PORTLAND, Ore. – Real Salt Lake, New York Red Bulls and defending-champion D.C. United were the latest MLS teams to crash out of the fourth round of the US Open Cup.
The Portland Timbers and head coach Caleb Porter weren’t about to be the next victim.
So despite playing PDL side Orlando City U-23s, one of just three amateur teams to advance past the third round in this year’s tournament, Porter trotted out a mostly first-choice lineup that featured Portland’s top scorers Maximiliano Urruti and Gastón Fernández. And the Timbers dominated in a fashion one would expect against a team comprised of college and development players, getting a first-half brace from Fernandez and the first professional goal for rookie Taylor Peay in the second for a 3-0 victory Tuesday night.
“We don’t want that to happen to us,” Porter said in his postgame comments, referring to the MLS teams that were eliminated. “We’re in a tournament, and it’s attached to a trophy. There’s obviously priorities with the league – we’re not going to ever jeopardize our position there – but the way I look at is why not win both? And I think with the depth that we have we can roll out a lineup in these Open Cup games where we have a good chance to win the game and the league play doesn’t have to be sacrificed.”
Portland’s depth is such that they were able to not only play Urruti and Fernandez but also backline starters Michael Harrington and Jack Jewsbury and others who have started in forward Kalif Alhassan and defenders Alvas Powell, Danny O’Rourke and Rauwshan McKenzie. The game also featured the Timbers debut this season of forward Rodney Wallace, who has missed all of the season so far after recovering from offseason knee surgery.
“I’m not willing to sacrifice potentially winning a trophy with the Open Cup,” said Porter, noting an Open Cup championship would solidify another season in CONCACAF Champions League. “Four more games and you can raise a trophy. We’ve never raised a trophy here in the MLS era, other than the Cascadia Cup, but it’s an opportunity to do that. … We’re going to take it very seriously.”
Fernández took the pressure off, and gave Orlando City little chance of a lifeline, with an 11th minute strike from distance. His second came on a 36th minute penalty kick.
And Peay opened his Timbers account in a dominating second half that also featured the debut of fellow rookies George Fochive and Schillo Tshuma. Most importantly, there were no injuries to take into account for their fifth-round game on the road June 24 against the winner of Wednesday’s Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United FC matchup. That game will proceed their return to MLS play June 27 against SKC.
“This is where depth becomes very important,” Porter said. “We’ve been using our depth this year, and we rolled out a team today where a majority of the guys have started games. So it wasn’t a second team, but some of the guys haven’t played as much, so that’s a good thing moving forward.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.