Portland Timbers Start to Find Stability with Five in the Back

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CARSON, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 31: Diego Chara #21 of Portland Timbers and Romain Alessandrini #7 of Los Angeles Galaxy fight for control of the ball at Dignity Health Sports Park on March 31, 2019 in Carson, California. (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

Editorial (April 4, 2019) – The Portland Timbers found defensive stability after they transitioned to five in the back against the LA Galaxy Sunday night.

The Portland Timbers have yet to win a league match in 2019. They have also yet to allow less than two goals in any 2019 league match. But in their 2-1 loss to the LA Galaxy, Portland finally looked defensively competent.

Clogging the Middle

Portland’s competence came from head coach Giovanni Savarese moving to a five-man backline, which looked more like a 5-1-2-2 when defending:

Valeri – Ebobisse
Blanco – Guzman
Villafaña – Dielna – Tuiloma – Cascante – Moreira

It seemed that clogging the middle of the field was important for Portland. When defending about thirty yards away from goal, Sebastian Blanco and David Guzman stayed very central, cutting out the influence of the likes of Jonathan dos Santos, Joe Corona, and Sebastian Lleget in the attack. You can see this in the heat map of the Galaxy’s midfield five and Ibrahimovic below:

By clogging the middle, the timbers were able to minimize the Galaxy’s threat down the middle and, if it weren’t for two needless penalties, would have probably left Carson with all three points.

Another important part of that defensive formation is where Valeri finds himself. I have been very critical of Diego Valeri’s positioning over the past few games, not being high enough to create in dangerous areas. Pulling Blanco and Guzman central and keeping Valeri high on the pitch allowed for the Argentine to stay a constant threat against the Galaxy back line.

Looking at What is Next

This upcoming weekend, the Portland Timbers play against San Jose. The Quakes are the only team that has given up more goals than the Timbers in the league so far with fourteen. They are also tied with Atlanta for the least amount of goals scored with two. This new look system will find much success against the current MLS basement dwellers.

The two goals that San Jose scored were against Montreal and the New York Red Bulls. They both were in the opening minutes and both came through the middle. If Portland can hold the defensive stability they had against the LA Galaxy in San Jose Saturday night, especially during the beginning, then they should expect to have their first shut out of the season.

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