Portland Timbers thriving after unexpected death of ‘Porterball’

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Part of the lore around Portland’s rise is the concept of Porterball, a term the Timbers’ head coach will never own. NBC’s Kyle Martino brought the moniker to national attention this summer, but it’d been whispered for some time, even if Caleb Porter’s always bristled at any implication such a term could transcend the team itself.

But with a focus on style evident from early on — when the coach himself would focus on shots, passes and possession as indicators of the team’s progress — it’s no wonder a style that’s so different than John Spencer’s became a focal point. It’s not only that Porter likes an approach emphasizing possession, pressing and movement, it’s that the difference in philosophy brought such a drastic change in the standings.

So as Portland enters Thursday’s second leg on a nine-game unbeaten run, it’s worth asking what’s happened to Porterball. Most people may not have noticed it’s wane, but it was evident on Saturday. While beating Seattle 2-1, the Timbers ceded 60 percent of the possession and 20 shots, seemingly by choice. It just doesn’t fit the Porterball narrative.

[MORE: Johnson, Nagbe goals allow Portland to take edge out of Seattle]

“[Seattle] had a little bit more of the ball, but that was a part of the game plan,” Porter said on Saturday, clearly happy with the result. “We wanted them to have a bit of the ball so we could roast them on counter-attacks, and I thought we were very dangerous on the counter all day long and I thought we were organized.”

The roasting may have been confined to a handful of moments, but it’s hard to argue with the results. The one goal conceded? It was off a long throw. Beyond Seattle’s goal, their best chance was a late corner that Clint Dempsey put of the crossbar from just over six yards out. Everything else was pretty well-controlled, including a Dempsey shot in the fist half which, though it grazed the crossbar, would have nailed Donovan Ricketts’ hand had it not led to a goal kick. Though Seattle racked up low percentage shots, the game’s next-best chance was probably Ryan Johnson’s, who was unable to convert a late second half breakaway that would have left Portland up three.

“They had some shots from distance. They didn’t have a ton of great looks where they got in behind us,” Porter said. “I thought we were very organized and played a very pragmatic game plan, and it’s a win on the road.”

source: AP
Portland’s fans were introduced to Caleb Porters’ style by a team that played a different game that John Spencer’s. Come the end of the season, however, “pragmatism” is something for which Porter has strived. (Photo: AP)

The premature death of ‘Porterball’

Pragmatic? Conceding possession? Willing to lose the shots battle? When the heck did this happen? This isn’t Caleb ‘Porterball’ Porter, guardian of the next era of American soccer’s approach. These are the words of Bruce Arena or Dominic Kinnear after they’ve lulled their opponents into mistakes.

The change isn’t about Seattle, necessarily. It’s been happening since early September, with the results apparent after Portland returned from Carson after a disappointing 1-1 draw with Chivas USA (Sept. 14). They’d go on to win their next two games 1-0 (Colorado and Los Angeles), finishing second in possession, shots and total passes each time. Over their next five games, Portland would only score more than two goals once (a 5-0 at Chivas to close the season) while conceding multiple goals on only one occasion:

Date Opponent Final Possession Shots Shots
on Goal
Passes
Sept. 20 Colorado 1-0 49-51 9-13 2-1 397-412
Sept. 29 LA Galaxy 1-0 47-54 5-9 3-2 413-465
Oct. 6 at Vancouver 2-2 51-49 14-16 3-8 435-410
Oct. 13 Seattle 1-0 49-51 15-11 3-3 409-418
Oct. 19 Real Salt Lake 0-0 44-56 9-8 4-0 371-476
Oct. 26 at Chivas USA 5-0 53-47 17-12 9-4 462-405
Nov. 2 at Seattle 2-1 40-60 10-20 5-5 325-483

These are the last seven games of Portland’s unbeaten run (first Chivas result left out). If you toss out the two games against the non-playoff teams, you see some consistent outcomes – a complete change from the early season’s possession-based approach.

Portland losses the possession battle every time. They almost always get outshot and out-passed, but they’re never giving up more shots on goal. For all of Sigi Schmid’s hopes that Seattle’s quantity of chances will come good in Seattle, his team’s performance on Saturday just fits the bigger picture. They’re playing Portland’s game; not the other way around.

“I’ve prepared [my team] for Plan A or Plan B,” Porter said after the Oct. 13 win over Seattle, his team having used their “Plan B” to even the season series with their rivals. “When you’re playing good teams, you have to prepare for that …”

“The reality is when you have two teams playing each other who both want to do the same thing, they’re going to have moments when they’ll have us deeper,” Porter explained. “I’ve tried to prepare these guys to be composed and mature when we’re playing with a lower block …”

source: AP
Porter concedes that Portland’s early approach needed to adapt, observing his team was either controlling games or “getting run through.” (Photo:AP)

Learning from early season mistakes

It’s a change that’s about more than versatility. Interspersed with Portland’s five losses and 15 draws were moments were being too aggressive had cost the Timbers points, often from winning positions. They wanted to press. They wanted to play in the opponent’s half. But they were also giving up key goals.

“Earlier in the year we were up the field, pushing and playing well, or we were just getting run through,” Porter conceded, after the 1-0 win over Seattle. “We’ve kind of down shifted just a little bit to balance our team. Just a little bit.

“We’re a little bit more setup to win games this time of year. This time of year, [they’re] going to be tight games.”

Now when the Timbers gain a lead (another point of emphasis within the team), they have a way to hold on, and when they claim an early lead, the numbers look very non-Porterball. Before earning their second goal on Saturday, Portland had held 48 percent of the possession, while the Galaxy were also able to pad their statistical edges after the Timbers went up 1-0.

As his playoff debut showed, Porter made the right decision, siding with pragmatism over idealism. But what does this mean for Porterball? Does all the talk about possession soccer, pressing and playing in the other team’s half take a back seat to a more conventional approach?

Not entirely. Like Porter says, it’s about having a Plan A and an alternative, and if he has to step back from some of the high-minded talk from earlier in the season, so be it.

“When I fail, I look at it and correct it,” Porter said. “Same with [my team]. I think that’s a big reason why we’re winning these games now.”

Moyes roasts West Ham players after loss to Watford

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After his first game in charge of West Ham, David Moyes thought he had a better squad. Apparently he was mistaken.

A 2-0 loss to Watford gave Moyes a rude awakening as he looks to replace Slaven Bilic and pull the Hammers out of the relegation zone. He was not pleased with his players.

“Overall, that level of performance will not be good enough,” Moyes told reporters after the match.

He wasn’t done.

“I thought this was a big job, but there were some players with big reputations who disappointed me. There were some who I thought would show me more, and why they play for the team regularly. They need to show me, ‘If that’s your reputation, show me why you’ve got it.'”

He backtracked slightly, agreeing that the players are in a difficult position changing managers, but ultimately that excuse wasn’t enough for him. “It’s tough for the players – I could sense that – but I didn’t enjoy our performance in the end. I didn’t enjoy us giving the ball away too cheaply, too many times and I expected us to do better.”

Moyes even called out striker Andy Carroll, saying he removed the England international because he feared Carroll would pick up a second yellow card. Carroll had picked up his caution seven seconds into the match, leaving Marvin Zeegelaar with a bloody nose after an elbow to the face, something Carroll has been sent off for earlier this season.

“I thought we defended OK,” Moyes said, “but then we gave away cheap goals by getting bundled off the ball and we didn’t really deal with it. We didn’t do well enough in all departments at different times.”

That’s about as ruthless as you’ll ever hear the mild-mannered David Moyes, and all West Ham players should beware that their places in the team are in jeopardy.

Napoli takes commanding Serie A lead after Juventus loss

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Six-time Serie A defending champions Juventus are in trouble. Not a lot, but the heat has been turned up.

A wild 3-2 loss to Sampdoria means the Italian giants are now four points back of Napoli in the Serie A table, and heading into their Champions League matchup with Barcelona, there is plenty of soul-searching to do in Turin.

Juventus nearly mounted what would have been a monumental comeback, down 3-0 heading into stoppage-time but posting goals by Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala in the first and fourth minutes of injury time. It was not to be, and the four-point deficit through 13 games not only leaves Juventus looking at Napoli more than a game in front of them, but also over their shoulders at Roma and Inter Milan both a point behind in third and fourth.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was kept out of the lineup as he continues to deal emotionally with the World Cup miss, and it showed. After a scoreless first half at Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Duzan Zapata beat Stephan Lichtensteiner in the air and sent a looping header over a flatfooted Wojciech Szczesny for the opening goal.

With 20 minutes to go, Sampdoria struck again as former Premier League creator Gaston Ramirez fed 21-year-old Lucas Torreira at the top of the box, and with nobody closing him down, he fired into the bottom-left corner of the net. They got the eventual winner nine minutes later after an embarrassing defensive breakdown by the visitors. A free-kick saw two attackers in front of net against five defenders, but somehow Gianmarco Ferrari was completely unmarked in front of the net for a tap-in.

Higuain struck from the penalty spot and Dybala hit on the counter to beat Emiliano Vivaldo at his near post, but it wasn’t enough for Juventus. The defensive frailty will need to be corrected moving forward, as they face a vital match at Napoli on December 1st, and a loss there could spell disaster for their title charge.

American right back Moore makes first La Liga start

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La Liga saw an American amongst its Starting XIs on Sunday.

Shaquell Moore made his first La Liga start in Levante’s 2-0 win at Las Palmas on Sunday.

According to WhoScored, Moore completed 71 percent of his passes, had three interceptions and four tackles won. He was credited with one key pass and three crosses.

[ MORE: McKennie impresses again ]

The right back turned 21 earlier this month, and our primitive research shows him as the first U.S. player to make a La Liga start since Oguchi Onyewu at Malaga in 2013.

Oddly enough, Sunday’s opposition had an American on the books last season with Emmanuel Sabbi skipped college soccer to join Las Palmas. Sabbi joined Danish side Hobro this summer, and made his first start on Friday.

Jozy Altidore spent time with Villarreal and Kasey Keller played for Rayo Vallecano.

Levante’s next match is Sunday at Real Sociedad.

Spurs reportedly have right to match any Bale bid

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What’s Gareth Bale worth these days? And how much higher than that figure is Manchester United willing to go?

Those are the two main questions that arise from the idea that Tottenham Hotspur may have a contractual privilege to match any offer made to Real Madrid for the ex-Spurs star.

[ MORE: McKennie impresses again ]

Bale, 28, was worth $112 million in today’s dollars when Real bought him in 2013. He has 70 goals and 55 assists in 159 matches for the Spanish outfit.

How much is he worth now? Certainly nothing near the same figure, as Romelu Lukaku went for $99 million this summer and Alvaro Morata went for $80 million.

The Express says Real expects $112 million right back for Bale, which seems insane. Bale has three goals and four assists in nine matches for Real this summer, and had nine and five in 27 outings last season.

Bale did, however, scored 19 goals in 23 La Liga matches two seasons ago, but he’s dealt with significant injuries on a near-annual basis.

Spurs transfer record is the $48 million it spent on Davinson Sanchez this summer. Whatever Manchester United, or anything suitor, will bid for Bale will likely be higher than that figure.

At one point would it make sense for Spurs to smash their record and wage structure to line up Bale, Dele Alli, Harry Kane, and Christian Eriksen in the same attack (I mean, holy smoke, just close your eyes and visualize that!).

Real reportedly wants to make the move happen in January, while United wants to do it in the summer.