Caleb Porter took a classic page out of the World Cup playbook: come in with a defensive game plan and leave with a victory.
A brace by Gaston Fernandez sandwiched a Will Johnson penalty as the Portland Timbers beat Sporting Kansas City 3-1 in the US Open Cup Fifth Round.
“You see it in the World Cup,” Porter said. “We came up with a plan of absorbing a little bit and then being a bit more lethal on the counter attack and I thought the guys executed it to a T.”
Sporting controlled the play for much of the game with Portland content to use Porter’s sit deep and counter plan. The hosts had chances right out of the gate. Former Timber Sal Zizzo had a fifth-minute header tipped over the bar and Dom Dwyer had a swerving free kick pushed wide by a diving Andrew Weber. Portland’s opener came in the 30th minute against the run of play.
It was shades of the Nigeria-Bosnia World Cup match as KC left back Seth Sinovic went down under the challenge of Kalif Alhassan, but referee Ricardo Salazar waved play on as Sporting players called for a foul. Alhassan’s cross deflected to Gaston Fernandez and the Timbers’ No. 10 calmly rolled the ball into the far corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
“They had a lot of the ball, but that was by design,” Porter said. “You can control the game without [the ball]…and you see that at the highest level. I thought we actually controlled the game pretty well without the ball.”
Sporting had a decent chance to equalize nine minutes later when Soony Saad’s shot deflected to Toni Dovale, but his shot at an open net hit Dwyer and went out for a goal kick.
Sporting continued to struggle connecting passes in the final third despite having most of the ball and Portland made them pay shortly after halftime. Steve Zakuani beat two Sporting defenders and got tripped up by Aurelien Collin in the box. Salazar pointed to the spot and Will Johnson tucked the penalty into the corner to double the lead. It was 3-1 11 minutes later when Maximiliano Urruti’s shot squirted under Andy Gruenebaum and right to an unmarked Fernandez for an easy tap-in and his second goal of the game.
“He’s a poacher, he’s a goalscorer, that’s why they call him ‘The Cat,’ ” Porter said when asked about Fernandez. “On third goal the ball fell to him…you can call it an easy goal, I [say] that’s a goalscorer. He’s scored three or four like that.”
Saad pulled one back from the penalty spot in the 73rd minute after a Danny O’Rourke handball and C.J. Sapong had a header cleared off the line four minutes later, but Sporting could get no closer.
“We weren’t hard enough to play against defensively,” said Sporting manager Peter Vermes.
It was a phrase he’d repeat several times.
Portland will travel to Seattle to face the Sounders in the Quarterfinals.
Kansas City and Portland will meet again in MLS league play on Friday.
HIGHLIGHTS: PORTLAND TIMBERS AT SPORTING KANSAS CITY
POST-GAME INTERVIEWS: CALEB PORTER, WILL JOHNSON
MATCH REPLAY: PORTLAND TIMBERS AT SPORTING KANSAS CITY