Aaron Kovar of the Seattle Sounders celebrates his 3rd minute goal in the club’s Fourth Round match against the Portland Timbers in the 2017 US Open Cup. Photo: Seattle Sounders
In 2015, the last time the Seattle Sounders met the Portland Timbers in the US Open Cup, the match featured a 3-1 Seattle home loss, three red cards and Clint Dempsey ripping up the referee’s notebook. This time around, the Sounders were able to enact their revenge.
Aaron Kovar opened the scoring early on for Seattle, and Zack Mathers contributed the game-deciding penalty kick in the second half, as the Sounders knocked off the Timbers 2-1 in the Fourth Round of the 2017 US Open Cup at Starfire Sports Complex.
The game had barely kicked off before the Sounders opened the scoring. In just the third minute, Nouhou Tolo whipped in a cross from the left wing that eluded three Timbers defenders, falling for an open Kovar to slam home.
Kovar was one of a small number of Sounders in the lineup with previous experience playing for the first team, and served as the spearhead of the attack while he was on the field.
“It felt good,” Kovar said. “That was my first competitive start in a while so it was good to get back.”
Seattle had the run of play for the first 30 minutes before Portland started to work their way into the game. Ben Zemanski was the main orchestrator of the Timbers offense, and he helped create their equalizer in the 38th minute. His well-taken corner kick to the back post was nodded down by Rennico Clarke and bundled into the net by Augustine Williams. The Timbers nearly got a second just before the halftime whistle, with an outstretched save from Tyler Miller keeping Zemanksi’s laser of a shot from finding the net.
To start the second half Seattle raced into the attack with renewed energy. That quickly turned into a penalty kick when Felix Chenkam’s close-range shot was blocked by a Portland arm in the box. Mathers stepped up and calmly rolled his penalty into the right side of the net to give the Sounders back the lead. Portland occasionally threatened during the rest of the half but never came particularly close to scoring again.
While this meeting featured the tension and chippy play that is expected when these two bitter Cascadia rivals face off, it did not get quite as explosive as their famous 2015 match – with just one yellow card handed out on the night. Part of that may have been due to both teams fielding lineups relying heavily on players called up from their second teams in the USL, T2 and S2. Portland signed 11 such T2 players to short-term, first-team contracts to play in the match and Seattle signed nine S2 players of their own.
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer gave credit to those call-ups for helping earn the victory and praised the growth of the Sounders organization as a whole.
“There’s been a lot of hard work by [S2 head coach] Ezra [Hendrickson] and the academy guys and that’s pushing up to our level,” Schmetzer said. “I thought all of our S2 players played extremely well.”
It was Schmetzer’s first US Open Cup match as full-time manager of the club in MLS. He was at the reins for Seattle when they played in the USL, and guided the then-minor league team to back-to-back Semifinal cup runs in 2007 and 2008.
The Sounders will find out who they face in the next round of this year’s tournament during the Round of 16 draw on June 15.
“This club’s had a lot of success in this tournament and I won it one year, so that was a pretty cool experience,” Kovar said. “It would be fun to do it again.”