Wednesday, February 5, 2014

PRESEASON: Seattle Sounders vs. San Jose Earthquakes - 02/05/2014

Both of these teams have a lot of new faces that have a shot at locking down starting roles or first-choice subs. The first half saw lineups that were very different from what these teams put out last year. Both teams looked like they were playing the same general style as last year.

Final score: Seattle 2 - San Jose 1
Full stream available here 


This should come as a surprise to no one who watched San Jose over the last two years. They look to get the ball forward, cutting out as many defenders as possible with one pass. Lenhart was his typical self, moving around to be a target forward and knocking balls down for his midfielders to run on to. However, that seemed to be the second option for San Jose to move the ball from the back 6 to their forwards. Billy Schuler was dropping deep into the hole created from San Jose's empty bucket midfield. They tried to find his feet early and then allow him to lay the ball off for a midfielder. Don't expect him to start as Wondo is just away on international duty.

Seattle allowed San Jose's defenders and holding midfielders to ping the ball around the back until they could find Lenhart or Schuler in a favorable situation. Pierazzi and Martinez kept the ball well by playing simply. Seattle had absolutely no urgency to try to win the ball until it was within their own half. That allowed San Jose to render Seattle's forwards useless by penetrating that first line of defense with a pass. Seattle was already up 2-0 halfway through the first half, so I imagine the urgency would increase if the scoreline was flipped.


Kenny Cooper looked like a straight up baller in this half. He was the focal point of Seattle's build up as he was the one usually dropping into the midfield to collect the ball. He simply looked to combine with the midfielders and always presented himself as an option after playing the ball. I'm not sure how Dempsey's presence might change the way Cooper is deployed. It should be interesting to see if we play a diamond midfield, an empty bucket like we've seen for years, or maybe a switch to 4-2-3-1 is in order. Time will tell.

Martins also dropped into the midfield to collect the ball when Cooper was electing to stay high. The two of them did a good job coordinating who would stay high and who would go low. Martins would also just look to combine with the midfielders and found some success doing so with Neagle out left and also an overlapping Dylan Remick, who put in a great cross for Rose to head back across the face of goal for Oba's second goal.


The two teams utilized their outside backs in two completely different styles. San Jose's stayed relatively deep, as the Quakes weren't trying to combine their way up the field. This ultimately made it more difficult for Neagle and Bowen to get involved in the game as they weren't able to exploit space behind an over-committed outside back.

Seattle's outside backs got forward and tried to overload San Jose's outside backs 2v1. Remick tended to get higher on overlapping runs than Anibaba, who tended to just be a wide passing option. The space was often there for him to run into as Bowen tended to drift high and inside much like we saw Rosales do last season to allow Yedlin to bomb forward. Anibaba didn't have any glaring mistakes, but I imagine Yedlin would have put himself in more dangerous positions.


The second half was full of reserves, substitutes, and rookies just trying to make the squad. Lots of sloppy play, misplayed balls, and miscommunication. Interestingly, San Jose played the second half completely different from the first and were actually looking to string passes together instead of just longballs to a target forward. They were much more dangerous in this half. They had a stand out performance from Colombian trialiast, Baena. I thought he was the best player on the field in the second half and was more effective than anyone else for San Jose on the day. If he plays like that consistently, I'd give him a contract. For Seattle, Long Tan had a couple decent opportunities. Other than those two, no one really stood out that much.


Seattle look like they will be a playoff team again this year, provided Obafemi Martins is healthy enough to play 3/4 of the games. The midfielders should have plenty of opportunities to get into the attack and score some goals. San Jose will be an interesting squad this season, and much of their success will rest on how well Lenhart/Gordon/Jahn can knock down balls for their teammates. Their wingers look like they will struggle to create much on their own. I'd place them just on the bubble of making the playoffs.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

PRESEASON: Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City 2/1/2014

Preseason is underway! Lots of new faces in many teams and lots of guys still trying to make their squads. These two teams kept their core intact, so there won't be a whole lot of changes for either this season. Kansas City, in particular, will look very similar to last year. Portland will be a bit different with the addition of Villafana (who I expect to start at left back with Harrington at right back for the season), Gaston Fernandez, and Norberto Paparatto.

Both of these coaches are system coaches who look to employ the same core tactics, regardless of opponent. SKC's starting 11 should already be familiar with how Vermes wants them to play. For the few new players Portland brought in for the season, Porter went and found players who fit the system (something I'm a huge proponent of), instead of finding players and then altering the system to fit them.

Final score: Portland 1 : Kansas City 1
Full game stream


If you watched either team play much last season, this should come as no surprise to you. It is a tactic that worked well for both teams last year, as they were the two best defenses in the league. Both teams try to win the ball as high up the field as possible and spring an attack from there. Any time SKC cleared the ball away from their penalty area you could hear a coach screaming "UP!" or "STEP!" to make Portland work to break into the attacking third again. Both teams use their center forward to cut the field in half and try to keep play on one side of the field. That allows for the rest of the team to pack that side of the field to make it difficult for their opponents to find space to work in.


 Both coaches encourage their outside backs to get forward and join the attack. In the first half, the left backs were especially attacking. However, they did it in very different styles. SKC had Sapong drift inside or try to get in behind, which allowed for Sinovic to run the line as he pleased. Several times, the SKC center backs tried to pick him out with diagonal balls unsuccessfully, despite the huge amount of space he often found himself in.

For Portland, Villafana saw fewer opportunities to get forward than his counterpart. When he did get forward, he looked to combine instead of looking to cross the ball and find someone for a header. In the latter part of the half, Alhassan (who had very little impact on the game) switched sides with Nagbe. When that happened, the Portland attacks switched from primarily the right half of the field to the left half of the field and Villafana pushed forward a bit more often.


Vermes employed Bieler as a CAM for the first half. This was one of the few surprises of the game for me. Bieler did fine in combination play, as would be expected with someone of his technical ability. However, his workrate remains a concern as he didn't find the ball all that often. I'd also be very nervous as an SKC fan if Bieler gets locked into this role, as it ruined the high pressure that SKC was using. He looked very uncomfortable defensively and didn't understand where he was supposed to be. Portland found lots of simple passes (Gaston moved to collect the ball then combine very well) to break the first and second lines of SKC's defense, who responded by conceding plenty of fouls. Expect SKC to repeat as the fouling champions of the league this season.


The second half was full of draft picks, reserves, and trialists. And it looked like it. The play was sloppy, and often looked like a high-level Sunday league game. There really weren't that many talking points about tactics in this half, as both teams often resorted to trying to send a long ball over the top for someone to run on to. Portland's speed of play was very slow and there wasn't much movement up top to receive the ball from the back. SKC were less patient than Portland and tried to find Sapong early and often. Neither teams were very effective in the second half.

Schillo Tshuma was the steal of the draft, in my book, and I was surprised he fell that far. I think he would fit better elsewhere (Colorado, Columbus, or Montreal) but he should see some minutes for Portland this year. He played the wide role differently than Nagbe and Alhassan did in the first half, choosing to stay wide almost the entire time. Portland tried to find him on through balls, and eventually found him on a brilliant, perfectly-weighted chip from Long (who also had a decent game as a calming presence who simply kept the ball for Portland) for a goal. Aside from those two, Peay looked competent despite his slow speed of play, and Kotlov had a few flashes of individual skill.

Kansas City played the second half with 10 men, after Collin was sent off for a second yellow, both for denying opportunities after he got beat. No one from Kansas City really stood out to me as having more than just a decent half.