Postgame analysis: Portland Timbers 3-0 Philadelphia Union

Photo: 215pix

Facing a Timbers team riding a 14-game unbeaten streak into a home match after a cross-country flight — while resting half the usual starting lineup for Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal — was never going to be an easy ask for the Philadelphia Union. And despite the lopsided 3-nil scoreline being a little unkind to the blue and gold’s influence on the match, Saturday night’s late-night fixture played out just about how you’d expect.

As PSP’s West Coast Bureau Chief Peter Andrews tweeted during the game, “Stop me if you’ve heard this before.”

Indeed, the first half of the match followed 2018’s Groundhog’s Day storyline: The Union were ascendant in possession for the first 20 minutes, deft on the ball, and had a couple good looks at goal. None of them were finished and the Union humbly took the backseat for the rest of the game.

The Timbers have made their now-15-game unbeaten run thanks to a compact and stout defense complimented by a dangerous counterattack led by Portland puppet master Diego Valeri’s line- (and back-) breaking passes that slice open defenses.

On the penalty that led to Portland’s first goal, however, such finesse was not required. Following a Union turnover, Portland pushed the ball up the pitch, but the Union’s midfield had retreated in plenty of time. As you can see in the screenshot below (sorry my GIF game is off this week), Valeri’s presence on the ball pulls Fabinho in, despite the midfielder being covered by both Warren Creavalle and Auston Trusty. Meanwhile, Timbers fullback Alvis Powell not-so-sneakily drifts into the space vacated by Fabinho.











All it takes is a simple pass in front of Powell to spring him into the box. Before Powell even receives the ball, Fabinho is beat.











Philadelphia’s second penalty giveaway to Portland was even more shameful. While the rest of the Timbers sat deep, Portland held the ball deep in the Union’s right end. The Union had numbers back and were defending 6v3. Valeri has some space at the top of the box, but Trusty is hanging back to prevent a Valeri run, while Haris Medunjanin covers any pass into the middle.











When the ball is played to Valeri, Trusty steps up, giving Valeri literally nowhere to go, while the Union now have seven defenders back. Warren Creavalle, though, inexplicably launches himself into the Argentinian for another easy penalty call. The game was irrevocably over at that point.











On offense, the Union’s chances were generated through combination play between wide players and Borek Dockal. The team’s best chance came in the 51st minute when Derrick Jones found space weak side in the box and launched a half-volley on frame. Portland’s keeper was up to the task, though, and Philadelphia never had another opportunity for the rest of the match.

There’s a lot to like (and dislike) in the freeze-frame below.

The good:

  • Fabinho is pushed super high up the field, giving the Union a numerical advantage on the left wing
  • Dockal sits at the top of the box acting as a pivot to switch play or find a runner
  • Fabian Herbers does a nice job making a terrific run and — when it doesn’t pan out — recycling the ball to Fabinho

The bad:

  • C.J. Sapong is just sitting in the box, not moving (go figure)
  • Marcus Epps is pinched all the way in, essentially playing like a second striker; this is good if all you want to do is cross the ball, but not so good if you’re looking to stretch out a very compact defense that currently has six players in the box











It’s Jones’ timely run, though, that ultimately generates the chance. Seeing the weak side of the field totally open, Jones waits until Herbers recycles play to finally make his run and catch Portland flat-footed. Fabinho’s cross falls perfectly to Jones and he takes his chance really well. Most of the time that ball goes in and the rest of the game plays out differently.

That’s not to say that the Union didn’t deserve the L on the road. Still, the reserve players did not look out of place on an MLS pitch versus a very good Timbers team. Fabian Herbers remains extremely intelligent off the ball and Derrick Jones’ composed showing proved that he deserves more minutes down the stretch. But the team’s movement is all-too-often sedentary late in games and, stop me if you’ve heard this before, finishing remains a constant shortcoming for an otherwise decent soccer team.

No matter, it’s hard to expect any team to win when they give away two boneheaded penalties. Let’s see if they can cut the errors and, finally, get some finishing luck in Wednesday’s Open Cup semifinal versus Chicago Fire.

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