Open Cup play now gets more serious
The Portland Timbers return to Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup action Friday, playing host to the Los Angeles Galaxy at 7:30 p.m. in the round of 16.
Given Timbers 2 has two games this week, and given the Timbers' next MLS game isn't until June 24 at Atlanta, it's possible we see a strong first-team presence in this one.
Portland goalkeeper Jeff Attinella clearly wouldn't mind.
"I know a lot of people have opinions about the Open Cup, but I love the Open Cup," Attinella said. "Five games to win a trophy. One down, and the next one's here, so it's a good chance for us to advance. … I think everybody should be focused on that."
• T2 is up to second place in the United Soccer League's Western Conference after a 1-0 win on Saturday at Rio Grande Valley. Next is Wednesday's 7 p.m. game at Providence Park against OKC Energy. T2 then faces Colorado Springs at 2 p.m. Sunday at Merlo Field.
• The Timbers are not often blanked at Providence Park. But when they are, it's Sporting Kansas City doing the job. In Portland's last 42 home matches, the Timbers have been shut out only three times — all three by Sporting KC.
Portland coach Giovanni Savarese expressed pride with the effort — and disappointment with the result — after two of the hottest teams in MLS battled to a scoreless draw on Saturday.
Both teams had chances in a tactical chess match between Savarese and longtime SKC boss Peter Vermes.
The result seemed fair — though Portland should have been handed a penalty kick in the second half when SKC's Gerso Fernandes blocked a free kick with an extended arm. Sporting KC's Tim Melia again played like the top keeper in MLS (an honor he won last season). His fingertip save of a Fanendo Adi header was the stop of the night.
Portland's most dangerous chances came off free kicks and crosses — SKC did a good job of containing transition opportunities. Part of that was taking away the quick outlet passes Attinella has been using to start counterattacks.
"I think teams are starting to take notice," Attinella says. "When I get the ball, I try to get rid of it as quick as I can, especially in a home game trying to dictate the tempo, and really try to put them on their back foot. Credit to them. They did a good job of eliminating that."
The absence of suspended midfielder Diego Chara also impacted the Timbers' attack. Veteran Lawrence Olum played well covering Chara's defensive role, but (wisely) refrained from joining the attack against an organized SKC team that had eight or nine players back when Portland had the ball.
Saturday was the seventh consecutive start for Attinella, whose season was delayed by a preseason injury. Portland — on an eight-game MLS unbeaten run and sixth in the Western Conference at 6-3-4 — has been scored on only four times in those seven matches (four shutouts).