Sal Zizzo: Settling in, ready for season
New Timbers right winger Sal Zizzo brings a pace and tenacity to the ball that is a perfect compliment to the teams’ overall tactical strategy; one that is focused on attacking soccer and taking it directly to MLS opposing defenses.
“We’re going to be a strong, athletic team that works hard, one of the strongest teams in the league in those terms,” says Zizzo, 23, who was acquired from Chivas USA on Feb 16.
“We’re going to be fast: fast running with the ball, fast running without the ball, fast closing down the opposition. Everything’s done quickly, because the faster you do it the more you dictate the game.”
Zizzo is a right-footed, right side midfielder who likes to use his pace to go at defenders. He aims to get to the byline and cross, but he will also mix it up by cutting inside to cross with his left, or shoot. It depends on his reading of his opponent’s reading of his game.
He was speaking after a recent intra-squad scrimmage dedicated to the team keeping its shape.
“Our style is a lot of work,” said Zizzo.
"Defensively it’s about tucking in and staying compact when we don’t have the ball.”
He says when the Timbers lose the ball in the penalty box they are faced with a quick choice, “If we want to press the ball and step up and win it back, I stay forward, but if there isn’t pressure I drop back into the middle.”
In the scrimmage he was happy to play on the left. Like all the players, he’s trained in versatility.
“I can play as a winger in a different formation, but in the formation we play here I call myself a right midfielder.”
Modesty makes him reluctant to compare himself to anyone, but he does admire Ryan Giggs, Manchester United’s left-footed living legend. “But it’s not really a comparison, I like to just play as myself, you take a bit from every player you admire.”
Jorge Salcedo coached Zizzo for two years with the UCLA Bruins where Zizzo was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.
“He played a bit deeper than a traditional second forward for me,” says Salcedo.
“He could pick up balls under the back four and turn. When he has space he is very difficult to deal with. He’s fast.”
Salcedo liked the Bruins to create situations where Zizzo could run at defenders.
“Sal has a great ability to unbalance defenders. I could play him on the right or the left and he could fake to the inside and go outside defenders. He always gave the appearance he could get behind defenders with or without the ball.”
Acknowledging Zizzo’s admiration of Giggs as a great example of a player who uses his mind as well as his speed to get behind defenders, Salcedo would also urge Zizzo to model his game on Arsenal’s Theo Walcott.
“Walcott has great pace but [he’s] only just begun to understand how to use it, to anticipate the game. Guys like Sal are good at identifying moments in the game to get to top speed with and without the ball.”
As for concerns about past injuries, Zizzo is raring to go after the knee injury that made him miss the whole 2009-2010 season in Germany. Zizzo points to the scars from surgery. “It just happened when I stepped wrong, but it doesn’t affect me now. I don’t think about it.”
He does, however, think about his time in Germany, saying he learned quite a bit while there.
“The Bundesliga taught me to always bring 100 % every day. Those players are super athletic and very good defensively – it’s one of the hardest leagues to dribble in. You beat one guy and there’s another one sliding in at you.”
The San Diego native follows the Chargers and the Padres though never having been a Lakers or a Clippers fan, he’s very keen to check out the Trail Blazers. Like a few other players Zizzo has moved into a building near the stadium and is getting a feel for the city.
“I have two or three friends from high school in San Diego who moved to Portland, as did one of my old coaches, so I know a few people here already. The city looks great. I’ve only heard good things about the views for when the weather’s better.”
While Zizzo arrived in the middle of training camp, he has already built strong connections with his teammates in just a few short weeks.
“They’re a great bunch of guys, all very down to earth,” he says.
With the season fast approaching, those connections will be key in getting the season started on the right foot.