August 6th, 2012 by Michael Orr
For the second straight game, Franck Songo’o was Portland’s most involved offensive player. While Diego Chará had, perhaps, the greatest impact on the game as a whole, Songo’o has used the recent shift in formation to more effectively contribute. Stationed higher up the pitch in Gavin Wilkinson’s 4-3-3, Songo’o has more space in which to operate and less immediate defensive responsibility than in his previous role as a wide midfielder.
The Timbers, as a team, have been able to generate more attacking chances from the current set-up than from many of the previous formations and player combinations. As such, Songo’o has been able to dictate his playing style to a greater degree, drifting inward when he likes, or working outside backs to the end line. Against Chivas USA last weekend, Songo’o was most effective in generating chances for others, first cutting inside James Riley, a threat that set up space in wider areas from which to send crosses. That the Timbers did not finish his balls into the box is another story entirely.
Against FC Dallas, Songo’o opted to look for his own shot. Having failed to take a single shot the week before, Songo’o tried seven times against Dallas, including a glancing header from a first half corner. Though only two of his shots hit the target (four were blocked), it was clear that in a game where Kris Boyd was barely involved in the middle of the field, Songo’o had the wherewithal to take on that extra responsibility. “Players are playing with a little bit more freedom. Now we’ve got to cut out the mistakes, play with that freedom and finish our chances…We need to get Franck doing that week-in-week-out. Now we need to get him on the score sheet a little bit more.” said Wilkinson after the game.
Songo’o echoed the interim coach’s sentiments: “There were chances for me where I’ve got to score…Sometimes you play great, you play good, but it’s not enough.” While it is true that none of his many shots ultimately found their way past Kevin Hartman, Songo’o did have one of the best looks at goal for the Timbers. His 62nd minute strike, carefully lined up from twenty-five yards, forced a reaction save from Hartman and signaled the beginning of an offensive onslaught that eventually led to Jack Jewsbury’s equalizer.
In the 78th minute, just moments before Jewsbury’s goal, Songo’o was again a catalyst, slipping past James Marcelin and launching another shot. It was blocked, but the ensuing build up kept Dallas in its own eighteen-yard box. Songo’o fired another shot ten seconds later that deflected to Danny Mwanga, whose volleyed shot was barely saved by Hartman.
When Kalif Alhassan is not on the field, Songo’o is the most creative player the Timbers possess. Against Dallas, he managed not only to provide most of the offensive impetus in the game’s first hour but did so while engaging in a drawn out battle with Zach Loyd. Said Wilkinson, “I think he was constantly being fouled and he did well to keep riding challenges and keep working with it. But he opened them up.”
Crucially, Songo’o did pick up a yellow card, meaning he will miss next week’s game at Toronto FC. Having already missed five games due to injury, and only playing ninety minutes twice (each of the past two Dallas games, interestingly enough), Songo’o will not play again for the Timbers until the August 19 game at New York. Wilkinson’s desire to see more from Songo’o week-in-week-out will have to wait until later in the month to materialize.
The changes in coaching staff and style have affected each player differently. Songo’o seems freed of some constraints and is making a valuable impact from an increasingly advanced position. With Chará roaming the midfield to cover defensively, Wilkinson has entrusted Songo’o to make decisions for himself instead of squeeze into a fixed game plan. The question now is how the Timbers can take an engaged Songo’o and turn his opportunities into goals and victories?