That could’ve gone better.
There are no two ways about it: The Portand Timbers laid an egg in Orlando. There are plenty of excuses the Timbers could roll out; the surface at the Citrus Bowl played like a billiards table, the Timbers have been without key parts of its team during the international break, and Orlando represented the Timbers’ longest travel trip of the season.
But let’s face it: The Timbers were just awful.
Here are three questions from the Timbers’ meltdown in Orlando.
1. Is there anything positive to be taken from that game?
The Timbers’ capitulation was comprehensive. From Adam Kwarasey through Fanendo Adi, there were few Timbers who didn’t make a major mistake on Sunday. Kwarasey made some nice saves, but booted an easy ball that led to the penalty that resulted in the fourth goal. Adi was one of the few players that looked comfortable with the ball at his feet, but had a poorly taken penalty saved. Dairon Asprilla had a distribution and dribbling-events, and shot chart that looked like this over his 58-minute run:
And many more.
So there is plenty of blame to go around for the collapse. Although Diego Valeri was arguably a lone bright spot for the Timbers, that doesn’t mean much when everybody around him is at sixes and sevens.
On one level, it’s easy to read too much into the Timbers’ performance on Sunday. Simply put, the Timbers are clearly a better team than they showed in Orlando, although that isn’t a terribly high standard. And there’s comfort in knowing the Timbers probably won’t have two more performances in 2016 as bad as Sunday.
But that, of course, also doesn’t mean everything is gravy. Which after Sunday is stating the obvious.
2. What has happened to the Timbers’ backline?
In the twilight of a 4-1 loss it’s an easy take to suggest Orlando City had a bevy of chances in a one-sided game. And without a doubt the Lions were the more dangerous team and deserved to win that game easily.
But Orlando City also only outshot the Timbers by one, were out-possessed by Portland, and created one fewer chance than the Timbers.
So it’s not that Orlando City was creating a ton relative to the Timbers. But what they did create, the Timbers’ backline couldn’t stop.
Without a doubt, Brek Shea’s goal was well-taken, but it never would have happened had Alvas Powell not inexplicably failed to track Shea on an otherwise simple one-two. And although the Timbers were undoubtedly staring at Alan Kelly with up-turned palms after Orlando City’s third goal, Powell’s incomprehensible tracking of Kaka was far more to blame than Kelly’s midfield interception or arguable non-call in the box.
Jack Barmby’s debut was as graceful as a baby horse. Nat Borchers was not his reliable self, with questions starting to bubble up about whether he’s finally started the decline.
There is no question that with Liam Ridgewell out and Chris Klute very, very slowly working his way back from offseason knee surgery, the Timbers are shorthanded in back. But Ridgewell’s return does not appear imminent and there are legitimate questions about whether Klute’s inability to get back into the team remains a lingering result of his meniscus surgery or, at this point, is just run-of-the-mill poor form.
The Timbers’ backline (buttressed by its midfield) was first its saving grace in 2015 and, in the end, the backbone of its title run. It’s not that the Timbers are hemorrhaging chances thus far in 2016. Rather, it’s that they’re mismanaging the relative few that do arise.
Many of the mistakes that the Timbers made were fundamental, which is good news and bad news. It’s bad news because it makes the concessions in Orlando all the more frustrating and lays bare that the Timbers let attainable points get away. It’s good news because many of the things that went wrong are fixable.
Whether they will be fixed and how soon is up to Porter and the Timbers.
Although it hasn’t been perfect, the Timbers’ six goals scored through four games represent reasonable attacking output. But if the Timbers can’t get their once-stellar backline put back together in relatively short order, 2016 will be a third consecutive late-season scramble to make the playoffs.
3. So does this just represent the continuation of the Timbers’ early-season woes?
Among the reasons for Timbers fans not to panic, however, is that struggles early in the season are no stranger to this team.
In 2013, the Timbers’ sputtered through their first four games before coming to life in the late-spring. In 2014, the Timbers struggled on both sides of the ball very early on before getting the offense going in May. And in 2015, Caleb Porter’s team couldn’t find the back of the net in March before it embarked on a two-steps-forward, one-step-back march to the third seed in the West.
So this isn’t the first time a Caleb Porter Timbers team has looked flawed in early in the season. And if they can put it back together it wouldn’t be the first time Porter’s Timbers became a better, more complete team as the season progressed.
But there is no sugar-coating Sunday’s performance; it was downright awful. And with four points after their first four games -- a stretch of games that was relatively manageable -- the Timbers aren’t impressing anybody right now.
It is, however, also a 34-game season, and Caleb Porter has demonstrated three years in a row that he is capable of getting his team to play its best when it most matters.
So there is plenty of reason still to have faith in the system.
That, however, doesn’t make Sunday any less terrible.