Scouting the Portland Timbers

Scouting is more of an art than a science. Every coach watches the game a bit differently and notices different things. Because of this, the more generalities that you can pull from the film, the more “accurate” your report will be. Conversely, sometimes generalities don’t give you the edge that you need to outwit your opponent.

Scouting the Portland Timbers beyond more than generalities will be especially difficult for Pat Noonan and his staff. Due to their many injuries, they haven’t had consistent lineups or formations. Below is what I put together from the little information that I could pull together.

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Team: Portland Timbers

Matches Scouted: 4/15/23 vs. Seattle Sounders

Formation: 4-3-3

Mode of Attack

The Timbers tend to attack in a variety of ways. They are unabashedly unafraid to hit long balls toward the opponent’s back line and see if they can get back on the ball higher up the pitch. This includes a tendency for the goalkeeper to play long rather than favoring building from the back. However, when they can gain solid possession and are not pressed, they also like to play, what I like to call, pass and probe.

Pass and probe is when a team moves the ball around from side to side and looks for opportunities to play the ball to a central player. Oftentimes, this central player will play the ball straight back out of the middle if they are under pressure. Then, when they feel that the time is right, they will hit a line-splitting ball or carry the ball forward into space. Portland especially likes to do this when midfielder David Ayala is on the pitch. Ayala favors dropping deep to pick up the ball, then progressing it by splitting lines or looking for long diagonal passes.

In attack, Portland also likes to push one of their outside backs very high. The other one remains more conservative, providing the center backs with some cover.

Method of Chance Creation

When the Timbers are using their pass and probe offense, they are constantly looking to hit the diagonal ball in behind the opponent’s back line. They will do this from the middle or attacking thirds of the field. When they do it from the attacking third it resembles an early cross looking for a runner at the back post.

When Santiago Moreno is on the field in a wing position, he is especially adept at pinching into the half-space to check for these diagonal passes. He is very creative once receiving the ball and can play wide from there or cut further inside to look for another pass.

Ultimately, Portland favors creating chances from wide areas or with long balls.

Mode of Defense

When in set defense, Portland seems to drop into a mid-block 4-4-2. From there, they don’t do anything fancy. They try to remain disciplined, deny penetrating passes and wear the opponent down as opposed to aggressively trying to win the ball back.

Mode of Transition

Offensively, the Timbers seem to counterattack by connecting with an open central player, usually a forward, then getting the ball into wide positions behind the opponent’s wide defenders. They aren’t a particularly aggressive counter-attacking team.

Defensively, Portland counter-presses aggressively when they lose the ball.

Major Strengths
  • Their CBs are good in the air defensively
  • If they get into a set defense, they are disciplined and difficult to break down
  • Evander is very good on the ball, and though he is not especially adept at creating chances he can avoid challenges and burst into space if given the opportunity.
  • No matter who is on the pitch, both outside backs make aggressive gambles and can be beaten in behind.
  • Due to their aggressive counter-press, there is a lot of space if a team can bypass the first line of pressure.
  • Because of their injuries and varying personnel, they sometimes struggle to connect and can make very bad turnovers in possession, leading to transition opportunities for the opponent.
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