Gaston Fernandez is making the most of his first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
The Argentine scored two goals on Tuesday, leading the Portland Timbers to a 3-1 win at Sporting Kansas City in the fifth round of U.S. Soccer’s national club tournament.
In the Open Cup quarterfinals, the Timbers will play Seattle at 7:30 p.m. on July 9 at the Starfire Complex in Tukwila. The Sounders beat San Jose in a penalty-kick tiebreaker after a 1-1 draw.
On Friday, the Timbers will see Sporting Kansas City again as the defending Major League Soccer champions visit Providence Park.
Fernandez put the Timbers ahead 1-0 in the 30th minute of the match watched by 11,138 fans at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Kalif Alhassan made a run into the right side of the penalty area and found Fernandez open for a finish from 12 yards out.
In the 57th minute, Steve Zakuani dribbled into the penalty area and drew a foul from Aurelien Collin. Will Johnson converted the penalty kick for a 2-0 lead.
Fernandez’s second goal — and fourth in two Cup matches — was a tap-in in the 68th minute. Alhassan started the play with a quick move on the left wing. He passed to Maximiliano Urruti who darted into the penalty area. Goalkeeper Andy Gruenbaum got a piece of Urruti’s shot, but the ball fell to Fernandez in front of an unguarded goal.
“We came up with a plan of absorbing a little bit and then being a bit more lethal on the counter attack, and I think we did that to a tee,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said.
Kansas City continued to push, and had the Timbers defense scrambling on several occasions. Sporting’s goal came in the 73rd minute when a sliding Danny O’Rourke had the ball hit his right arm. Soony Saad converted the penalty kick.
Four minutes later Alhassan cleared a shot out of the goal mouth on a Kansas City corner kick.
Kansas City dominated possession for significant portions of the match, pinning the Timbers into their defensive third. But the Timbers were dangerous on the counter-attack, and -organized enough defensively to frustrat the home team.
Portland goalkeeper Andrew Weber played a strong game, including three key saves early in the first half. First was a header off a corner kick from former Timber Sal Zizzo. A Dom Dwyer free kick and a chance for Saad in close also tested Weber in the first half.
“I thought we actually controlled the game pretty well without the ball,” Porter said. “That was by design so that they would get numbers forward and then we would hit them on the break.”
With two games in four days against Kansas City, Portland coach Caleb Porter left starting goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and midfielders Diego Valeri and Diego Chara at home.
Jack Jewsbury played alongside Johnson as a defensive midfielder. Rookie Taylor Peay played right back, his first start for the Timbers. Norberto Paparatto started alongside O’Rourke in the center of the Portland defense, with Jorge Villafana at left back. But Paparatto lasted only 29 minutes before he had to be replaced by Rauwshan McKenzie for an undisclosed injury.
For the second time in as many Cup matches, Fernandez played an attacking midfield role. Zakuani and Alhassan were on the attacking flanks, with Urruti up top. Michael Harrington replaced Zakuani in the 65th minute and played as a right wing midfielder in front of Peay. Fanendo Adi replaced Fernandez in the 82nd minute, giving the Timbers an outlet for its defenders on up-field clearances.
Kansas City, which won the Open Cup title two years ago, is without defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi who are playing for the United States at the World Cup.
“We came in here with a game plan, we played well,” Johnson said. “I think it says a lot about (Kansas City’s) depth. They’re missing a lot of guys and they put out a good team and a good fight. I thought it was a great match, really. I think it says a lot about two of the better teams in MLS.”
n Timbers Academy U18s lose — The Portland Timbers Academy under-18 team lost to the FC Dallas Academy 1-0 on Tuesday in the US. Soccer Developmental Academy playoffs in Westfield, Ind. The loss drops the Timbers to 0-2 in group play. The Timbers under-18s are scheduled to face the Charlotte Soccer Academy on Thursday to conclude their playoff schedule.