Though the Portland Timbers enter into a World Cup break with no MLS games until they host Sporting Kansas City on June 27, there's another important high stakes match in the interim that Portland head coach Caleb Porter and his team are keenly focused on.
Tuesday night, the Timbers host the Orlando City U23s in the fourth round of the 101st edition of the U.S. Open Cup (7:30pm PT, TICKETS, Webstream). One of the oldest domestic cup competitions in the world, a U.S. Open Cup championship comes with a slot in the CONCACAF Champions League as well as, very simply, shiny hardware. So despite a game that features an opponent primarily made up of college-aged players in the USL Premier Development League—the fourth tier of American soccer—it is not a match that the Timbers are taking casually at all.
“We’ll hit them hard all game long,” said Portland head coach Caleb Porter Monday following training. “We’re not going to lower our standards and lower our quality depending on the opponent.”
Midfielder Rodney Wallace, who is expected to start his first game of the season after rehabbing an injured knee suffered in the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs, agreed.
“We want to win trophies so this is a step for us to get further into the tournament,” he said. “That’s actually the most important thing.”
The Orlando City U23s got to this point after going on the road and knocking off the Charleston Battery of USL PRO in the third round. They may be buoyed by the fact that three other MLS teams fell in fourth-round action this past weekend as the New York Red Bulls, Chivas USA, and Real Salt Lake all fell to lower-division sides.
Said Porter, “We don’t want to be the fourth.”
Wallace, who experienced a breakout campaign in 2013 with seven goals and six assists, has persevered through a long rehabilitation campaign to get to this point and is expected to provide a spark to the attack. After playing two games on loan for Arizona United SC—and scoring a goal in the second—Wallace is keen to get on the pitch though he’s not expecting an easing into things against Orlando City.
- QUICK STRIKES: Five numbers to know on the U.S. Open Cup
“I don’t think that this is going to be a game that we take lightly at all,” said Wallace. “[Orlando City] is going to come out hard and they’re definitely going to feel what it is to play against us. We’re going to keep the ball and attack and defend well.”
The game also presents a chance to further the depth and development of the squad. Coming off a compressed stretch of five MLS games in 19 days, the team adeptly rotated the lineup to gain ten points and get back into the thick of the playoff race. With more USOC games as well as CONCACAF Champions League games on the horion, Porter also spoke to the need to balance a number of lineup factors heading into tonight's match from managing a few players nursing injuries, to getting some minutes for more players coming back from loan spells, to also making sure he keeps other players fit and sharp.
“We’re managing all those things but bottom line is: anything attached to a trophy means we’re going to take it seriously,” said Porter.
“We’ve got too much at stake. It’s one of three ways you can get a trophy this year. We’re going to put everything in it. It takes five games to win a trophy and we only earn the right to move on if we win this game.”