After Portland Timbers beat Seattle Sounders in the past weeks, they faced each other two days ago. At the same time, most of us expected Seattle Sounders to take revenge on Portland Timbers. However, Portland Timbers won another victory.
In this tactical analysis, we will show you the tactical battle between Giovanni Savarese and Brian Schmetzer in the MLS. We will analysis the defensive structure of Portland Timbers, the offensive style of Seattle Sounders and the tactics used by both coaches to break the high pressure.
Portland Timbers played in a 4-4-2 formation with some changes, as Yimmi Chará played the place of the injured Sebastián Blanco, on the right side Pablo Bonilla was back into the squad, while Ramos played in back-line.
On the other side, Seattle Sounders started with their expected 4-2-3-1 formation. They only missed the centre back Xavier Arreaga and was replaced by Shane O’Neill.
Defence of Portland Timbers
Portland Timbers tactics were like the previous games in which they played a 4-4-2 formation. They defended nicely and their opponents found it difficult to break their defence. They usually did not press high but instead, they formed a midblock and defended in a compact shape vertically.
We will use this example to illustrate the defensive structure of Portland Timbers, as you can see the offensive duo and the two pivots form a square. This square prevents the opponent midfield players from receiving the ball in the deep. Back-line players mark Seattle Sounders front-line players. This structure prevents the opponent from attacking the depth.
Even the idea of a striker or playmaker falling back failed because Portland Timbers had always created a numerical advantage of 4v3 in the centre of the field.
This structure was forcing Seattle Sounders to go sides, and this is what Portland Timbers wanted. They were waiting for their opponent to move the ball towards the side, then they pressed and narrowed the space to recover the ball.
For example in this picture: Cristian Roldán received the ball with his back pointing at the goal, the winger Jeremy Ebobisse moved and pressed him quickly from the back, as you can see Ronaldo does not have any passing options and is forced to return the ball back. This means that Portland Timbers attack will not continue.
Seattle Sounders and good use of the pivots
Portland Timbers defensive tactics may be good, but Seattle Sounders’ XG average is 1.80. This means that they have already reached the Portland goal and created many opportunities.
The thing that made Seattle Sounders create a large number of opportunities are the wonderful ideas that their coach Schmetzer relied on, and some errors in the Portland Timbers defence system.
Coach Schmetzer knew that he would not be able to penetrate Portland Timbers defence from the depth, and he also knew that Portland team wanted them to move the ball to the sides to press them and recover the ball.
Schmetzer came up with a great idea here, which is to move the ball to the sides, but faster, in this case, the opponent will not have enough time to organize his structure, and therefore the Seattle Sounders team can penetrate the box through the sides. It is an idea somewhat similar to the idea that Pep Guardiola used with Manchester City and Barcelona previously.
Schmetzer asked the full-backs to go forward to create a 2v2 situation on the sides, while a pivot pulled back to form a backline of three players, in this way he would be able to turn the ball from right to left. At the same time, the other pivot is positioned outside the square formed by Portland Timbers. This way, Seattle Sounders can create positional superiority that helps them move the ball to the sides quickly.
In this example, Joao Paulo is positioned outside the square and can receive the ball without pressure, after which he can quickly move the ball towards the right side.
As I mentioned earlier, when the ball is moved quickly to the sides, Portland Timbers will not be able to organize its defensive structure, and thus Seattle Sounders will get spaces.
As you can see in this example: Joevin Jones has found much space in the half-spaces, and Kelvin Leerdam has a space in which he can pass the ball to his team-mate.
The Portland Timbers strikers’ failure to fulfil their defensive duties helped Seattle Sounders a lot as well.
The attackers’ delay in returning to their defensive positions, makes the Portland Timbers team’s pivots free, this makes them able to play passes in empty spaces without pressure, especially as they can scan the field well because they are in the back.
For example, in this picture, Joao Paulo can switch sides and place his teammate in a 1v1 situation.
Smart moves and the exchange of positions between players was necessary, to create gaps in the opponent’s backline, and to take advantage of Joao Paulo’s positioning.
For example, in this picture, Joevin Jones pulled the opponent’s centre back with him and created a space in-depth, this way Seattle Sounders got a real chance to score.
Schmetzer: Great ideas during the build-up phase
In some periods, Portland Timbers would advance to pressure Seattle Sounders, and prevent their players from advancing the ball comfortably.
As shown in the graphic, the Portland Timbers team would sometimes advance to pressure, forcing their opponent to return the ball back.
Coach Schmetzer tried to create opportunities using the pressure they apply by using the spaces they leave behind when they apply for pressure.
Schmetzer idea was to pull the Portland Timbers pivots forward and create an empty space in the middle of the field, this space in which Nicolás Lodeiro could easily receive the long ball.
If the centre back marked Lodeiro, striker Raúl Ruidíaz will have a vast space in the deep, as shown in this picture.
This picture was repeated a lot during the match, as winger Jones enters the depth and pulls the Portland Timbers full-back with him, and at the same time creates for his team-mate a space on the side.
Here the same thing, the wings go deeper, creating an empty space for the full-backs on the sides.
Football is an unfair game at times, the Seattle Sounders team did everything, created many opportunities, and penetrated the defensive structure of the Portland Timbers. But Portland won.
However, despite this, the Seattle Sounders team have to keep up, they have a good team and play great football, they are in the first place, and they deserve it.
On the other hand, Portland Timbers needs to correct its defensive mistakes and work on more offensive tactics, to continue winning.