Match Preview

Blanco returns to action as the Timbers begin their 2023 US Open Cup campaign

What you need to know ahead of Wednesday night's game at Providence Park

The 108th edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is here! The Portland Timbers are in action in the third round against USL Championship side Orange County SC.

Who is Orange County SC?

The Irvine, California-based club will be Portland's first test in the 2023 Lamar Hunt USOC. Since 2004, the Timbers have faced a California club in the tournament a total of 15 times, collecting eight wins and seven losses over that span. As each round is best scheduled by regions, California and Washington state has provided the majority of the opponents over the years in the third round.

Orange County plays in the USL Championship, one division below Major League Soccer. They sit in 9th place out of 12 in their league's Western Conference with a 1-3-3 record. Although they may not be having their best season in 2023, it is not to say they won't bring the fight to Providence Park. Top-scorer Milan Iloski has three goals and an assist over seven matches played this year, and Camas-native (and former Timber) Brent Richards makes his return to Portland following a successful stint at the U-23 level of the club. He become the Timbers U-23’s all-time leading scorer registering 26 goals and 12 assists in 37 games played in the early part of the 2010's.

If the Timbers defeat Orange County SC, they will move onto the round of 32.

Sebastian Blanco - Timbers.Training041123.CM068
April 11, 2023: Sebastián Blanco in training with his teammates

Seba's return?

Wednesday night will also mark the return to action for revered midfielder Sebastian Blanco. The Timbers no. 10 has been recovering a right knee injury since last year. After returning to training in the early months of 2023, the 35-year-old Argentine is now green-lit to make his 2023 debut.

Whether coach Savarese opts to start him or ease him into minutes as a substitution is unclear, but one thing is certain: it's never a bad thing to have Blanco available.

First minutes?

With a midweek game and an important regular season road trip to St. Louis City SC on Saturday, head coach Giovanni Savarese will likely shake up the starting lineup, offering a chance for rookies and Timbers2 standouts to make an impact.

One such player could be 2023 MLS Superdraft pick Noel Caliskan, one of three players making the jump from Timbers2 to the first team ahead of the on Wednesday evening. The 15th overall pick from Loyola-Marymount University has been announced as a short-term loan for the senior club, meaning the German-born midfielder may be in the match selection. Accompanying him are Timbers2 defender Tyler Clegg and midfielder Victor Griffith.

What is the US Open Cup?

The U.S. Open Cup, better known as USOC, is the oldest ongoing soccer competition in the United States of America, and it allows for any team, from any level of the soccer pyramid to dream big and have a shot at glory.

The tournament not only gives an additional shot at silverware for the year, it also has a couple additional incentives that make it a coveted cup. The winner of the tournament gets a guaranteed berth in next year's 2024 Concacaf Champions League tournament, as well as $300,000 in prize money. Runners-up also get a piece of the pie with a $100,000 prize, and even the team that advances the furthest from each lower division will take home a $25,000 cash prize.

Portland will participate in the American classic for the 18th time since making their USOC debut in the lower division United Soccer League (USL). Amassing a 19-16 record, the Timbers have been a Cascadia representative at the USL and MLS level every year since their first showing in 2004, with the exception of the 2020 and the 2021 tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic pause. The most successful bids from the boys in Green & Gold came in 2013 and 2019, falling in the semifinals, one game short of the trophy match. Last year, in a match with Los Angeles FC, the Timbers bowed out in the round of 32 via a 2-0 loss at Banc of California (now BMO Stadium).

The Timbers have fared well in the single-elimination tournament, having reaching the quarterfinal and semifinal stages on four and two occasions, respectively. With an MLS Cup and an MLS is Back Tournament trophy in the Providence Park cabinet, the Lamar Hunt USOC trophy is a piece of silverware that the Timbers would like to add to the collection.