Portland Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark clears the ball against the Seattle Sounders in a Fourth Round match in the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Mike Fiechtner, Sounders FC Communications
With the kickoff temperature sitting at 90 degrees and the Seattle Sounders debuting a new home for their Open Cup games, the leadup to Wednesday’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup game against the Portland Timbers didn’t feel like your typical rainy Cascadia Derby. The sellout crowd of 6,280 at Cheney Stadium and a Timbers goal by Brian Fernández in the sixth minute brought proceedings to the level of intensity we’re used to seeing.
With the sun coming through the left-field bleachers of the converted baseball stadium, the players had a tough time even seeing the ball, but the hard fouls typical of a game between the Sounders and rival Portland Timbers arrived in a hurry. With neither team pressing high in the heat, Portland was content to play long balls through their diamond midfield or over the top, trying to get the prolific Fernández on the ball. Seattle took advantage of the space in the middle third and overloaded the wings, slipping forward Will Bruin in behind and generating a number of crosses. Seattle tied the game just before halftime from a free kick, but a textbook counter through the middle early in the second half ended in Fernández’s second goal and ultimately gave the Timbers the 2-1 win.
It began with a poked ball split Seattle’s midfield line and found Fernández at the top of the box in the sixth minute. Having already forced Seattle goalkeeper Bryan Meredith to tip a previous shot over the bar, Fernández cut inside on his left, turned Seattle centerback Jonathan Campbell to create a yard of space, and coolly deposited the ball in the bottom corner. Since Fernández joined the team in May, reports from Timbers camp indicate that he can’t stop scoring goals in practice, and the former Liga MX scorer (18 goals in 32 appearances with Necaxa) didn’t disappoint in his US Open Cup debut.
After going down early, Seattle controlled the tempo for most of the first half. Making his first start for the Sounders – in his second appearance – 16-year old Danny Leyva paired with Alex Roldan to lock down the Timbers’ Diego Valeri in the middle, often winning one-on-ones in the center circle. LLeyva said the experience he’s gained in four months – to the day, the last time he’d faced the talented Timbers midfield in a preseason match – has allowed him to manage the game while behind much better. Out wide, Kelvin Leerdam constantly found space for the Sounders to slip Will Bruin in behind or hit crosses into the box. Seattle outshot the Timbers 11-4 in the first half, and the pressure finally paid off in the 44th minute, when a deflected Victor Rodriguez free kick sent goalkeeper Steve Clark the wrong way and nestled into the back of the net.
The tie would not last long coming out of the break as the Sounders got caught pushing numbers forward, looking for the go-ahead goal, and Portland made them pay. A quick ball from midfielder Sebastian Blanco played Valeri into space, and the Argentine sent forward Jeremy Ebobisse down the left wing. Fernandez had Campbell beat for pace 40 yards out, and tapped home Ebobisse’s cross for his second goal of the game and the eventual game winner. It was a learning moment for the young Sounders midfield, and a look into the many ways Fernandez seems to have a nose for goal-scoring opportunities.
Players from the Portlan Timbers (left) and the Seattle Sounders battle for the ball in a Fourth Round match in the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Mike Fiechtner Sounders FC Communications
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer’s reaction to falling behind was to bring on Henry Wingo, who was tasked with one job.
“Create chances, go 1-v-1,” Wingo said. “It was a hot day, they were definitely tired so [Schmetzer[ told me to take advantage of their left back and I thought I was able to do that.”
Wingo’s addition in the 58th minute allowed the Sounders to stretch the field and he got in behind Zarek Valentine on a number of occasions, but ultimately no one could turn home his crosses.
The Sounders would continue to press for the equalizer, and eventually earned a penalty on a Mabiala handball in the 78th minute. Victor Rodriguez had Clark well-beaten, but smashed the shot off the crossbar. Rodriguez apologized to his teammates after the game, but it was just one of many chances the Sounders had to get themselves back into the game, and they were unable to convert any of them.
Clark made a great reaction save of a Wingo volley in the 88th minute, and the Timbers held on to give the Sounders only their second home loss in the US Open Cup in the club’s MLS history (fourth home loss in club history). This also gives the four-time champions from Seattle the club’s first three-game tournament losing streak since 2001.
In the 8th Open Cup meeting between these two rivals (the most common matchup of any pair of teams in the Modern Era), it was the Timbers who came out on top, as they continue to close the gape on the all-time series. The Sounders now lead the all-time series 4-3-1 (1-0 PKs).
For the Timbers, they advance to the Round of 16 for the second year in a row, where they will host the Los Angeles Galaxy on June 19. The winner of that game will reach the Quarterfinals where they will travel to face the winner of Los Angeles FC and the San Jose Earthquakes.