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.

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