August 7th, 2012 by Andrew Bowers
It’s fair to say that Portland Timbers’ swashbuckling captain Jack Jewsbury has been in for some stick this year, the main criticism being the difficulty he and Diego Chará faced in forming a central midfield partnership. Even during the narrow 1-0 home loss to Chivas USA both men looked a lot surer of their roles than in, for example, the respective 3-0 and 5-0 road losses to Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas.
This Sunday, the partnership blossomed to what was their best outing in recent memory. Diego Chará, renowned for his excellent rate of ball retention, attempted 54 passes, completing 48, giving a healthy success rate of 88.8%. Jack Jewsbury, however, put in an even better shift. Of 67 passes, he completed 62, giving him a Xavi-like completion rate of 92.5%. This is actually down from his performance against Chivas, where he hit a 93.6% rate (44 from 47 attempts). Chará, in that game, hit a rate of 80% (36 from 45).
Giving Captain Jack some slack?
Let’s look at the (successful) passing patterns of Jewsbury and Chará in previous games. First up, the reverse of Sunday’s fixture at FC Dallas Stadium:
Firstly, it’s clear there’s not enough activity from the midfield engine. Not only that, they’re both almost tripping over one another, trying to play the same position and role. Both of them sit in the middle third of the pitch, neither protecting their defence, nor supporting the attack.
If we look at Sunday’s passing patterns, we’ll see a slight shift in focus for both players:
Jewsbury, whilst occasionally pressing forward (he got the goal after all), preferred to sit a bit deeper, in front of the back four. Chará, however, was afforded to opportunity to push into the space created by Jewsbury holding back. Whilst questions can be raised about other performances on Sunday, there’s tangible improvement in the central midfielders.
Looking at the above heatmaps, one can see that whilst Jewsbury and Chará cover a lot of midfield ground, the space for Nagbe to play is compressed somewhat. Although his impact was limited, Nagbe still created 3 key passes, held a 87.1% pass success rate, and got a shot on target. Not a stellar contribution, but with Chará and Jewsbury beginning to show that they can play together, maybe Portland can now focus on what the prodigious Darlington Nagbe could bring to the team.
There were areas of improvement to be seen during the game that broke our losing streak, but at the moment there are still many questions left to be answered. However, if Chará and Jewsbury can continue to blossom in the engine room, for Jack’s sake at least, questions around who should be deployed in those roles can be put to bed.