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Know Your Enemy: Portland Timbers - Part Two – Game Film Review and Points of Interest

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The second half of the latest installment of the Know Your Enemy series, previewing TFC's upcoming opponent, the Portland Timbers, reviewing the game film for strengths and weaknesses

Diego Valeri Abides - Apparently thumbs-up are hip in Portland, what's that about?
Diego Valeri Abides - Apparently thumbs-up are hip in Portland, what's that about?
Susan Ragan-USA TODAY Sports

Part One, covering their lineup and form was posted yesterday

The Tactics

When assessing the threat of Portland, one need start with the obvious, Diego Valeri.

Since he was acquired on loan before the start of the 2013 season, the Argentine has been one of the best players in the league – he scored this beauty in his first MLS match.

And he’s only gotten better since then, earning all-star and newcomer of the year honours by the end of last season. In his sixty league appearances, he has scored nineteen goals and 27 assists – that’s roughly a goal every three matches and an assist in every second, which is impressive; very impressive.

Making matters worse for TFC, he has been in scintillating form of late, racking up goals in his last two and riding a four-game assist streak, with six over that run, including a three-assist night against San Jose.

One of Portland’s goals from their 3-0 win over Vancouver on the weekend helps to illustrate some of the dangers of Valeri, as well as a few patterns of the Timbers attack.

It was their first goal and it came from out of the blue. Russell Teibert fouled Will Johnson in the midfield and before Vancouver could get set, a quick free-kick was sent out wide left to Jorge Villafana, who hit a devastating curling ball into the middle, for a streaking Valeri:


It wasn’t just the slicing move out wide, or the inviting delivery, or that Valeri, the most dangerous man on the pitch, was able to pop up unmarked in-between the Whitecaps defenders, but that finish was so clinical. Most players in MLS snatch at that chance, send their effort squirreling wide of over, but not Valeri, he will finish those all day long.

Toronto will have to do a better job of keeping tabs on his movements than that.

And should he be given a look at goal, whether from open play or set-pieces, Valeri is deadly, here against Los Angeles from a dead-ball:
Video – Valeri FK v LAG


Even if one does keep defenders goal-side, Valeri has a way of finding those little pockets of space, as he did here against Colorado:


That quick interplay at the top of the area is a trademark of the Timbers. Fanendo Adi is a particularly good foil as a hold-up, back-to-goal, target-man, but both Max Urruti and Gaston Fernandez are equally adept at picking their way through tight areas.

And when the opposition is drawn centrally, in an effort to close down those little gaps, Portland can attack down the wide channels as well, exploiting space opened there.

Darlington Nagbe may not have scored a single goal, yet, this season, but he is still a factor, laying this lovely ball against the grain in Vancouver to set up Rodney Wallace:


Given their movement and speed when the defense is allowed time to get set, it comes as no surprise that on the counter Portland is a handful, as Vancouver found out twice in short order on the weekend, with Adi finishing both chances on the break:


Excellent passing, patience, and finishing from the Timbers there.

Toronto will have to be very alert on Saturday, defending as a team, keeping themselves organized and communicating to pick up the movement of the various Portland threats. They should consider themselves lucky that Steven Caldwell is back in the side for this match.

Exploitation

As much as Portland is near-unstoppable going forward, their Achilles heel this season has been at the back. They have conceded the most goals-against of any team currently in the playoff standings (with 48), and only four teams in the league (Houston, Montreal, Colorado, and Chivas) have conceded more.

Liam Ridgewell has gone some way to shoring up that weakness, they have kept three clean-sheets in the ten games he has played – which is two more than they had all season prior to his arrival.

One of the concerns for Caleb Porter has been the at-times static nature of their defending. Slow to react, hesitant to take command of a situation, Cordell Cato’s goal for San Jose provides a perfect example:


It was a nice build-up by the Earthquakes, but the chance was there for that loose ball to be cleared, only for hesitation to prove costly. Toronto needs to be willing to commit attackers forward to get those chances; be audacious and good things will happen.

That same casual attitude was decisive against Kansas City, when Seth Sinovic’s throw was knocked down by Kevin Ellis, falling to Lawrence Olum, who made no mistake with the finish:


From conceding a deep throw-in to KC, to allowing a Sporting attacker to win the ball, to leaving Olum unmarked at that near-post, it was a comedy of half-efforts that allowed Kansas City to steal a win in Portland. Again, getting bodies in the box and making the most of set-pieces, something Toronto did to great effect against Chivas, will see chances like that come their way.

The Portland defenses were particularly abused in a recent 2-4 loss against Seattle – Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, when on song, will cause any team trouble, but the Sounders’ third goal of the game, from Chad Barrett, was particularly poor:


The collapsing deep, thereby allowing space to operate at the top of the box, the ball-watching and failure to sense danger that allowed Barrett so much space on the left, and then the hesitancy and disorganization that allowed the ball wide and time and space for a shot were key signs of a lack of defensive organization.

None of those are accusations with which a good defense should be labeled.

The key that TFC should take from this example is how effective quick, simple ball-movement and shot on goal can be. Seattle didn’t dwell on the ball, looking for the perfect pass, they made the obvious move and got a shot off when presented with the opportunity.

But perhaps the sin that Portland’s back-line is most guilty of is back-side awareness and letting teams send crosses into the box.

This goal from Colorado – who were in the midst of a seven-game losing streak at the time – was an atrocious example of defensive breakdowns. Marvell Wynne’s run was good, and then moving the ball across the field through Dillon Powers in the middle is one thing, but to allow Marc Burch that much time to get off a measured cross and Deshorn Brown to ghost off the back of Villafana – with Wallace just watching – was just plain bad:


Such a poor goal against is bad one time, but twice – in consecutive matches no less – is horrid. And making matters worse, it was Chris Wondolowski, the one person on San Jose who has to be watched closely, who inserted himself directly between the two centre-backs to get on the end of a Shea Salinas ball:


There are one or two players on every team that have to be watched at all times. Portland simply drops that responsibility far too often – here Robbie Keane sneaks in at the back-post to score the eventual game-winner, while earlier it was Gyasi Zardes who was left completely alone in between the centre-backs to level the match with a free-header:


Toronto has done nowhere near effort of those sorts of attacks, getting the ball wide and putting crosses into the box. They prefer to drive into the area from those wide positions, using their speed to create space. Too often, there are not enough men in the area to really make use of this Portland weakness.

It will be interesting to see if they can exploit such a hole in the Timbers game, it may just be the perfect time for Bright Dike to pair up top with Gilberto, the former Timbers forward throwing himself about against his former club to create movement and space for the latter.

Should be a very interesting match, two teams who can score goals, and have serious deficiencies at the back – there will be goals.

Points of Interest

The two clubs have met four times in MLS play, with each winning a match at home and drawing the other two, by score-lines of 2-2.

TFC won the first ever meeting between the two 2-0, back in 2011 – on a Javier Martina brace, but since then the Timbers are unbeaten, drawing the next two and winning last season’s encounter by a score of 4-0 in a woeful road display from Toronto that saw Portland humiliatingly pile on three goals in the last ten minutes.

Revenge is in order.