Colorado 3 – Portland 1: The Champs Make a Point

The Portland Timbers kicked off their inaugural MLS season on Saturday with a few strikes against them–as visitors, trying to knock off a confident defending Champion at an altitude of 5,000 feet. Nonetheless, our first peek of the Northwest’s newest infusion into Major League Soccer was positive, despite a few mistakes and a lack of overall chemistry.

Colorado’s Strategy

In a sense, discussing Colorado from a tactical point of view is as straightforward as ever: speed, power and an occasional flash of individual brilliance. The thing is, their “what you see is what you get” 4-4-2 is abundant with all three.

The Rapids came out to juice their home field altitude advantage to the max, pressing hard at a high pace to test their opponents’ lungs and endurance. Their aggressive attack was supported along the flanks by fullbacks Kimura and Wallace. Casey didn’t get on the stat sheet, but was just enough of a nuisance (or “punk” if you’re not a CO fan) for the Portland center backs to create abundant opportunities for Cummings to penetrate the back line.

Cummings, in fact, was a nightmare for the men in green. It was a piece of individual footwork and tenacity in the 7th minute in the Portland corner that gave him space to roll  a cross into the box that Larentowicz put away with conviction. And it was Cummings again just 20 minutes later who stuck with a ball he’d dribbled into the box, shot off the keeper, then reacquired and put away. The 3rd and final Colorado goal game a mere two minutes later on a cannon blast from midfielder Jamie Smith (who’d been given WAY too much time and space–defensive mistake number 2).

Portland’s Strategy

Portland’s 4-4-2 didn’t have the shape, discipline or fluidity of their well-oiled host’s version and lacked a central midfield figure who could quarterback a viable attack. Instead, the Timbers looked for a one-two punch of power/size (Cooper) and speed (Perlaza) from their two forwards. Both, in fact, had bright moments (Perlaza just missed a chip over Pickens that would have drastically changed the shape of the game), but with no consistent buildup or good services coming in, it was easy to forget them throughout the first half.

Adjustments

To remedy his impotent midfield, Portland manager Spenser brought on Adam Moffat for Peter Lowry at half. He also swapped out defender Kevin Goldwaite to give David Horst the second half, but this seems less to do with strategy than individual peformance.

Whether it was the introduction of Moffat or the half-time thrashing Spenser likely gave them, Portland was a much more positive side in the 2nd half when down 3-0 with nothing to lose. For one, their defense tightened up and they didn’t concede again. Second, they were much more aggressive, maintained an almost 50/50 possession, and pressed on the Colorado goal with more confidence and determination. Portland’s last switch was another defender: Alhassan for Wallace. The big question was, who would step up and be the heart of the squad–who could fill the shoes of a captain in its most literal sense? FC Dallas veteran Kenny Cooper came closest to answering that when he buried a free-kick from a central position well outside the box. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to lift the spirits of the Timbers Army and give them a sense of optimism about what Cooper and company might start creating in terms of thrills and chemistry.

Colorado’s first switch was forced by an injury to Casey, who made way for young striker Quincy Amarikwa. Amaridwa did prove to be a little spark plug, but the more resolute Portland defense was not as daunted as they were by Casey. In the final 15 minutes or so, Colorado sat Mastroeni and Mullan (making way for Nyassi and Thompson, respectively).

Lessons for the rest of MLS

Portland has some first season jitters to work through until they find their formula but they are only going to get better. If they build up an offense around Cooper as a target man he could put up some big numbers for them, just like he did in Dallas.

Colorado is out to convince their MLS championship was not a fluke. They may not have many cards up their sleeve, but the hand they are playing with is going to cause lots of headaches–and not just from altitude sickness.

3 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Blake Owen says:

    Glad to see Cooper hasn’t lost his touch after his terrible stint in Europe. Watching him put one in from the midfield line is one of my favorite FC Dallas memories.

    • bensten says:

      Yeah, everyone is always amazed at a big guy having such a dainty touch. I don’t know why he can’t make it happen in Europe, but as I suggest in the article, I think he’s a perfect fit for the MLS team who knows how to use him.

  2. robinoz0 says:

    i hope Portland can give an entertaining season and garner a decent fan base. i have some friends in that section of the country who’ve been wanting a soccer team

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