FC Cincinnati just fine with underdog role against Portland Timbers: "We have nothing to lose"

Caleb Stanko - FC Cincinnati - close up

FC Cincinnati know that pretty much no one expects them to beat the Portland Timbers in the MLS is Back Tournament Knockout Stage on Tuesday (10:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN in Canada).

That's fine with them, according to midfielder Caleb Stanko.

Asked on a Sunday conference call with reporters whether the pressure should be on the Timbers for this match, Stanko answered in the affirmative. The club is used to being doubted, after all, with most writing them off after a 4-0 shellacking at the hands of Columbus Crew SC in their tournament opener before Cincy surprised everyone with two consecutive clean-sheet victories over Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls.

"Absolutely," Stanko said. "We're the underdog here. No one expected us to get any wins or goals or anything. So, we've already proven that, so I think all the pressure's on Portland. They're the ones that have to prove that they deserve to be where they're at. We've already proven that and I think it's a great feeling to be in the underdog position because we have nothing to lose here. We've already proven everyone wrong."

If Cincinnati are to continue their Cinderella run, they'll need more of the improved defensive effort they've shown since the Columbus defeat.

That's an attainable goal according to defender Tom Pettersson, who said that he feels as though the players are gradually adapting to the new style and system under head coach Jaap Stam. That's manifested on the field through the last two matches, but will also be challenging to keep up against a Timbers side with some dynamic attackers, including Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco.

"I think our defensive game in the last two games overall, it’s not like all of a sudden that the players playing defense are super great, it’s not like that," Pettersson said. "It’s about the whole team understanding how we want to defend and we didn’t understand that in the first game against Columbus and that’s why it was such a mess. But we had zero games before we came here, no friendlies, no nothing and you need to play games together, especially with a new coach and a new system, you need to play games to be in situations that you can’t have in training sessions.

"You need to play games and you need to talk about the things that go wrong, and that’s what we did after the Columbus game and it’s been way better after that. We changed the system but it’s not only about that, it’s about understanding how we want to defend together as a unit, that’s the most important thing."