PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers will open their foray into the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup with a game Wednesday against Cal FC, an amateur men’s league team from Southern California (10:30 pm ET, streamed live on portlandtimbers.com).
Piece of cake, right?
Don’t tell that to Timbers head coach John Spencer.
“If we approach it lightly, we’ll be in trouble,” Spencer said after his team returned to training Tuesday following their 1-1 tie Saturday against Vancouver. “We’re here to win the game. We’re not here to sit back and have cocktails on the bench and have a laugh and a joke. It’s business as usual.”
Spencer knows that this amateur team, one of just three left in the USOC tournament, isn’t made up of a bunch of middle-aged gym teachers. Former US international Eric Wynalda assembled the side from players cast off by Major League Soccer and other various professional and second-tier leagues around the world. And they’re hungry to prove wrong those who said they couldn’t cut it.
“You all know how dangerous that can be when you tell someone that they’re not good enough to play at a certain level,” Spencer said.
It’s showed in Cal FC’s early-round games.
Wearing two-year-old Chicago Fire kits, Cal FC beat the Kitsap Pumas, the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League defending champions, by a 3-1 tally in a first-round game. They then defeated the USL Pro runners-up from last year, the Wilmington Hammerheads, 4-0 to reach Wednesday’s third-round game. Midfielder Danny Barrera is currently tied as the Open Cup’s leading scorer with four goals.
“I think today was important, making sure we approach training the day before a game just like we would an MLS game,” said captain and defender Jack Jewsbury, who won an Open Cup title with Kansas City in 2004. “And bringing it up and letting guys know that, ‘Hey, no matter who we play against, no matter what level they are that we bring the same mindset and level of intensity to the game.'”
Spencer criticizes no-call
Spencer was happy with his team’s performance this past Saturday against Vancouver, despite the 1-1 tie, because of the number of scoring opportunities created by his side.
The Timbers had three shots on goal off 14 overall attempts, including four shots by forward Kris Boyd and his first goal in more than a month.
But it was the chance that Portland never got that had Spencer fuming in the postgame press conference.
A tackle in the box by Vancouver defender Jay DeMerit on Kalif Alhassan in the 64th minute was waved off by referee Jorge Gonzalez despite the angry protests from the Timbers.
“How Kalif Alhassan’s decision goes against us, I’m absolutely astonished that wasn’t a PK,” Spencer said. “I’ve watched it time and time again, and it’s a reckless challenge, two-footed challenge, off the ground in the box and he doesn’t get a piece of the ball at all.”
Boyd echoed Spencer’s sentiments: “Anybody watching it, apart from maybe four people, could see that it was a stonewall penalty. I don’t know what you have to do to get one in this league. Every decision in the box seems to go against us. Anybody watching the game, or anybody else but the officials, could see it was a stonewall penalty.”
Gonzalez said after the match that he didn’t see an unfair challenge.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.