With both teams were coming off losses in regular season play, host Portland Timbers and Orange County SC were looking for a huge bounce back game to advance to the Fourth Round of the US Open Cup.
Portland received huge news and a boost for the encounter as Sebastián Blanco returned from injury and would play his first minutes for the club in 2023.
The welcomed news of Blanco’s return, along with Tyler Clegg’s clutch play, and Jaroslaw Niezgoda’s continued form led the Timbers to the 3-1 win. Orange County SC had their chances, but could not convert when it mattered most.
“US Open Cup. I missed it. It’s good to have it back. It’s good to be able to play these games,” said Timbers manager Gio Savarese. “This allows to give the chance to players like Caliskan, Clegg, Griffith, to get their minutes and to get the possibility to continue to grow.
“These games are always difficult because when you play teams like Orange County, they come so hungry. They want to prove. They have so much desire. The games get very complicated and difficult. There’s a lot of energy in the games and we saw today that it was a difficult game and very competitive.”
In the first ten minutes of the game, OCSC outshot Portland 3-0. The Timbers responded and kept the attack on the gas pedal the rest of the half. They had several short free kicks, but could not get a goal out of any of those chances. Portland kept the pressure on and kept the barrages kept coming. However, in the 37th minute, they were rewarded. Niezgoda found Marvin Loría at the top of the box, who calmly slotted it home past Cropper to put the home side up 1-0. Portland ended the half with the edge in shots, 7-6 and corners, 4-3.
The Portland Timbers started the second half with a party as Clegg headed home a corner kick from a gorgeous cross from Bonilla. After having all of the majority of the chances and possession, the Timbers got sloppy in the 54th minute when Milan Iloski slotted home a shot past Sulte.
In the 62nd minute, Moreno headed home a ball that nearly crossed the line, but was saved at the last second by Cropper. In the 69th minute, Orange County continued to knock on the door and had multiple shots on goal that were saved by Hunter Sulte and his defenders.
Portland used their trademark counterattack to get multiple good looks shortly after, but could not find the finish. In the 89th minute, Orange County scored off a corner, but it was ruled off due to offsides. The comeback was taken away in the first minute of stoppage time when Cropper misplayed the high ball in the box and Nathan found a way to head to Niezgoda to put the finishing touches on the game.
“I have to say thank you to the fans because we had a good crowd on a Wednesday, that’s very important. We have to respect this competition,” Savarese said. “This is the oldest competition in the United States. The fact that the fans came in; the fact that my players and the organization took this game very, very seriously – I’m very proud of what we achieved today… But at least for tonight, very content.
“So many positives. Jaro scored again. That’s a good thing. We saw guys that came in and contributed in a big way, so very content with that. Hunter started and played really well. A lot of good things.”