chance to even the score off a well-placed corner by Donovan, and LA created a number of dead ball opportunities, Portland appear to have addressed their problems with conceding goals from set pieces.
They may still have a problem with allowing corners to begin with, though it may be more about the disproportionate number they earn compared to those given up. They should take heart that Keane’s flailing didn’t earn a PK and that free kicks were kept to a minimum. Timbers fans would breath easier with more shots on goal, but the conversion rate isn’t too shabby, so at least they are making their chances count to some extent.
Donovan wasn’t much of a factor either.
He was evidently rested in CCL play to be prepared for this game, but a Timbers side that had over a week to do their homework were up to the test. Chara and Will Johnson weren’t as involved in the attack as they have been against other teams, an indication that they were helping to close down Keane and Donovan.
The presence of the two superstars of the Galaxy probably had something to do with the Timbers not playing from the back as much too, as it isn’t safe to have the ball floating around in the defensive third for them to intercept and attack with. This forced the Timbers to play a bit more direct and in the air than they might like, but not quite so much as against Colorado last week.
Pa Modou Kah’s yellow card from wrestling with Sarvas is the kind of thing that he needs to put the kibosh on. That sort of carelessness may catch up with him and cost his team if he accumulates too may yellow cards in this final, crucial, stretch of games.
Will Johnson has pushed the envelope a bit himself, with his water bottle hurling and pace counting displays, but his behavior is more motivational and inspiring than reactionary and counterproductive.
There’s no doubt that Kah’s taunting of opponents can get under their skin and provoke them into recklessness, but if his instigating actions earn him more cards than they cause for other teams it is self-defeating. Otherwise Kah had one of his better games in recent memory, most likely cementing his place in the back line for the rest of the season, barring injury, suspension, or David Horst blowing Porter’s mind in practices.
I half-expected Andrew Jean-Baptiste to start again, as he had done so well against Keane and the Galaxy in the previous Portland match-up. Futty Danso subbed ably against Colorado and some pundits asserted that we’ve seen the last of “The Beast” this season. Jean-Baptiste didn’t have his best outing against Chivas, but I don’t think he’s in Porter’s doghouse.
It has also been suggested that Porter may prefer experience in the final stretch. If the Galaxy were known more for their prowess at headers I could see Danso being called into duty with that in mind. Seeing Danso go from what seemed to be 4th choice to 1st choice at center back over the course of the season has been fascinating, and he deserves credit for winning his spot through relative consistency and composure. Of course, he had his one hair-raising moment of the match, with a giveaway that might have opened the door for Keane to enter play.
Neither Valeri or Nagbe had quite the standout performances they have been having lately, but both drew Galaxy defenders to them, creating space for their teammates. Nagbe did quite well in playing both sides of the ball. While he only had a couple of flashy moments he was one of the Timbers most consistent players against the Galaxy, but his customary unselfishness meant it wasn’t as readily apparent.
Maximiliano Urruti made his second start for the Timbers and did well holding the ball up and threatening defenders with the same tenacity he showed against the Rapids last week, nearly setting Wallace up for a goal with a cheeky flick in the 57th minute.
Porter noted ahead of the Colorado match that Urruti had covered more ground than Chara in practice, a contributing factor in his decision to start the new forward in that fixture. While Urruti got the nod again this week, he’s clearly still working his way to full match fitness and developing chemistry with his new team. He was gassed before the 70th minute, which is somewhat excusable and to be expected given how much hustling he’d been doing.
He had one more dive in this match but at least had the dignity not to oversell it as much as the one against Colorado and returned to his feet quickly. Hopefully he shows continued improvement in this regard and learns to endure the hacking like Nagbe and Valeri.
The Galaxy may be beating themselves up about their set piece marking, something familiar to Timbers fans (who can thank the linesman for catching Keane offside), but Urruti’s goal seemed pretty indefensible.
Surprisingly, their finishing looks to needs more work, another aspect of the game that Portland has experience with. It is to Portland’s credit that they didn’t allow the Galaxy many clear opportunities, and those they had did not come from the usual suspects.
The Timbers continued to demonstrate tactical flexibility and defy the statistics. Though they had more possession in the first half, it was by a slim margin that was more than reversed in the second half. They also conceded more corners than they won and allowed more shots on goal than they created for themselves. However, they were able to put themselves in positions to make the best of things, making their chances seem more threatening.
While the Timbers came out pretty strong, they showed again that they are a second half team. Some of that has to do with their possession-intensive style wearing down their opponents, but credit has to be given to Caleb Porter, who makes astute halftime adjustments and generally smart substitutions.
It’s hard not to be a bit bewildered by Kalif Alhassan coming in for Valeri, until you realize that there really isn’t anyone who can replace Valeri, so the coach may as well put in a player who is offensively threatening in a different way. Reports are that Valeri is close to full health; so it could be that Porter is trying to protect him from future injury, further develop Alhassan, or both.
Alhassan has slowly improved his game, participating more in the pressing defense and showing less inclination to linger on the ball too long before turning it over. If he could be coaxed into taking more shots off of his laces than his instep the Timbers would get more bite out of him. Alhassan is good at running down the clock though, and with 10 minutes remaining when he came on, he didn’t have time or cause to do a whole lot.
The substitution of Ryan Johnson for Urruti wasn’t surprising, as Urruti had clearly worn himself out and Johnson has shown an ability to kill off games. He took the ball to the corner at least once against the Galaxy and helped create chances for the Timbers to score a second goal.
It is noteworthy that Porter didn’t make a third substitution, an indication that he felt like the Timbers were in control of the game enough that swapping another player could have done more harm than good. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Zemanski come on for Wallace, with Nagbe or Ryan Johnson switching to the left. Being up a goal allowed the Timbers offense to remain part of their defense, as the possibility of scoring a second goal may have prevented the Galaxy from getting too aggressive.
Neither team is a lock for the playoffs quite yet, as the point spread in the Western Conference is very narrow. The Seattle Sounders having only mustered a draw against the visiting New York Red Bull helped the playoff chances of both Los Angeles and Portland. Vancouver losing at home to RSL helped even more but there are difficult games ahead and little margin for error.