Sebastian Blanco has been the MVP of 2018 for the Timbers in my opinion.
When talking U.S.t Open Cup history and the Portland Timbers, those words combined can invoke several different, stark memories - from heart wrenching losses to a certain team up North, a volcanic meltdown by the same team in one of the most dramatic results at Starfire Sports Complex, some baffling losses and solid victories. In playing a single elimination tournament where a winner must be crowned each round without replays, odd breaks and emotional moments are par for the course in this tournament. Portland has also had a history of playing early round matches away from the Rose City, so being able to play their first two matches in front of their home fans is truly special. With the stadium expansion project already impacting the home side of fixtures, Timbers fans appreciated the extra chance to see their favorites play outside of MLS play - with over 14,000 fans filling the west, north and south decks of the park. With all the energy from the crowd, it would be up to Savarese to figure out a master plan to break down the Galaxy - something that he wasn't able to do in their June 2 meeting at home and only late in the March 4 opener due to handy work in the second half from Blanco and Diego Valeri.
|Stadium construction meant another match with no Eastside crowd.|
Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid used a very similar lineup to the one used for June 2, but much like Savarese, the 5 foreign player limit hampered some decision making. The team's big signing for 2018, forward Zlatan Ibrahimović, was in Russia doing promotional duties for World Cup 2018, but Schmid used goalkeeper David Bingham and the same defensive foursome - Ashley Cole, Michael Ciani, Jorgen Skjelvik and Dave Romney. It was Skjelvik's penalty against Flores in the 54th minute that gave Portland their only goal in the June 2 draw, but he's been otherwise stellar in solidifying a defensive line that was simply miserable in 2017. Servando Carrasco and Perry Kitchen would again be the defensive midfielders for the Galaxy, with attacking midfielders Bradford Jamieson, Chris Pontius and Emmanuel Boateng flanking out in the attack. Ola Kamara, the Galaxy's other big signing for 2018, was out on international duty for the June 2 meeting, but for this night, he was the sole striker. In their opening round USOC win, the Galaxy relied upon great play from Jamieson and forward Ariel Lassiter to advance, and Lassiter would be available as a sub in this one. In their last meeting, the battle between Chara and Kitchen led to several fouls and contentious moments, and the caution Diego received in the first half triggered a one match suspension for accumulation.
|Timbers Army tifo with a theme for 2018. Yes, I hope summer never ends.|
The second half had plenty of back and forth action, but honestly just two huge chances between the two sides. Armenteros struck the woodwork in the 55th minute off a cross from Valentin with a great one time shot, and he had 2 other near misses for his 90 minutes of work. The Galaxy had a shot from Pontius pulled wide of the right post in the 73rd minute, but their best effort of the night was a missile from Lassiter in the 89th minute. Carrasco dropped a pass in traffic to Lassiter just outside the box, and he put a laser on target, but Attinella leapt at the last second to push the shot over the bar to keep the Timbers on top. While the Galaxy had the overall advantages in possession and passing accuracy on the night, the Timbers were able to generate more quality shots and put more pressure on the Galaxy backline. This became even more apparent in the 75th minute when Asprilla replaced Adi and the Timbers went into more of a 4 - 2 - 3 - 1 formation with Chara and Olum staying home, Asprilla, Blanco and Flores shifting out wide for the attack, and Armenteros working as the lone striker. Showing versatility and adaptability in the attack was good to see from the Timbers, and showing some different wrinkles from the Christmas Tree formation where the Timbers have seen success should keep opponents from banking on what Portland will do from match to match.
|I picked Blanco as MOTM, but Jeff Attinella was a very close second.|