Monday, December 7, 2015

Defense Wins Cup for Portland

It's interesting how I noticed different things watching the game from the stands versus watching it now, on a screen.

To put it simply, on the screen it looks more like a loosely called MLS match. In person, however, I noticed a man for man difference in quality and comfort with and around the ball. The passing and possession might not have been there for the Timbers (~70% passing as a team, ~40% possession), but they had no problem dispossessing Columbus players when they got into dangerous areas. Nor did they have any trouble working out or around Crew players stabbing at the ball. This effectively shut down a Crew SC that was hellbent on getting the ball crossed into Kei Kamara all season from deep wing positions.

Going back over it, Caleb Porter's Portland team was never really in trouble (only one shot on frame). The Columbus gameplan was no real secret and, with the benefit of hindsight, teams in the playoffs were able to shut down - Crew SC finished the playoffs with a losing record of three losses, two wins. All three teams they faced in the playoffs were able to beat them.

My short little video above is one possession later on in the game that shows the Timbers having no trouble with what the Crew were doing. In it, you see that the Crew had resorted (a bit) to having to get the ball into Kamara from deep. When Higuain gathers it he sends it over to the left wing (again, familiar) but two Portland players are there and have no trouble clearing the danger.

During the post game radio show here in town, Dwight Burgess and Neil Sika touched on the need for Columbus to enact a "plan B" when things aren't working and I couldn't agree more. Interesting, Columbus has another way of playing. If you look back at the end of last year (not the playoffs) and the game against DC that closed out the regular season this year, you see that Crew SC have options in playing style.

Perhaps next year will see more of a combination of the two instead of running just about everything through Kamara. Though, that did get them within a stone's throw of the Cup.


Columbus finished the playoffs with 1.40 goals per game vs. 1.71 in the regular season. Their defense did improve with Gaston Sauro in the back line, even towards the end of the year. Regular season 1.56 goals against per game, 1.20 in the playoffs.

Portland did exactly what Cup winning teams do. Improved goal scoring in the playoffs and built on an already stout defense. 1.15 goals against all season, 1.00 in the playoffs. 1.83 goals for in the playoffs, 1.21 in the regular season.

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