Contra Costa FC of the NPSL made the nearly 600-mile trip from Walnut Creek, Calif. to Salem, Ore. to participate in their first ever US Open Cup match and despite dominating possession in the first half and showing signs of fantastic play, the Portland Timbers Under-23s sent them home with a 2-1 defeat. The Timbers took advantage of two opportunities in the second half and that was the difference to give the club their first Open Cup win since 2018.
For the Timbers U-23s, this was not their first match in the tournament, in fact, they have appeared in the Cup five times prior to tonight’s win, earning two wins (both against NPSL opponents), and now they have three wins and will advance to visit Sacramento Republic in Round Two – a stage which they have not, in fact, progressed past.
The match kicked off at approximately 7:06 local time with light drizzle beginning moments before first kick – overcast and cool the teams started off in dramatically different formations; Timbers head coach, Matt Broadhead, had his side lined up in an aggressive 3-5-2 playing two true wingbacks keeping the width and feeling comfortable getting forward with former MLS central defender, and Gambia national team player, Mamadou “Futty” Danso anchoring the defense. Initially, the Timbers absorbed the Contra Costa attack but within a quarter of an hour, the visiting team from California was taking control of the match.
Contra Costa, on the other hand, came out in a standard 4-3-3 and while they didn’t play the ball down the sidelines, they swung the ball, through possession, from side to side easily enough – often times resulting in pulling the Timbers players out of position as they chased the visitors around. It was in those moments of imbalance when captain Addison Escobar or Alonzo Del Mundo would put a pass through or turn on a defender and slip right into an attacking lane to put a shot on goal – the first serious chance coming in the 8th minute with Timbers keeper Quinn McCallion collection the ball after a deflection. McCallion was kept very busy in the first half with the visitors heading it just over, toe-poking it wide, or scuffling a chance at the far post on a corner – Contra Costa registered 11 shots in the first half.
When the whistle blew for the first half, the crowd could be heard mumbling how they were in trouble and that Contra Costa was playing around and through the home team – the prevailing opinion was that all it would take is one goal and the Timbers would be out of it.
At the half, CCFC player, Luis Felix confirmed that the team were playing a possession-based style “playing in a 4-3-3 and staying patient – keeping possession.” In fact, Contra Costa held possession for 65% of the first half and early in the second half, we saw more of the same, with Contra Costa dominating the ball for a really good spell. What’s more, the Timbers were showing signs of desperation and out-fouling the visitors as well.
However, something switched on for the home team and Futty Danso could be heard as a calming and organizing on-field influence. They stopped chasing the ball and instead compacted the space between their midfielders and backline. Post-match, Futty confirmed that they had adjusted to Contra Costa by changing the space they gave them to operate in.
“Obviously, when you have a 39-year-old player you have to play a little bit deeper,” said Danso. “But yeah, we did change the line of confrontation a little bit, push up a little bit and confront them a little bit higher instead of letting them have us, and it was joy, and we got success out of that.”
Indeed the Timbers did, with a 51st minute goal, from Thomas Peterson sliding in at the far post off a deflection from Noah Dreaves’ cross in from the right side.
Contra Costa retained their heads and continued to play with the same style, not chasing the score, but rather, try to find a crack in the home team’s defense. However, the Timbers were resilient and kept their shape – if anything, the first goal seemed to give them the impetus to seek more and there was a noticeable shift in their attack. No longer were they responding only to what the visitors let them have, they were now on the front foot and seemingly attacking when it suited them.
In the 67th minute, Alexis Luna found himself in the middle of the attacking third with the ball and sent the ball to the right for Eddie Sanchez, who found himself with plenty of space in front of him. As Sanchez moved into the box, he shifted from his right foot to his left and shot it low, along the ground, where it snuck past Roberto Llamas, for the Timbers’ second goal of the match.
The visitors responded by adjusting from four at the back to pushing a player up and playing a higher line. In the 71st minute, the Timbers responded by making changes themselves and bringing on fresh legs. Sanchez, Reyes, and Peterson came off to make way for Zhvidze, Labate and Gardinez. A few minutes later Nguyen came on for Peralta for Timbers and Contra Costa brought on Christian Garcia for the injured Nate Carrasco. Two more subs for Contra Costa in the 83rd and Timbers made an additional change in the 85th. Then the shocker came when five minutes of additional time was announced after the later stages of the second half seemed to just cruise by.
Immediately thereafter, Danso was called for a foul just outside the box. Roberto Gonzalez, who had three shots on goal all game, stuck the ball well and put one past McCallion, who had been working on a clean sheet for the previous 90 minutes. That was Gonzalez’ fourth in four matches, including qualifying matches leading up to this contest.
Contra Costa got their tails up for the last four minutes of the match but were unable to keep the pressure up, giving the ball away in the crucial waning moments of the game.