PORTLAND, Ore. – Successful teams like Real Salt Lake, the New York Red Bulls and defending champion D.C. United were the latest MLS teams to crash out of the fourth round of the US Open Cup.
The Portland Timbers and head coach Caleb Porter weren’t about to be the next victim.
So despite playing PDL side Orlando City U-23s, one of just three amateur teams to advance past the third round in this year’s tournament, Porter trotted out a mostly first-choice lineup that featured Portland’s top scorers Maximiliano Urruti and Gaston Fernandez. The Timbers, in turn, dominated in a fashion one would expect against a team comprised of college and development players, getting two goals in the first half from Fernandez and the first professional goal for rookie Taylor Peay in the second.
“We don’t want that to happen to us,” Porter said in his post-game comments, referring to the four MLS teams that have been eliminated. “We’re in a tournament, and it’s attached to a trophy. There’s obviously priorities with the league – we’re not going to ever jeopardize our position there – but the way I look at it is, 'Why not win both?' I think with the depth that we have, we can roll out a lineup in these Open Cup games where we have a good chance to win the game, and the league play doesn’t have to be sacrificed.”
Portland’s depth is such that they were able to not only play Urruti and Fernandez but also back-line starters Michael Harrington and Jack Jewsbury and part-time starters Kalif Alhassan, Alvas Powell, Danny O’Rourke and Rauwshan McKenzie. Perhaps most importantly, the game featured the Timbers debut this season of forward Rodney Wallace, who only recently returned to action with loan duty for Arizona United after offseason knee surgery.
“I’m not willing to sacrifice potentially winning a trophy with the Open Cup,” said Porter, noting an Open Cup championship would solidify another season in CONCACAF Champions League. “Four more games, and you can raise a trophy. We’ve never raised a trophy here in the MLS era, other than the Cascadia Cup, but it’s an opportunity to do that. … We’re going to take it very seriously.”
And the performance on the field backed that up.
Fernandez took the pressure off, and gave the Orlando City U23s little chance of a lifeline, with an 11th-minute strike from distance. His second came on a 36th-minute penalty kick.
Peay, who has played in 10 games while on loan to the USL PRO team Orange County Blues, opened his Timbers account in a dominating second half that also featured the debut of fellow rookies George Fochive (recalled from the Sacramento Republic) and Schillo Tshuma (Arizona United).
Most importantly, Portland came away with no injuries ahead of their Round-of-16 road game next week against the winner of Wednesday’s Sporting Kansas City-Minnesota United matchup. Portland will return to MLS play on June 27 against Kansas City.
“This is where depth becomes very important,” Porter said. “We’ve been using our depth this year, and we rolled out a team today where a majority of the guys have started games. So it wasn’t a second team, but some of the guys haven’t played as much, so that’s a good thing moving forward.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.