Head Coach Mark Briggs joined the OnFrame podcast on Monday evening and was asked about the new players coming into the Monarchs for the 2018 season. When mentioning Justin Portillo, Coach Briggs remarked: “... for us has done very well so far since he has come in ... he connects the dots ... he sits in that number six role ... he has got great vision ... he sees things ... he organizes people around him so he helps us in that part of the field.”
With several graphs and stats from the USLSoccer.com I hope to illustrate what Justin brings to the team and how he fits into the Monarchs as a whole.
The number six role mentioned by Coach Briggs is that of a traditional holding midfielder. It is the role Kyle Beckerman has played so well for RSL over the years. Defensively, the holding midfielder serves as a bulwark in front of his own central defenders attempting to stop penetration up the middle of the field and turning the opponent’s offensive penetration out to either sideline. Offensively, the holding midfielder serves as a pivot in the center of the field who switches the ball out to his own attacking wingers and acting as a connector between the defense and and his own attacking midfielders and forwards.
During last Saturday’s match in Tulsa, Portillo, who wears #43, was operating right where you would expect in the center of the field within the center circle as illustrated in the following graphic which shows the average position of the players in the match. Pablo Ruiz (#31) was slight in front of him as a box-to-box midfielder while Chandler Hoffman (#49) and Sebastian Velasquez (#55) were still further forward. Nick Besler (#13), who played as a holding midfielder with the Monarchs last season, and Michael Gallagher (#53) were the two central defenders while Danny Acosta (#25) played at left halfback for most of the match and Adam Henley (#3) was at right halfback.
Touch maps for Justin Portillo and Pablo Ruiz don’t show a lot of difference between Portillo, whose map is on top, and Ruiz on the bottom. Both players took some corners for the team and had touches scattered over a great deal of the field. Justin did have a more touches as Pablo had to leave the game with an ankle injury early in the second half.
However the difference between the two roles becomes more clear as you look at the passes attempted by each player and from what location. Holding midfielders usually see a lot of the ball and make a large number of short building passes. It is vital that they have a high percentage of successful passes, because a errant pass by them could easily leave an opponent with a clear route to the defensive line and goal. They should have only a few negative passes back to the defensive line or goalie, focusing instead on passes to both sides and forward.
In the first half of Saturday’s match Justin and Pablo made the following passes. Those in green were successful and those in red unsuccessful.
Cruz, as the box-to-box midfielder, made a more concerted effort to be directly involved in the offense and had a number of unsuccessful passes in the offensive half and a larger number of long passes. Portillo acted more as a pivot and the bulk of his attempts were short passes connecting with his own offensive players moving up both sides of the field.
As mentioned above Cruz suffered an ankle or foot injury early in the second half and was replaced by Charlie Adams. Here are the pass made by Portillo and Adams in the second half.
As the Monarchs fell behind in the match, the entire team began to press forward seeking to even the score. Coach Briggs even went to more of a three man back line and flooded the offensive half in an attempt to even the score. Portillo moved more forward on the right side and Adams moved more on the left. As the length of Portillo’s passes begin to lengthen and the Tulsa defense pulled in to protect their lead, his completion percentage decreased. He did, however, find much more success with Maikel Chang, his old team mate on Charleston Battery, off on the right hand side of the field. This would be a place to look for early improvement as the team continues to play together and learn the tendencies of each other.
After a single match, Justin leads all Monarchs in the overall number of passes and has a high completion rate in the defensive side of the field. He made only 5 backward passes among his total of 56 and was relatively even with 19 forward, 19 to the left and 13 to the right. He also had a good night taking the corner kicks from the right although none resulted in a goal.
As Portillo grows to know his new teammates on the Monarchs, we can look for him to continue to maintain his high number of passes, increase his completion percentage in the offensive half and effectively fill the number six role Coach Briggs envisions for him.