Can Portland Make an Impact in the US Open Cup?

Orlando City U23s up first as Portland aims to surpass 2013 trip to semis
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, June 13, 2014

Green Logs - a column on the Portland Timbers & the Portland soccer scene

It’s that time again, when the grind of the league schedule gets interrupted by the fun of the Cup.

The US Open Cup, that is. And the Portland Timbers would love to go at least one step farther than last year.

The Timbers will be hosting the Orlando City U23s from the USL PDL on Tuesday night in the fourth round of the USOC, and it will be the only match Portland plays between Wednesday’s home match with FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City’s visit to Providence Park on June 27. That’s because of the 2-week World Cup “break” that MLS had scheduled, which was published before US Soccer decided to schedule the fourth round matches during the early stages of the break.

The winner of the Timbers-Orlando City U23s match will travel to play the winner of the Sporting Kansas City-Minnesota United match in the fifth round. That match, at Sporting Park, happens on Wednesday night.

How did Orlando City’s U23 side end up in Portland? They survived one of the epic penalty shootouts in Cup history, finally knocking off the USL PRO’s Charleston Battery 12-11 on PKs in Charleston back on May 28. The 2 sides had played to a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes and settled nothing in extra time. They currently sit second in the PDL’s Southeast Division with 8 points from 4 matches played.

It will be the first time an Orlando City club has visited the Rose City. The last year of the OCSC’s previous incarnation, the Austin Aztex, was 2010, which was also Portland’s last year in the second division (which Austin was also a part of). The purple of Orlando City will become more familiar next year, when OCSC jumps from USL Pro to MLS.

Despite the rough season that the Timbers have had so far (which seems to turning around a bit), there is good reason for Portland to believe that a good run in the USOC can happen. A big reason for that is the 2013 run, which saw the Timbers advance to the semifinals for the first time in club history. While Real Salt Lake ended that run (much like they would later end Portland’s MLS playoff run), there was plenty to build off of.

Of course, one of the big stars from that USOC run is no longer with the Timbers. That’s Frederic Piquionne, who scored 4 times against Wilmington (USL Pro) in a 3rd round match last year. Piquionne was released by Portland earlier this season, but that performance has become a much-talked about piece of Timbers’ history.

Portland also beat the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies in the fourth round 2-0 before traveling to Frisco, Texas and holding on for a 3-2 win over FC Dallas in the quarterfinals. Then came the trip to Sandy, Utah in the semis, and the 2-1 loss was notable not just because RSL went to the cup final, but also because Will Johnson suffered a shoulder injury in the 2nd half that kept him out of action for a month. It was also the first of what turned out to be 6 meetings between Portland and RSL over the next 4 months, with the Timbers going winless in all 6 games.

The Timbers know to not look past the OCSC U23s, and they will be reminded plenty to take their PDL opponent seriously. Portland fans know all too well the history of the Timbers losing to lower division sides in the USOC (Utah Blitzz in 2001, Hollywood United in 2008, Cal FC in 2012), so nothing in the Cup is taken for granted. It’s the time when the ultimate American sports cliché, playing one game at a time, actually becomes necessary.

While the USOC has been a chance in the past to give players farther down the depth chart an opportunity to play, Caleb Porter may have other ideas this time. With the 16-day gap between league matches, he may play more starters than usual, or allow those recovering from injury a chance to get in some game action. Porter’s options are really wide open for this one.

It’s also a chance to really keep the team on a close-to-regular schedule during the World Cup “break”, as well. With six days between FD Dallas & OCSC U23s, both at home, Porter can set training times that are close to consistent with a normal week.

But it’s also a chance for Orlando City U23 players to show the big club, and any other scouts, what they can do against MLS opposition. They will play hard and maybe even a little reckless in trying to win and impress, and Porter may also have that in mind when choosing an 18 for the match.

The Timbers will be expected to win and move on in the USOC, and to do it handily. But, as Portland fans know, nothing ever seems to come easy for the Timbers. The Cup is a chance to shine, but also has the chance of being a disaster.

In this case, it can also be another step in getting the 2014 season turned around. We shall see.

NEXT UP: June 17 – US Open Cup: Portland Timbers vs. Orlando City U-23s, US Open Cup, Providence Park, Portland, Ore. 10:30 p.m. EST, Timbers.com.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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