The Portland Timbers continue to show their impressive depth, with the latest roster-testing performance coming from a mixture of first-choice and part-time starters in a decisive 3-1 road victory Tuesday night over Sporting Kansas City in a fifth-round US Open Cup match at Sporting Park.
With a MLS match looming Friday against the same team (11 pm ET, MLS Live), Timbers head coach Caleb Porter had the luxury of starting his two leading scorers, forwards Gaston Fernandez and Maximiliano Urruti, in addition to defensive leader Jack Jewsbury and team captain Will Johnson. And he left back in Portland a host of key players, including attackers Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe, newly healthy forward Rodney Wallace, defensive midfielder Diego Chara and starting goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
And it paid off, with Fernandez (above, center) netting two goals and Johnson converting on a penalty kick to put the Timbers in the USOC quarterfinals for the second straight year.
“We had it in our minds that we would rotate a lot of guys for the second game and keep some guys fresh,” Porter told the media in his postgame comments. “We felt we had a good enough team to do that and a deep enough squad. And we felt we could get the job done in this game with a certain group of guys and come back the next game with fresh guys.”
It was the identical approach to their fourth-round victory over the Orlando City U-23s last week, which also resulted in a Fernandez brace and first goal in a Timbers shirt for rookie defender Taylor Peay in a 3-0 victory. Peay got his first Timbers start against Sporting, going the distance at right back, a move that shifted Jewsbury to a defensive midfield position.
“I think Caleb put together a really good team,” said goalkeeper Andrew Weber, who started in place of Ricketts and came up with a handful of key saves. “The group is really tight. Guys stepped up tonight. Anyone can play on this team, we’re deep and everyone believes in each other.”
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The makeshift lineup did result in a slightly different in-game strategy.
Without their best on-ball attackers in Nagbe and Valeri, Porter said he wanted to keep the game “tight” and allow Sporting to keep the ball and hit them on the counter attack.
“I thought it was a really mature performance out of our group, really professional,” Porter said.
Adding to the need for squad rotation, Porter said, was the unique fact that they’ll face each other again in a Friday meeting at Portland’s Providence Park. That means a big chunk of the players left behind, who are sure to play on the second go-around, won’t have to manage two near-cross-country trips in the span of four days.
“Now we have those guys fresh,” Porter said. “It’s going to make for an interesting second match, how many guys they rotate and play, how many guys we do, what the tactics are, whether we change our tactics.”