It was a quiet night in Pontiac, Mich. as the reigning PDL champion Michigan Bucks got ready to play the Portland Timbers 2 (T2) in the Second Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. An announced crowd of about 467, about a quarter of the audience for their First Round match against Detroit City FC, saw the Bucks compete in the opening half, only to have the pros from Portland take over in the second frame.
Seth Casiple assisted on two second half goals, one early from Kharlton Belmar and a stoppage time breakout tap-in by Fatawu Safiu to lift the Timbers to a 2-0 victory. With the win, the Timbers will play the winner of the Kitsap Pumas (PDL) and Seattle Sounders 2 (USL).
As each team warmed up in the echoing expanses of the indoor facility there was a notable difference in the alacrity of each squads’ preparations. T2’s preparations looked significantly more focused and intentional, perhaps testing the indoor playing surface.
As the game kicked off, the hometown Bucks truly controlled the game. For nearly the first half hour they dominated possession, and as a result had many good looks on goal. Few were on target, and less posed a challenge to the T2 keeper. Their best shot of the half came in the third minute, yet the lack of consistent offensive pressure from Portland allowed Michigan the freedom to continue to take the necessary risks to create so many chances.
Around the 27th minute, there was a palpable change in the composure of the T2 players, as they began to challenge the Bucks’ defense with quick counterattacking chances. It took all of Michigan keeper Stephen Patterson’s talent and athleticism to keep the ball out of the net, including pulling one shot away that looked to have broken the plane of the goal. This flurry of offensive opportunity seemed to give T2 their first bit of confidence, which gradually led to a stalemate of possession, and an equal amount of promising opportunities for both teams going into the second half, with Portland having finally found their identity on the pitch.
The change from a purely reactionary, counterattacking squad led to a couple of quick chances for Portland in the first minutes of the second half, while Michigan seemed slightly less assured past their defensive half. Finally, in the 55th minute the scoring was broken open as Portland’s debut player Seth Casiple sent a long, outward curling cross to the back of the box, which found itself driven into the back of the net by a powerful header from Kharlton Belmar.
From this point onwards, Portland controlled the tempo of the match, as Michigan was constantly forced backwards into their defensive third of the pitch, clearing the ball long to reset T2 possessions. Around the 80th minute, though, the Bucks renewed their sense of urgency, and created what were their three best chances of the night. In the 83rd minute Michigan had the T2 keeper beaten with a strong head from a corner going straight into the upper left corner of the net. Fortunately for Portland, defender Blair Gavin held fast to his position and managed to head the shot away at the last moment.
“I was assigned to the front post, and I had to defend it,” Gavin commented post-match when asked about his game-changing defensive stand. “You drill that every day in practice, and I knew to stay in my position.”
After that, Michigan’s David Goldsmith and Nick Wysong both had open looks at goal (in the 87th and 92nd minutes, respectively), facing only the keeper, and both sailed their shots long over the bar. After the latter, Portland took the goal kick quickly, creating a three against one situation. Casiple again had the ball at his feet to assist the goal, as he forced Patterson to commit to him before laying the ball off to the flanking Safiu for a 93rd minute goal that certainly put the Bucks’ hopes of advancing beyond salvaging.
Seth Casiple walked off the pitch surrounded by congratulatory teammates, and was quick to praise them and the club.
“It’s incredible to come out and win with a team like this on a night like this,” he said breathlessly, still exuberant from celebration of his two-assist debut. “This club makes it so easy to want to come out and play for them, they make it so easy to feel apart of something.”