|Brian Fernandez is as good as advertised, having scored in his 5th match in a row
Despite some various struggles in the tournament overall, the 4 goals scored is the third time in U.S. Cup History where the Timbers have scored at least 4 goals, and they accomplished this with a relatively strong choice of lineups. Timbers Coach Gio Savarese had to weigh the options after the Timbers defeated Seattle on June 12 up in Tacoma in their previous round action, but the Timbers face a 3 match in 8 day run in MLS league play with hosting Houston on June 22, followed up by a trip to Montreal on June 26 to then return to host FC Dallas on June 30. Things don't get any easier for Portland, either if you look into July as the Timbers play NYCFC in New York on July 7, return to Portland to host Colorado on July 13 and Orlando on July 18 before going up North again to play the Flounders on July 21, only to then host the Galaxy on July 27. That's 10 matches in 45 days, and now adding the Quarterfinal match on July 10 down in either San Jose or at LAFC, the compression and travel will test even the biggest depth for a side for an eleventh match. Granted, Portland has already dealt with a 12 match road trip traveling over 30,000 miles to start the 2019 season, so dealing with challenging circumstances has been part for the course for this bunch. Along the way, they have shown resolve, grit and resourcefulness through various matches, and this battle with an extremely young and inexperienced Galaxy side was no exception.
|Sebastian Blanco was the playmaker in this match, and he was solid in that role.
The Galaxy took a very different approach with a league match at FC Cincinnati on June 22, so they left most of their regular starters out of the match to have available for the weekend. Of the eleven starters, Galaxy Coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto only used one regular starter, defender Daniel Steres, and a few regular reserves in midfielders Perry Kitchen and Emmanuel Boateng, all making over 14 appearances in league play. The rest of the side was a mix of younger players, veterans that have fallen out of the rotation, and experienced players working back to fitness. Traditionally, Boateng has been a troublesome player for the Timbers to deal with, and if Ethan Zubak, Efrain Alvarez and Juninho could control the midfield for the Galaxy, they might be able to steal a win in Portland from a team that is still trying to get comfortable within their home grounds. For the first 25 minutes of play, this upstart Galaxy group was controlling the tempo and frustrating the Timbers. Part of this could have been Portland trying to find its rhythm with Blanco effectively being the playmaker of the offense, but the Timbers also spent a lot of time making ill advised or rushed passes in an attempt to move forward. For a club using most of their regular starters, it was really strange to see such an experienced side struggle with a younger, scrappier side so much. Los Angeles also seemed to be the early aggressor in terms of contact, and Center Official Victor Rivas appeared to be willing to reward their assertive play.
|With Bill Tuiloma getting the night off, Larrys Mabiala was the leader of the D.
Portland tried their best to extend the lead with Blanco being the main conduit for the shots on goal in the second half, while Ebobisse and Conechny had huge opportunities to add their names to the scoring sheet. Villafana found Ebobisse in the 40th minute off a cross that Jeremy put a strong header on, with only a Lampson fingertip save preventing the goal, while Moreira found Conechny off a break in the 74th minute off the break with a cross, but Tomas' shot was stopped by a Lampson save in traffic. It was Moreira that would add his name to the scorer's log in the 83rd minute when Fernandez put a cross from the left flank towards the right intended for Diego Valeri, who entered the match for Conechny as a substitute. Valeri, however, couldn't find the handle on the cross, but Moreira did and put it past Lampson for goal number 4. The Galaxy weren't able to get much going until very late, when unforced errors by Clark and Dielna gave Los Angeles a chance to tally a goal. However, Zubak skuffed a shot in the 85th minute in front of goal and Clark recovered for the save, while Clark deflected a Zubak shot moments later off Dielna's turnover. Unfortunately, Steve deflected the shot back to Alvarez on the left flank, but Efrain's rebound shot struck the right post and spun away to be cleared away by Dielna. Considering the Timbers defense had played so well for most of the match, it was a rather baffling sequence of events yet Portland remained unscathed and secured the clean sheet.
|Hard to believe this was just match number 2 this year here, but it's true.
The victory certainly gives the Timbers confidence going into the stretch of league matches, especially seeing how well Conechny and Paredes played in the midfield, and Tomas' service was actually very respectable. It made sense that Blanco played a full 90 in this match since he is ineligible for the Houston match due to accumulation suspension after getting a yellow card late in the loss to LAFC, but it was odd to see Valeri enter the match so late in a match that was already well in hand. With the youth of Paredes, Fernandez and Ebobisse, I'm expecting that they should be available for at least limited minutes against the Dynamo, but obviously, the plan was to rest Valeri to have him ready for Houston. Whether we see more rotation along the defensive line will be seen, but I was impressed with the cohesion between Mabiala and Dielna, and Moreira has regained some composure after a tough effort versus LAFC. It was even great to see Marco Farfan get some minutes late replacing Villafana for his first Timbers appearance in 2019, as I fully expect that Portland will need to dig deep over the weeks to get through this run unscathed. But none of that really mattered to the supporters or the Timbers players in the moment, as they could all celebrate their first official win at the newly refurbished park.
At least for one night, it showed the importance of the Open Cup to the Timbers, but I also feel that Savarese is playing the hotter hands right now. Fernandez is on a hot scoring streak and in form, and I fully expect the Timbers to ride this out, especially since he's often created goals from simply outworking opponents. Savarese will also need to manage the minutes of key players, especially with Andres Flores and Andy Polo out on international duty. While I think the team does want to win all the trophies it can, the more important goal right now is developing chemistry among the various players on the first team to ensure the club is prepared well for the long home stretch in August and September. MLS Cup still has the prestige of being labeled champions for the year, and the playoff structure MLS clings to hasn't been kind to most Supporters' Shield winners. Priorities may change from match to match, but building a solid foundation is always important, and the Timbers' result here showed that they are moving very well towards that goal. We'll see how well this group recovers in time for the Dynamo this coming weekend.