KeyBank Match-up of the Match: Set Pieces vs. Preparation
The cat, as they say, is out of the bag.
No, it’s not the secret that JELD-WEN Field has proved to be an inhospitable venue for visiting clubs—that’s a well-known phenomenon.
Rather it’s that the Portland Timbers have fine-tuned with laser-like precision a set-piece attack system that has pushed the club to a 5-3-2 record. Of the thirteen goals scored by the Timbers this season, nine—69%—have come from set pieces.
Led by midfielder/captain/free kick impresario Jack Jewsbury—tied for third in the league with 5 assists on the year—the Timbers have created an attack that thrives off the strategic geometric effectiveness of a well-executed set piece.
Head coach John Spencer summed it up simply last week after defender Eric Brunner had headed in a set piece game winner against the Columbus Crew, “Set pieces. People turn their backs and switch off. We actually tell our guys when it’s a set piece make sure you double switch on.”
That constant awareness and preparation will come in handy on Sunday (2:00 pm PT KPDX TV, estrellaTV 8.3; 750 AM The Game, La Pantera 940 AM, MLS MatchDay Live) against a D.C. United side that has spent much of the week also preparing specifically to put an end to the Timbers free kick extravaganza. And that brings us to Robbie Earle’s KeyBank Match-up of the Match.
KeyBank Match-up of the Match
United is well aware of the set piece expertise of the Timbers. They have spent a good portion of their recent training preparing both for defending against set pieces as well as sharpening their own set piece attack arsenal.
Chad Ashton, assistant coach for D.C. said, "[Portland] is very good on set pieces. It's no secret that [set pieces] have been one of our weaknesses, so we're going to have to do a good job and hopefully do a better job on the offensive side of [set plays] as well."
Set pieces can be an excellent tool. Should the momentum and flow of a game not be going your way, a quick set piece against the run of play can often change the match’s complexion and steal points. For the Timbers, they have the added advantage of being able to train all week on their home pitch to replicate the perfect set ball.
With United, despite all their preparation, they will still be the guests in an unfamiliar, and very loud, environment. They’ll have to wrestle with their own confidence and planning on set pieces in a hostile environment.
And another potential ace in the hole for the Timbers remains. Spencer is never one to let his players rest on their laurels. As good as they’ve been on set pieces, he’s been pushing his team in training—particularly his forwards and midfielders—on both their service into and success in finishing inside the 18-yard box.
How well United will be able to counter the Timbers set piece strengths could determine how well the Timbers are at maintaining their perfect home record. On Sunday, we’ll find out.