The luck of the draw has left the Portland Timbers to manage some strange circumstances when it comes to the US Open Cup.
For the second straight round, USOC pairings have matched up the Timbers with the same team they are about to play in MLS competition.
In their fifth-round matchup two weeks ago, Portland faced Sporting Kansas City, winning 3-1 on June 24, before turning around and playing the same team three days later in league play. Now in the quarterfinals, the Timbers will face Cascadia rival Seattle Sounders on Wednesday at Starfire Soccer Complex in Tukwila, Wash. (10:30 pm ET, stream on USsoccer.com), and then be forced to play them again on Sunday in a nationally televised showdown at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field (10 pm ET, ESPN2).
Not only is that two straight back-to-back matchups, but it’s also two straight USOC road games. Seattle have the luxury of playing all three of their Open Cup games at home.
“I do think that plays into your chances,” head coach Caleb Porter told reporters at the Timbers' training facility Monday. “Clearly, we’ve been at a disadvantage. We’ll be the underdogs going against them because they’ll be at home. This is their third time at home, and this is our second time on the road. It is what it is, and we have to find a way to get it done.”
Pairings are determined by coin flip at the US Soccer Federation headquarters in Chicago. As for an alternative, Porter said there isn’t an easy solution in his mind other than making the odds more favorable to host games for a team that has played more games on the road.
“There’s got to be some way to even that out because if we get all road games and they get all home games it’s not really a fair competition,” he said.
Porter also joked a bit about the impartiality of the coin flip.
“I’ve heard other coaches say, ‘Nobody ever sees the coin toss,’” Porter said. “I don’t know what coin they’re using up there in Seattle. It might say ‘Seattle’ on one side and ‘Sounders’ on the other. But, no, it’s a part of it. It’s a part of the frustration, but it’s a part of it, and you’ve just got to deal with it.”
The matchup also presents a unique scenario for one of the best rivalries in MLS.
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The Open Cup game will be played at the 4,500-capacity stadium at Starfire Stadium, where the Sounders are 13-0-1 in Open Cup play, though it's a far cry from the 60,000+ fans that have been known to pack into the Sounders usual home at CenturyLink Field.
Porter said he thinks it will make for an intimate setting with the two supporters groups intertwined throughout the stands as opposed to more separated at CenturyLink.
“I expect it to be lively,” Porter said. “I expect it to be edgy, and I expect it to kick off for sure. It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be tight. We’re playing for a trophy, they’re playing for a trophy. There’s not a lot of love loss between the teams. They haven’t beat us in the last four games. They’re going to want to turn that, but we’re not going to let them turn that.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.