Savarese on using strong XI vs. Sounders: "We never take any game lightly"

TACOMA, Wash. – Portland Timbers head coach Gio Savarese wasn’t about to field any sort of experimental or reserve-heavy lineup in his club’s fourth-round U.S. Open Cup match against the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday.

The Timbers strolled into Cheney Stadium in Tacoma with a largely first-choice XI featuring all three of their Designated Players in Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and newly signed Argentine forward Brian Fernandez. It paid off, as Fernandez struck for two goals to spearhead the Timbers to a 2-1 road victory over their Cascadia rivals, sending Portland through to the Round of 16.

“We want to compete,” Savarese said after the game. “This is an important Cup for us. So, we had the chance to put out a good lineup on the field, and we had to do it. We never take any game lightly, we want to always compete and today we got an important win.”

The match wasn’t entirely smooth sailing even after Fernandez opened the scoring in just the sixth minute with a laser finish past Sounders goalkeeper Bryan Meredith, as the Sounders struck back in the 44th on a deflected free kick off the foot of Victor Rodriguez.

The Sounders were fielding a makeshift XI with a score of players missing on international duty, but after Rodriguez’s leveler, the match very much felt there for the taking for either side.

Savarese credited his side with buckling down and getting what would eventually stand as the game-winning goal when Fernandez niftily poked home a pinpoint cross from Jeremy Ebobisse in the 50th minute.

“Seattle had some important players missing but they still were a difficult team to play against and they created some chances that were difficult,” Savarese said. “But I thought in the second half we played a much better game and at the end of the day, it was a very important result for us.

“They’re always difficult to play against. They’re always tough, they never give up, they keep on playing, they keep on going. They had some good chances, they had a PK [that missed]. At the end of the day we worked hard to get this win.”

For the Timbers, it’s another sweet result in the house of their biggest rival, who they also eliminated from the MLS Cup playoffs at CenturyLink Field last season in penalty kicks. Sounders-Timbers Open Cup matches are always good for some theatrics, most famously in 2015, when Seattle forward Clint Dempsey was ejected for tearing up the notebook of a referee in a game that saw Seattle finish the match with seven men.

There weren’t any dramatic red cards this time around, but tensions were as high as ever, with the Sounders nearly finding a 78th-minute leveler after the Timbers were whistled for a penalty kick for a handball in their own penalty box.

But Rodriguez’s attempt from the spot clanged off the crossbar, allowing the Timbers to see out the 2-1 final.

“It’s always good for us to win in Seattle,” said Savarese. “It’s always a rivalry match, it doesn’t matter if it’s U.S. Open Cup or a league game. There’s big respect for them and their coaching staff and their group. We’re rivals but when the game finishes [we show them respect], and now we keep going forward.”