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Scouting Report: Examining the ways the Portland Timbers play

Timbers come back to town for the first time since last year's Western finals.

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

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Portland's Offensive Organization

- The Portland Timbers generally lineup with a 4-3-3 formation, but are capable of switching to 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 with Caleb Porter for which the alternating of positions from Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe,and Lucas Melano is crucial to their tactical flexibility.

- Portland are a team that can play a number of ways and are able to mix it between physical and technical soccer because of the profile of players they possess. They're capable of playing on counter attacks, but are more often than not a team that likes to have the ball at their feet and play a possession brand of soccer.

- Most of their plays go through Valeri and Nagbe who, as a pairing, have several strengths in their locker like pace, power, creativity, and vision and are a nuisance to any team they face in the entire league. They compliment each other well, alongside the proficient passer Diego Chara, and their quality combined with their chemistry  make them one of the best overall midfield units in MLS.

- On the flanks, they have Melano and Darren Mattocks who are both quick wingers who like to dribble and enjoy linking up with others around them. They've been hit and miss all year, ir pace and flair is used as a tool to unsettle opposing defenses and they thrive in open spaces, which is why the team is often set up to play on counters in order to get the best out of them.

- Up front, they have Fanendo Adi who is one of the best natural finishers in the league and is a tough physical specimen to keep under control. Another who's also at his best with space on counters and good at combining with others, but does get into offside positions a lot and isn't very good at holding up the ball well when under pressure.

Chris Klute is a danger on the overlap from the left full-back position, is confident on the ball, and willing to take players on, while Zarek Valentin is more conservative and utilized as the more defensive full-back as he lacks the skill set that Klute does going forward.

- With the exception of rare crosses from their full-backs and occasionally Melano, Portland generally try to focus their game on short passing and will either try to circulate the ball quickly to one of their danger men in spaces or will try to have attempts from long range. Although they do make use of their width from time to time, they're more of a central-focused team and like to create most of their plays down the middle.

Offensive Transition - how Portland does after winning possession

- Much like in possession, they like to get the ball at the feet of either Valeri or Nagbe who are their best players at initiating counters and are their best passing forward players. They'll often either try to release the ball as quick as possible to one of the front three players in space or shoot from long range to try and catch opposing defenses off guard.

- They're comfortable with playing in transitions and although they aren't usually among the best counter attacking sides in the division, they do possess an element of surprise with players like Nagbe and Mattocks who are hard to pin down because of their unpredictability on the ball.

- They alternate between setting up in a 4-4-2 with Mattocks joining Adi up top and Nagbe pushed out wide and a 4-5-1 with just Adi alone up front when they don't have the ball and they shift back to their usual 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation with Valeri and Nagbe interchanging in the attacking midfield position behind the striker.

- Occasionally, if they're pinned back too deep into a defensive zone, they'll play a long ball towards Adi for him to hold up and wait to bring others into play as a way of not just relieving pressure on themselves close to their goal, but to begin counters at the other end.

Portland's Defensive Organization

- Portland play with four defenders that sit deep in a straight line and are a tough nut to crack defensively when their midfield drops into their own half as support for the back four, but this doesn't always happen as they primarily prefer to play offensively.

- Diego Chara is the anchoring defensive midfield who sits and protects the defense. His passing skills aside which make him useful to their forays going forward, he's also a dedicated defender who's one of the best tacklers in his position in MLS and isn't afraid to put his foot in and body on the line when needed. His 4.2 tackling average and 2.1 intercepting average this season show exactly how good he is in this aspect of his game and duties.

Valeri and Nagbe average 1.3 and 1.4 tackles per game despite the fact that they spend most of each match in the attacking half trying to conjure up and create opportunities. While they're not the best defensively, they are capable of supporting the team with their off-the-ball contributions when they're set up to play that way, which they usually are in tough away fixtures.

- Valentin and Klute are adept tacklers and are comfortable in 1v1 situations against opposing wingers, especially when they're positioned close to the central defenders and are in control of the space that's in behind them. As for the centerbacks, Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell, neither of them are particularly good with the ball at their feet and lack pace, but are able to make up ground in the box in an impressive fashion and compliment each other well with their tackling, intercepting, and recovery abilities.

- With the wingers, Mattocks' defensive contributions are minimal and he doesn't often track back to help out the rest of the team while Melano is more of a hard worker and tries to get himself involved in defensive actions when possible, evidenced by his 1.7 tackling average and 1 interception per game average this year.

Defensive Transition - how Portland plays after losing the ball

- They don't usually have problems defending in transitions unless the fullbacks are pushed too high up the pitch or the midfield leaves too many spaces in between the lines, otherwise their structured defensive set up allows them to have minimal danger in this area in comparison to other teams in the league.

- Their defensive game relies a lot on smart positioning as well as good tackling and intercepting abilities, which is evidenced by the amount of players they have who average at least 1 tackle and/or interception a game.

- Their weaknesses are most apparent on the left side because Valeri and Mattocks sometimes slack off when it comes to tracking back once their team is being countered while Klute at times gets too high up the pitch on the overlap and that opens up possibilities for other teams to attack them down that flank and create scoring opportunities from there.

Portland's handles' their attacking set pieces

- With attacking corners, they send two men up to attack the near post and just as many players to attack the far post with another two in behind near the penalty spot either to pick up any pieces or just occupy markers so that more room could be available for those at the posts to wander in and try to position themselves better to score.

- On direct and indirect free kicks, they usually just send five or six players into the box to attack headers or pick up any loose balls or rebounds while the rest of the team stays somewhere near or just above the circle at the halfway line.

- Their primary set piece taker is Valeri who prefers to send most of his corners and indirect free kicks to the far post where there are less opposing bodies marking which leads to better chances of getting into a scoring position for his teammates if he can get the deliveries right. He does occasionally aim for the near post, but usually he sends them longer. His direct free kicks however are usually aimed to the left side of the goalkeepers, in most cases their weaker side, and on the opposite side of where their standing position is which again leads to a better probability to score goals out of them.

How the Timbers defend set pieces

- With defending corners, all but one player is instructed to come back into the box to help out on them. One player goes to the near post, two cover the zone right inside the six yard box, and the rest of the players all take up man marking assignments.

- Similarly on indirect free kicks, all but one player is back to help out defensively with someone forming a one man wall while the rest are either man marking or zonal marking.

Other observations

- They commit plenty of fouls in different areas of the pitch and this leads to potential disciplinary trouble during the match which could leave them short-handed at some point due to their aggressive playing nature.

- They like to shoot from all kinds of angles and distances, especially from central positions and from long range as well as just inside the 18-yard penalty area.

As many as seven of their potential starters for this game are at least six foot tall (Jake Gleeson, Valentin, Borchers, Ridgewell, Klute, Mattocks, and Adi) and going along with their physical style, they are a tough team to compete with in individual duels and pose a big threat on crosses and set pieces.

Their attacks are mostly conjured up down their left side where they have the presence of Valeri who is their engine and Klute who has been a standout figure so far this season at left-back. Along with Mattocks, they possess players with pace, crossing abilities, and someone with vision to pick out through balls so this makes them a serious threat down that side.

Eleven of their fifteen goals this season have come during open play or on a counter attack, which highlights how good they are at not just creating chances, which would showcase how full of ideas they are, but also converting them.