You can't NOT mention Cal FC in a Timbers U.S. Open Cup live blog, so I'll only do it once. There.
Of course, now that we're on the subject, if 2012's shock heard 'round Soccer City taught us one thing, it's that you can never count out an underdog—like, ever. Further proof, it would seem, arrives tonight from Wilmington, N.C., where a struggling USL Pro League team called the "Hammerheads" sits 11th in a 13-team league with losses in every road match and a bleak outlook one-third of a way through its season. Oh, and they're probably exhausted, to boot: Since playing eight days ago in Austin, players have flown back to Wilmington, then bussed 600+ miles to Orlando and Tampa Bay for weekend matches, then flown Monday from Tampa to Portland. They'll fly back for a match on Saturday night before taking on two of the top USL Pro teams on the road over the next two weeks. Phew.
So can these well-traveled Wilmingtonians give Timbers Army the most unimaginably terrible case of deja vu—like ever? I'll say the same thing I said about this time last year—"naaaaaaaaaah." As rocky as Portland appeared in late May of 2012, they look just as smooth in 2013. Unbeaten in 11 matches, the Timbers are second in the Western Conference and seem increasingly dangeronfident (*coined!) by the week. Sure, Portland's lineup tonight may not feature every regular, but another early exit from our nation's oldest footy tourney?
“That’s not going to happen on our watch,” said coach Caleb Porter this week, noting while the team is encouraged by its trajectory, a lack of trophies in its MLS era still drives them. "So this is an opportunity to do just that and win a trophy. “
It'll take five wins, starting tonight. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves (just ask Seattle). Because nothing's guaranteed. Even road-weary minor league teams have a chance. Why else would you click past the jump for more?
LINEUPS: Meet the Hammerheads! They seem nice.
Wilmington (2-7) Starting XI: Troy Hernandez in goal. Michael Daly, Gareth Evans, Jamel Wallace and Shaun Utterson on defense. Shawn Nicklaw, Daniel Steres, Paul Nicholson, Tom Parratt and Cory Elenio at midfield. Kyle Greig up front.
On the bench: Cody Arnoux, Steven Perry, Mark Briggs, Bryce Taylor.
Portland (5-1-7) Starting XI: Milos Kocic in goal. Ryan Miller, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Futty Danso, Michael Harrington on defense. Jose Valencia, Ben Zemanski, Will Johnson, Kalif Alhassan at midfield. Frederic Piquionne and Darlington Nagbe up front.
On the bench: Jake Gleeson, Raushawn McKenzie, Mobi Fehr, Steven Evans, Diego Valeri, Sal Zizzo, Sebastian Rincon.
Sunny skies over Goose Hollow and a virtually empty west grandstand. The seats that spell out "PORTLAND" are pretty much un-dotted with people. FWIW, Scalpers on the corner of 20th and Burnside were offering "$27 face value" seats for $10. Still, Timbers Army is more robustly represented, which is hardly a shocker.
The Hammers stepped onto the pitch with the brightest yellowish-green shorts seen around these parts since the Sounders were last in town. Or an Oregon Duck fan sat in the stands. Either way, they're bold. TA greeted them with the traditional "Go home, you bums!" chant, which after four games in nine days, is a request I'm betting Wilmington would love to accommodate.
First big cheer of the night (by this crowd's standards, of course): When the PA announcer showed the Tampa Bay/Seattle score.
Large ovations of the home team's intros were for Trencito, Valeri and Zizzo. The biggest for the latter, who's battled injuries all this season (and most of his career). There was a rainbow over the southeast corner of the stadium—single, not "all the way." Speaking of radiant colors, Porter going tie-less tonight. Sports jacket and sweater vest fully intact, however.
Storm Large with an epic rendition of the anthem. I don't believe she even needed the mic. Timbers Army has filled in, with a long banner spread across the first row of 107-108 with *I believe* every winner of the U.S. Open Cup listed.
FIRST HALF: Timbers headed toward the South end.
1st minute—Nagbe plays a pass ahead to Johnson, who dummies it, collects and draws a corner kick. First of the match.
2nd—TIMBERS GOAL! Piquionne with a great run to the back post off a corner kick. He heads it down hard and strong and Hernandez has no chance. Timbers score less than 90 seconds. Hammerheads look stunned.
4th—MLS vs. USL Pro on full display as Nagbe flies past Steres and nearly chases down a ball in the box before Hernandez comes out sliding to grab it. Nervous moments here for Wilmington, which is clearly outmatched early. "GHOSTS OF CAL FC, I BANISH THEE," thinks Caleb Porter (probably).
8th—Hammers with a bit of possession over the past couple minutes, as the jet lag wears off a bit. Most of the action at the middle of the field, as Wilmington looks to work it ahead to Parratt.
9th—Another corner for Portland after Valencia knocks one off a Wilmington defender. Johnson sends it curling into the box for Futty, and the Hammers clear.
11th—Hammers with their first real look as Parrett lines up a free kick from 40 yards out. He sends it to the far right side of the box and Kocic smartly comes out for a big punch.
13th—Alhassan with a pass ahead to Piquionne, who dummies it ahead to Nagbe. He has a quick touch back to Piquionne, but the forward's touch is a bit strong and Hernandez comes out to collect.
15th—Piquionne looking a bit hobbled on the east sideline. But he's a soccer player, so now he's running like a gazelle two seconds later. Timbers taking their time but really dominating the possession in Wilmington's half of the pitch.
17th—TIMBERS GOAL Piquionne again! Another great run to the far post as an un-pressured Harrington sends a great cross into the box. Piquionne again heads it down and into the right side of the net, and it's 2-0 Timbers. This could get ugly.
22nd—Timbers looking for more. Ball played ahead to Nagbe, but it's juuuuust a bit out of his reach. Goal kick coming.
24th—Another corner coming for Portland. Johnson sends it in long and the Hammers clear it out. Portland definitely has the speed on the edges, and coming down the sideline each time is hardly a race at all.
25th—Hammerheads will make a substitution. Arnoux enters for Parrett, Wilmington's captain.
27th—Wilmington almost makes the Timbers pay after a errant pass by Johnson is cut off. Hammers with a nice bit of ball movement and it eventually finds its way to Steres, who one-touch blasts it just left of the goal. Best chance of the night there for the visitors.
29th—Harrington called for handball about 35 yards out as he tried to defend a counter. Elenio lining it up.
30th—Elenio sends it low and through the pack and it gets inside the six-yard box before Portland clears. It goes ahead to Harrington who plays a ball ahead to Trencito. Utterson will get there first, however, and it'll be a goal kick for the Hammers.
33rd—Valencia called for a handball at the top of the 18 after another Harrington cross. Wilmington giving Portland lots of space/respect until the danger reaches the final third. Basically hanging on for dear life.
34th—TIMBERS GOAL Hat trick for Piquionne! He uses his foot this time. Alhassan chips one into the box and Piquionne controls then half-volley strikes it low and to the right. Hernandez gets a piece of it, but not enough. Timbers lead 3-0.
37th—Hammers nearly score on a corner kick! Close call there as Steres heads one down strong right in front of Kocic, who lets it go through his legs before basically sitting on it for the save. Great chance there for Wilmington, who's looking to pull one back as Portland relaxes into a three-goal lead.
38th—Another great chance for Wilmington(!) as a Hammerhead again heads one in front, but Kocic makes a great save. A couple testy moments for Portland, as Wilmington tries to put this match back within reach.
42nd—Johnson sends a free kick into the box and Piquionne gets a head on it, but it's high. That was close to his fourth goal of the night. Which would be pretty silly.
43rd—Greig gets one in the 18 and makes a good turn before firing one low and left.
44th—Timbers will knock it out of bounds as Piquionne is down and holding his right leg. Trainer is out on the pitch and Piquionne is sitting up. He's on his feet now, but walking gingerly. Porter, meanwhile is screaming arms-crossed at the Portland defense and looking like the coach of a team LOSING 3-0, not the other way around.
Two minutes of extra time ... Alhassan fouled about 30 yards out after some nifty dribbling. Johnson will line it up and send it hard into the box for ANOTHER TIMBERS GOAL. WHO ELSE BUT PIQUIONNE!?! Johnson sends an absolute bullet into the box and Piquionne is there once again to head it down hard and past a diving Hernandez. That's four goals in the half. Wow.
HALFTIME: Timbers lead 4-0. After four goals by Piquionne. Can one man carry that many log slices? I guess we'll find out. The team streams off the pitch, expect Futty, AJ-B and Porter, the latter of whom is screaming at his central defenders. Always coaching, that guy.
SECOND HALF: Timbers with a single sub: Zizzo is on for Nagbe.
47th—Timbers still playing hard, Porter still coaching with the fury of a man with a blueprint in mind. Portland controlling possession in the early going of the second half.
51st—Zizzo comes streaking down the east side and will have a throw-in. Timbers happy to play it back and slowly rack up possession.
53rd—Hammers earn a corner after Harrington chases one down in the corner and is forced to clear over the west sideline Elenio with a strong throw into the box, but Alhassan clears.
54th—Timbers will make their first sub. Rincon comes on for Piquionne, who gets a huge ovation as he walks off. Not a bad little shift for Frederic.
57th—Rincon gets ahead of everyone then plays it back to Alhassan. Timbers play it back and eventually a loose backward pass is picked off. It makes its way to Nicklaw, and he shoots, but right at Kocic.
58th—On the counter, Rincon and Trencito streak ahead dangerously, but Trencito is tripped up by Wallace, who couldn't do much more than that. He gets a yellow card for his efforts. First booking of the night.
60th—Johnson sends a long high corner toward AJ-B, who heads it right at Hernandez. Wouldn't mattered, though, as the official calls it over the line.
61st—WILMINGTON GOAL Nicholson with a beautiful little goal off a corner kick. It comes in and Nickerson chips it to himself, takes a swinging half-volley and lobs it over Kocic's head. A pretty good-looking goal there, and the Hammerheads have something to write home about. They still trail, however, 4-1.
64th—Hammerheads with a sub. It'll be Taylor for Daly.
65th—Valencia gets ahead of the action and appears to have a path to goal, but Nicklaw is there to slide-tackle-knock it away. Timbers will have a corner, and it's Johnson sending it low toward Futty, who heads it low and to the left of goal.
68th—Nicklaw picks up a yellow card after a tackle on Futty. On the restart, Zizzo goes all the way into the corner and sends a nice cross into the box for Rincon, but his swinging volley doesn't connect. Ooooooooh, he'd really love to have that one back. Should've been a goal for the Colombian.
70th—Back to back corners for Portland. The first makes it away to Alhassan, who cuts back inside and fires off a defender. The second is low and immediately knocked away. On the counter, Greig fires from distance, but Kocic is there to nab it.
72nd—Valencia gets into the box and tries to cut back on the defense about five times before firing a shot off a defender and over the line. Trencito tries to do a bit too much there.
73rd—TIMBERS GOAL Futty with a clear header right in front and past Hernandez. Johnson's swinging corner kick goes undefended and Futty makes 'em pay. Timbers lead 5-1.
74th—McKenzie will make his Timbers debut. He's on for Harrington. For Wilmington, it'll be Perry coming on for...someone.
79th—Nice buildup and opportunity for the Hammerheads. Taylor sends a ball in for Perry, who heads it backward but into Kocic. On the other end, a great save by Hernandez after Zizzo sent in a cross for Rincon and after a deflection, the Wilmington keeper is able to smother it.
84th—Trencito with a nifty little flick for Johnson, who pokes one ahead but left of the goal. A decent little chance there for the Timbers, who haven't exactly let up with a four-goal lead.
88th—Ball driven forward and Rincon and Hernandez collide in the box. Rincon looks like he got the worst of it, but he's back on his feet.
FINAL: Timbers win 5-1 behind FOUR GOALS from Frederic Piquionne and another from Futty Danso. The ghosts of Cal FC have officially been banished from The Jelly. Timbers will host Tampa Bay (who beat Seattle tonight) in two weeks.