KeyBank Match-up: Timbers' Right Flank vs. RSL's Left Channel Run
The famous Star Wars smuggler Han Solo had the Kessel Run. It’s the one he made in less than twelve parsecs.
Real Salt Lake have the left channel run. It’s the one they’ve made a clinic out of utilizing to break down defenses across MLS.
WATCH: Between The Lines
A little over a week ago, MLSsoccer.com’s Armchair Analyst Matthew Doyle provided a sharp examination of the Claret and Cobalt’s ability to utilize their midfield play along the left channel to draw defenses into a difficult decision via his Between The Lines video series.
Doyle shows how RSL’s leftside midfielder—be it Javier Morales who first perfected it or rookie Sebastian Velasquez (above) who has proved a quick understudy as Morales’ injury replacement—quickly accelerates with the ball down the left flank.
Maintaining possession to force the backtracking defender to commit to the ball, the attacking player then begins to angle towards goal. Meanwhile, RSL forwards make slicing runs from the top of the box towards goal giving the midfielder the option of taking the shot, or cutting it back towards an open forward such as Fabian Espindola.
It is a great smuggler’s trick of misdirection. The defense either has to shut down the man on the ball, or make sure they break up the pass. And because RSL’s is so skilled with excellent ball movement, they are as elusive as the Millennium Falcon was in the asteroid field.
While Morales continues to work into full 90 fitness, Velasquez has handled his left mid duties admirably. Come Saturday (Mar. 31, 7:00 p.m. PT ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game, La Pantera 940 AM) regardless of whether Morales or Velasquez start on the left side, between the two of them and the quick defender Chris Wingert helping providing balls from the left back position, they’ll be running into a Timbers squad with right flank side that will be in flux. With midfielder Kalif Alhassan--who has patrolled the right mid position so far this season--listed as questionable on the latest injury report, how his potential replacement, be it Eric Alexander, Franck Songo'o, Darlington Nagbe, or someone else teams up with right back Lovel Palmer to counter the RSL attack brings us to this week’s KeyBank Match-up.
|Timbers Right Flank||vs.||
RSL's Left Channel Run
Alhassan brought inventiveness and verve to his right side runs with electrifying stepovers and slick service into the box. With him out, it could fall to Alexander, Songo'o, or Nagbe to pick up the slack. Each brings their own style but whoever it is that starts, they will be counted upon to create attacks and an equally elusive presence to RSL that would make the evasive smuggler Solo proud. But with the skilled Morales/Velasquez/Wingert left channel corps threatening Portland, that right mid player will have to be very precise with his runs on Saturday and doubly sure to drop back into defense.
Timbers leftback Lovel Palmer will certainly be there in support. Palmer is skilled at making overlapping runs along the right flank to overload a defense much in the same way as RSL’s Wingert does on their left side. But with RSL's skill, Palmer and the Timbers will have to be very aware so as to not be caught out of position for a killing Salt Lake counterattack.
WATCH: Chivas USA stop RSL run
The Chivas USA defense was able to do this last week in their 1-0 win. In the following clip, Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Wingert, and Espindola attempt to play the left channel complete with through balls and their preferred cutback pass but in the end are denied by the Goats via some good defensive pressure and close man marking.
Should the Timbers be able to create their own Solo-esque smuggler’s run on the right flank and blunt Real Salt Lake’s left channel, then there’s a very good chance Portland will come out Saturday with a positive result.