Set pieces turning into Portland's most lethal weapon
PORTLAND, Ore. — The Timbers will take their goals any way they can get them, but in recent weeks, success with set pieces has become the team's bread and butter.
Portland (4-3-1) have scored seven of their 11 goals off corner kicks or free kicks — including the game-winners against recent opponents Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia.
Last Saturday, amidst a scoreless tie with the Union, head coach John Spencer told his team during halftime that he thought a set piece might bring the Timbers their best chance to score against a well-organized defense.
“I said to the guys, ‘Stay focused,’” Spencer recounted. "'A clean sheet and a set piece will probably win it.'"
They were prophetic words. Jack Jewsbury served a ball into the box and Mamadou “Futty” Danso snapped the ball into the net with his head.
Jewsbury, who took corners and free kicks at various times during eight years with Kansas City, has demonstrated accuracy and consistency handling those duties for Portland.
“It’s definitely more in the spotlight,” he said. “On every set piece, I’m the one standing over the ball.”
Jewsbury didn’t know that he would take on that role when he was traded to Portland but quickly assumed those duties upon arrival, along with the captaincy.
“For me, it’s a matter of putting the ball in a good spot,” he said. “We’ve been able to do that and guys are getting in good spots, getting good chances and getting some key goals.”
It helps that the Timbers have some tall trees as targets — forward Kenny Cooper (6-foot-3), defender Eric Brunner (6-4) and Danso (6-3) have been willing recipients.
“There’s a five- or six-yard space you’re looking to hit it into,” Jewsbury said. “If I can hit those targets two or three times a game, those guys are going to get on the end of one them and that can be the difference in the game.”
Creating set piece chances at archrivals Seattle on Saturday (11 pm ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes) could tilt the outcome of a very big game in the teams’ inaugural Cascadia Cup meeting in MLS. Spencer, for one, is glad set pieces have become an offensive weapon for his team.
“It’s part of the modern game,” he said. “Set pieces play a big part in any league around the world with top teams. You’ve got to be a threat in as many areas of the field as you possibly can be. Ability and technique alone sometimes don’t win you games.”