The Portland Timbers have advanced to the U.S. Open Cup semifinal for the first time in history. The Timbers held on for a win against FC Dallas last night in a goal filled quarter final that saw Portland bounce back from a 1-0 first half deficit. The victory marks the first time they’ve ever defeated an MLS club in a domestic cup match.
The fixture was the Timbers second with FCD in just 11 days, with Portland winning the previous league match 1-0 two weekends ago. Being booted from the tournament last night continues a rough week for Dallas, who now find themselves in third place in the Western Conference following weekend victories by the Timbers and Real Salt Lake.
Last night, Dallas struck early in the first half, but it soon became clear that the Timbers were the more dangerous side as captain Will Johnson twice found himself in front of goal for scoring opportunities. His best chance came late in the first half on the other end of a Ryan Johnson cross into the box. Will did not react quickly enough however and headed the ball across goal and out of play.
The momentum continued into the second half where Portland’s attack force put on a show with talisman Darlington Nagbe as the star. In the 61st minute, Nagbe carved up the entire backline by himself, finishing the move by dribbling the ball past Dallas RB Zach Loyd to the goal line and squeezing it between goalkeeper Chris Seitz’s legs, despite the tight angle, for an equalizing goal.
Less than two minutes later, Nagbe followed up his bit of magic with an exquisite lob pass that beat the Dallas offside trap and landed securely at the feet of Diego Valeri. Valeri secured the ball and coolly slotted it home again through the legs of the Dallas keeper.
In what was the first of a two incredible mistakes destined for the SportsCenter "Not Top 10", Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman rolled a hilariously under hit pass into his own box onto the feet of Portland substitute Frederic Piquionne. The French striker finished the play and continued his hot streak with his fifth goal of the competition.
Despite quickly being down 3-1, Dallas was not ready to exit the tournament without a fight. The second howler of the night struck Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, whose clumsy attempt at a punched clearance went straight up in the air and eventually made its way onto the head of Bias Perez for Dallas’ second goal.
In stoppage time, Piquionne did his best Nagbe impression, masterly dribbling the ball through the Dallas defense and chipping a delicious sitting volley in front of the Dallas net, only for Nagbe himself to sky it over the bar. Seconds later, Dallas's David Ferrara almost made the Timbers pay, wasting a chance to tie the game by rifling an open shot off the right post in what was ultimately the match’s final kick.
In addition of the drastic turnaround in results from last year, it’s incredible to think that the Timbers are experiencing real success in only their third season of MLS competition. Roster depth and players that look to be the class of the league such as Will Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, and newcomer Frederic Piquionne have allowed the Timbers to be competitive in multiple competitions.
As someone who watched every game of last year's Western Conference Champion San Jose Earthquakes, I can say with confidence that this year’s Timbers team looks likea much stronger side. The difference is twofold. First, the Timbers play an alluring pass and move style that is far more difficult to execute (not to mention easier on the eyes) than the Earthquakes “lob it forward and cross your fingers” tactic. More importantly, the Timbers are a club that play especially well together, something I thought last year’s Quakes struggled with. Their ability to keep long, seemingly effortless bouts of possession show that they’ve spent many hours on the training pitch working on their timing and precision. Having stars is fine, but one cannot underestimate the value of a solid core of players who continually look to make the right pass. The Timbers are doing that and have now gone 18 straight matches without a loss.
The Timbers move on to play Real Salt Lake in the Semifinal. The winner of that match will go on to play the winner of the DC United-Chicago Fire fixture in the cup final.