PORTLAND, Ore. – Michael Nanchoff is lucky he scored a goal.
Otherwise, the Portland Timbers reserve midfielder might never seen the field again, after he took out head coach Caleb Porter as he went sprawling in a collision with a Tampa Bay Rowdies player in Wednesday’s fourth-round US Open Cup match (above).
“He’s probably trying to get back at me for a lot of years of me yelling at him,” Porter said of Nanchoff, who he coached at the University of Akron before both made their way to MLS.
Joking aside, Nanchoff’s goal – an impressive ninth-minute volley from the top left corner of the penalty box to the far post – sparked a dominant performance in a 2-0 victory over the NASL side that was coming off a third-round upset of the Seattle Sounders two weeks ago. And the goal continued to show off Portland’s impressive depth in a game played mostly by reserves, with a few regular starters mixed in.
“I’m happy for guys like Michael Nanchoff, who hasn’t played at all,” Porter said. “He’s been very good every day in training, he’s been very good in reserve games and he gets a chance tonight. And his first goal is probably what opened up the game and that was a critical role early in the game. … Our team isn’t one through 11, it’s one through 30 and I thought tonight was a good example of that.”
Nanchoff, who departed Vancouver over the winter after two years with the Whitecaps, was receiving his first minutes with Portland’s first team this season. But he has been impressive away from the cameras as the Timbers reserve team’s leading scorer with four goals and an assist in five games.
“It feels good,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of unfortunate circumstances at times, injuries and those sorts of things and not finding my way into the lineup. But when given the chance you have to take advantage of it, and it felt great to score my first goal, especially in front of the Timbers Army. It was pretty special.”
Nanchoff’s performance also underscored the importance of getting a USOC result without expending valuable starter minutes, especially with a crucial stretch of three Western Conference league games in an eight-day stretch starting Saturday against first-place FC Dallas.
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“It’s crucial,” Nanchoff said. “With all the games coming up, US Open Cup, the league and trying to make the playoffs one of our main goals, we have to use all the depth we can and have everybody stepping up to the plate.”
Nanchoff, an attacking midfielder who played alongside Designated Player Diego Valeri in the first half and veteran Jack Jewsbury in the second, may just demand first-team minutes if he keeps scoring goals like the one he did Wednesday night.
He tracked down a loose ball in the far corner of the box and with a Tampa Bay defender on his hip, uncorked a one-time, left-footed volley that curled past the arms of goalkeeper Diego Restrepo and inside the far post.
Good thing, too, as just seven minutes later, he took out his longtime coach.
“Through all the years he’s tormented me, it feels pretty awesome to get back at him,” Nanchoff said. “I hope his knees are OK. Sorry, Caleb, sorry I’m not sorry. He’s going to forgive me on that one, at least I hope so. We’ll see in the upcoming games if I play or not.”
The Timbers return to Open Cup action on June 26 when they play at FC Dallas, marking the franchise's first appearance in the tournament's quarterfinals.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.