Timbers head coach Gio Savarese lamented numerous chances the Portland Timbers left on the table the last time his club played the Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS league play. The 1-all draw broke the Timbers’ winning streak at six, but Savarese was hoping for better offensive efficiency and more cohesive defense.
Thirteen days later, the same two sides were paired up in the Fifth Round of the 2018 US Open Cup at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon, but the tune from Savarese was very much different. Behind a stout defense, stellar goalkeeping from Jeff Attinella and a Sebastian Blanco goal in the 30th minute, the Timbers used a complete team effort to hold off the Los Angeles Galaxy to advance in the tournament. Portland now awaits the June 20 meeting between the Sacramento Republic (USL) and Los Angeles Football Club (MLS) at Banc of California Stadium to learn who and where they will play, as the Republic/LAFC winner will host the Timbers on July 18 in the Open Cup Quarterfinals.
For the Timbers, it will be the club’s third all-time appearance in the Quarterfinals, and the first since 2014.
Savarese made the tactical decision to sit leading scorer Diego Valeri, instead opting for a two-forward attack with Fanendo Adi and Samuel Armenteros up top. Savarese also changed up the formation to use four midfielders in a more traditional 4-4-2 approach versus the “Christmas Tree” formation used over the last few weeks. Savarese gave Lawrence Olum and Diego Chara the task of patrolling the middle and keeping tabs on the Galaxy’s midfield engine of Servando Carrasco and Perry Kitchen. Finally, Savarese gave the creative controls of the Timbers’ offense to Blanco, and he responded with five chances created, an 84 percent passing accuracy, and the team leader in fouls won.
While Armenteros challenged the Galaxy with his speed and Adi used his size, Blanco challenged all night with his guile and passion and the Timbers rallied around him repeatedly.
Los Angeles has seen their season go very up and down, but Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid had to feel good after watching young forward Ariel Lassiter carry the Galaxy over their Fourth Round win over FC Golden State Force, and the Galaxy dismantle Real Salt Lake at home behind a brace from Zlatan Ibrahimović. With Zlatan traveling overseas, Schmid turned to his veteran playmakers in Ola Kamara, Chris Pontius and Emmanuel Boateng to break down the Timbers defense.
However, the Galaxy never appeared in sync for much of the match as Lassiter’s 89th minute near miss being their best overall chance on the night. Credit should be given to the Timbers’ defensive line of Larrys Mabiala, Vytas, Bill Tuiloma and Zarek Valentin, who worked seamlessly to frustrate the Galaxy and keep Attinella from facing too many chances.
While Armenteros and Chara were active on the offense early, it was Blanco that ended up tallying the Timbers’ 50th US Open Cup goal in the 30th minute. After a buildup on the right-hand flank, Timbers defender Zarek Valentin dropped a cross outside the box to Adi, who executed a lovely drop pass to a charging Blanco on the right. The Timbers midfielder dribbled left quickly and launched a shot that trickled past Galaxy goalkeeper Dave Bingham for the night’s only tally.
Armenteros nearly extended the Timbers’ lead with several key chances between the 53rd and 60th minutes, including hitting the woodwork with a dipping shot off a Valentin cross, but the Timbers would not extend their lead any further. The Galaxy did their best to increase the intensity late to challenge Attinella, but Lassiter’s missile would be their best opportunity to equalize.
With the win, the Timbers eliminate a Southern California team (amateur or professional) for just the second time. The only SoCal team that Portland had defeated prior to Friday night was the Bakersfield Brigade of the Premier Development League.