Match previews / Union

Match preview: Union v Timbers

Time: 7:30pm ET

Location: PPL Park, Chester, PA

TV: Comcast Network

To say Portland has been a mercurial team would be an understatement.

This is a team that can give up a two goal lead at home against Toronto, follow it up with a 3-0 thrashing of LA, then go to lowly San Jose and eke out a 1-1 draw.

A team that likes decisions

But if you want a sense of what kind of team Portland really is,  take a gander at their past four matches: Two away losses, two home wins. The Timbers have one away win all year: A messy 1-0 affair in Chicago that was decided by a penalty kick. The Timbers own website describes it this way: ”Fire left back Gonzalo Segares was whistled for a foul on Perlaza near the top of the box. The call seemed harsh, and Chicago players were quick to voice their displeasure.”

One thing Portland doesn’t do very often is tie. With five, they have the fewest in MLS. The Philadelphia Union have five ties since the beginning of July.

The Timbers come to play soccer. They actually do what the Union claim to do, running out attacking lineups and daring you to give playmakers Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara and Sal Zizzo enough time to look up.

All O, no D

If you are wondering where the defensive bite is in that midfield list, you aren’t alone. Portland doesn’t play with a Brian Carroll-type holder. Jewsbury – who is having a season to rival Seba Le Toux’s 2010 campaign – is capable of playing a Beckermanesque role, but both he and Chara end up on the wings more than the coaching staff would like. Asking Chara to play defense is like asking an elephant to paint: Yeah, he can probably do it, but a lot could go wrong in the process. Chara has an impressive six yellow cards in 19 starts. That’s as many as Carroll, Miglioranzi and Nakazawa have combined.

Midfield tactics

Jewsbury and Chara play as a flat pairing in midfield, with one or both pushing high to support the strikers and the other checking in to move the ball up the field. They play fast and they pass aggressively. They also leave a lot of space behind them.

So whoever the Union use as their attacking midfielder (and please, please let them use an attacking midfielder), he needs to check into space and act as an outlet. None of this Mapp-on-the-wing-outlet stuff, the holes will be in the middle. Adu, Torres, Houapeu, whoever is in there needs to find lanes between Califf, Valdes and himself early and often.

Keon Daniel is unavailable for the match, although there is no official reason as of yet.

Sigh… set pieces

Raise your hand if you remember how Portland scored on the Union earlier this year. If you don’t know, you probably guessed, “Free kick,” because you’ve been to a casino before and you know how to play the odds. Jewsbury delivers a fantastic ball, and the Timbers take their nickname seriously. This team has a lot of big trees on the roster and they know how to crash a box. Danso, the goalscorer in Portland, Kenny Cooper, and defenders Eric Brunner and David Horst are all well over six feet tall.

Zac MacMath was left exposed all night on Wednesday. Even if it means Freddy Adu and Roger Torres harrumphing Sheanon Williams into the air like on rugby throw-ins, the Union need to figure out a strategy to defend free kicks before Jewsbury and company arrive.

What needs fixing

As the season has unfolded, it’s fair to say most teams seem to have figured out Philadelphia the second time around. Early in the year, teams tried trapping wingers, pressuring the center backs, and playing a high line to force the Union out of their offensive rhythm. And while these strategies often worked, none of them forced Philly to abandon its defensive shape.

Portland was the first team to figure out that intense midfield pressure – while leaving the defenders alone for the most part – was a possible formula to break up the Union’s style of play. At first it seemed like an anomaly. Moving The Sheanomenon into a center back role took away our outlet, we thought.

But as the season has progressed, more teams have realized that the Union’s midfielders don’t move well for each other; pressure makes them look anxious and their runs uncoordinated. Only when New England backed off on Wednesday did the Union offense come to life.

Philadelphia’s success on Saturday will depend on either Freddy Adu, Roger Torres or both orchestrating the offense under pressure. Until this happens, the Union will struggle against teams like New England and live or die by their set piece defense against teams like Portland.

Last time around

Portland 1-0 Union (Danso 72nd minute)

Probable Lineups

Philadelphia (4-1-3-2)

MacMath; Williams; Valdes; Califf (c); Garfan; Mapp; Carroll; Adu; Marfan; Le Toux; Mwanga

Portland (4-4-2)

Perkins; Palmer; Brunner; Horst; Chabala; Alhassan; Chara; Jewsbury; Zizzo; Perlaza; Cooper

Likely subs

POR: Bright Dike, Nagbe

PHI: Torres, Wildguess, Dartthrow

Injuries

POR: OUT: Brown (concussion); Danso (hammy); Goldthwaite (L ACL); Johnson (concussion); Thompson (knee), PROBABLE: Perkins (hip soreness, sucking against Philly last year)

PHI: OUT: Mondragon (finger); Houapeu (ankle) PROBABLE: Carroll (foot)

Keon Daniel is unavailable, but no official reason has been provided.

Suspended next yellow card

POR: Chabala, Wallace

PHI: Califf, Carroll

Prediction

Union 3-1.

It has to happen eventually! Mwanga, Le Toux and McInerney to finish it off. That’s right, Jack Mac. I’m calling for you!

Miscellany

  • Lede of Union story on MLSsoccer.com: “The Philadelphia Union have a healthy stable of young, talented offensive talents, but it’s probably fair to say that no two players have Union fans as excited as Freddy Adu and Danny Mwanga.” Sorry, Roger Torres. Apparently being the only young player to make big strides this season doesn’t qualify you for the best of our talented young, talented offensive talents who have talent.
  • The Union are winless in seven full games, but ridiculously awesome in their last 45 minutes
  • Last season’s LMVP (Logical MVP) Seba Le Toux has 5 goals in his past 4 games, meaning the Union finally have a rostered player on top of their scoring chart.
  • Portland hasn’t played since their August 24th win over Chivas
  • The Timbers have officially scored 12 times off of set pieces, but that doesn’t count the three own goals other teams have given them on free kicks.

3 Comments

  1. Oh FFS, Portland signed that Own Goal guy. I thought Sir Alex would never let him leave Old Trafford.

  2. Danny and Adu are way better than Torres. Just a fact.

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