One thing above all else is remembered when you lose in a semifinal. You were only 90 minutes away, and in the case of the Portland Timbers, that means one step from the club's first-ever U.S. Open Cup final. It would have meant a rematch with Atlanta United FC – the team that denied Portland its second star eight months ago – and against a Minnesota United FC team that, while talented, wasn't insurmountable, a defeat would feel like an opportunity lost.
That's What We'll Remember most. Lineup decisions, the team's performance, as well as the overall week in Minnesota will rest in our memories, but the aspect that will linger most is not making a final; not playing with an urgency that matched the occasion; not seizing a chance to accomplish a club first.
Thanks to goals from Darwin Quintero and Mason Toye, United's 2-1 win has the Loons into their first Cup final, and although Brian Fernandez gave the Timbers life at the end of the first half, the result was a just one. Now, instead of celebrations, the Timbers are left searching for explanations, wondering how the highs of last week's demolition 4-0 of the LA Galaxy has so quickly given way to two straight losses.
Here's the rest of What We'll Remember from Wednesday's loss:
Savarese's two big bets
A lineup with both Dairon Asprilla and Claude Dielna was always going to be a surprise, even if you thought Savarese should rotate at those positions. Why not Bill Tuiloma in Julio Cascante's place, if a new central defender was going to come in? And if Marvin Loría was going back to the bench after Sunday's start, why not simply (without an additional move) elevate Jeremy Ebobisse to the starting lineup? Undoubtedly, the Timbers' staff selected what they felt was their best starting XI, but choosing players in Asprilla and Dielna who've combined for 11 league starts and mixed results will always elicit some doubt.
The decision to start Dielna will be questioned the most. The veteran defender was the main culprit on the night's first goal, committing the foul which, thanks to his ensuing handball, produced the opening, penalty-kick score. In the second half, a basic ball over the top from Minnesota's Kevin Molino put Dielna into a footrace with Mason Toye. Dielna lost, and again, the Timbers went down a goal.
The decision to bring Andrés Flores on for the first substitution will linger, too, given Loría was left on the bench, unused. Still, the bets Savarese made on Asprilla and, most importantly, Dielna are what will be remembered most. As with any other decision, Savarese will have to take responsibility for his lineup.
The signs of hope
The result may have been just, but that didn't mean there weren't chances to steal a result.
The first came just before halftime, and in fairness, it came after a spell where Portland had wrestled away control. Minnesota was up 1-0 by that point, resting on the laurels, when what may be one of the Timbers' passes of the season gave Fernandez an open chance on goal:
Ebobisse deserves so much credit, here. For the vision. For the composure. For the execution. The only way he pulls this play off is to see it develop long before the ball is at his foot. Once it's there, he has to hit right, so as MNUFC goalkeeper Vito Mannone can't come smother the chance. And if he does, Fernandez has an almost unmissable shot.
The 1-1 scoreline felt like a gut punch for the Loons, but come second-half stoppage time, their lead had been restored. Again, though, the Timbers nearly broke their hearts. Off a bobbled ball from Mannone, Diego Valeri ran into the six, through the loose ball, pushing a deflection onto the right post. The ensuing rebound almost found Ebobisse in front of goal only for Minnesota's defense to scramble for a corner.
Moments before the final whistle, it felt like we were headed for another half-hour. By that time, though, there was also a feeling of inevitability. From the 64th minute on, once Minnesota had their second goal, it never felt like an equalizer was close. Even when Valeri's final try hit the post, there was a feeling that Portland's chance at a final had come and gone.
Empty-handed in Minnesota
Perhaps Portland could have called themselves unlucky after Sunday's loss, but on Wednesday, they didn't do enough to earn a result. Leaving Minnesota tonight, Portland returns home empty-handed, their five nights in the Twin Cities yielding no results.
Wednesday may be remembered most as an opportunity lost, but it will also be remembered as a disappointing trip all around. Now, with a Cascadia Cup match in three days against Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday (8pm PT, TICKETS, FOX 12 PLUS (KPDX)), the Timbers will be expected to salvage something from this week. The one thing that can make this week worse would be it turning into a full-on losing run.