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Three Questions from the Timbers’ 2-0 Loss to Orlando City

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Presented with an opportunity to capture much-needed spring momentum on Sunday, the Timbers wilted in falling to Orlando City 2-0 at Providence Park.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Well that was a faceplant.

The Portland Timbers limped to a 2-0 loss to Orlando City on a Sunday afternoon that just about everybody in the Rose City would like to forget. Just as it appeared the Timbers may be poised to rack up some spring points before heading out for six of their next eight games on the road, Portland put in a stinker of a performance against Orlando City.

Here are three questions from the Timbers’ 2-0 defeat.

1. What in the world happened to the Timbers’ left side?

Jorge Villafana, Rodney Wallace, and George Fochive were absolutely crushed by Orlando City in the first half on Sunday, putting the Timbers in a hole from which they couldn’t climb out.

Here’s Orlando City’s distribution chart in the first half:

It's easy to see where the Lions gashed the Timbers in the final third. As a contrast let’s look at the Timbers’ defensive interventions during the same period.

Those two charts are what it looks like when a team gets the snot kicked out of it in one particular zone of the field.

What’s so surprising is this is the same left side of the Timbers’ defense that shut down Fabian Castillo a week ago and, frankly, has been relatively consistent throughout 2015. The problems on Sunday were myriad. Jorge Villafana wasn’t great. Rodney Wallace looked only occasionally interested in protecting Villafana. Fochive looked downright lost.

Although neither Nat Borchers nor Liam Ridgewell acquitted themselves well on the Timbers’ concession, Portland’s more fundamental problem was their inability to shut down Orlando’s right wing.

Whether this performance by a left-sided defensive unit that’s been pretty strong to this point will bring about changes remains to be seen. Certainly Villafana’s spot is safe, as he’s been one of the Timbers most consistent performers since joining the lineup in the middle of 2014. But the stinker on the Timbers’ left side calls into question the viability of Fochive as a defensive midfielder over Jack Jewsbury and Rodney Wallace over Dairon Asprilla. Certainly over the last three games Asprilla has outperformed Wallace.

But, whatever the future holds for the personnel, it’s not a stretch to say the Timbers lost the game in large part due to their inability to defend their left flank.

2. Do the secondary effects of the Adi-Urruti partnership continue to outweigh the cost of the pair’s lack of chemistry?

Fanendo Adi and Maxi Urruti aren’t comfortable playing together. Each are quality strikers and each have good attributes in the attack. But those attributes aren’t working together, a fact that was readily apparent when, in the second half, Adi dummied a ball that would have put his strike partner through on goal but for the fact that Urruti was standing at the top of the box 15 yards away. Both just looked at each other.

What shouldn’t be overlooked, however, is that the benefits of the pair were still there against Orlando City. Against what is usually a pretty aggressive backline, Adi and Urruti’s presence pushed the defense deeper, allowing central spaces to open up for Darlington Nagbe. Nagbe took advantage, too, with another four chances-created against the Lions to keep up his pace atop the MLS charts in run-of-play key passes.

In fact, it was exactly this part of the field that the Timbers dominated in the middle of the second half, when Portland made a serious push for an equalizer that could have dramatically changed the game. But the Lions’ backline (deep as it may have been) didn’t break, blocking seven shots during that period.

Thus, in spite of the space the Timbers’ front line created for their midfield during Portland’s most effective portion of the game, the strikeforce’s inability to find a winning combination hampered a Timbers attack that was more or less effective at getting the ball into dangerous positions.

3. So the Timbers are good after losses. What about wins?

Not so hot.

Since 2013 the Timbers are 5-5-14 after wins, for an average of 1.21 points per game. That mark is well below the Timbers’ overall average of 1.51 points per game since Caleb Porter took over, and lightyears off their 1.93 points per game after losses in that time.

It’s difficult from the outside to diagnose exactly what the problem is, but the numbers can’t be ignored: The Timbers are markedly worse after wins than they are after losses.

Whether it’s a matter of being too comfortable in confidence or an inability to diagnose problems when the team has otherwise had recent overall success, with a spring hanging in the balance in a similar fashion to the spring of 2014, it’s clear the Timbers will have to string together some wins if they want to avoid last year’s fate.

This is a habit that the Timbers must break.