Open Cup preview: Battery at Timbers U-23s

Open Cup preview: Battery at Timbers U-23s

(Full disclosure: If you didn’t already know it, I’m a Timbers fan. The only circumstance in which I can imagine rooting for the visiting team at JELD-WEN would be the Battery against the U-23s or the Timbers Reserves. And even that feels a bit weird. — dc)

13:20 UPDATE: This should count as confirmation that the Timbers are streaming tonight’s match with Andrew Bell’s radio call:

And here’s news I didn’t know when I filed this article an hour ago:

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Ralph-Lundy-soccer-sponsorship-message2The Charleston Battery entered 2013 with high expectations that included a deeper run in the U.S. Open Club than the 2012 edition managed. Their initial Cup draw doesn’t make that goal any easier.

Tonight the Battery face the Portland Timbers U-23s from the PDL in a Second Round match at venerable JELD-WEN Field in beautiful downtown Portland, Oregon. It’s a venue Battery fans will remember, at least in the abstract, and under a different name, from the Timbers’ pre-MLS era.

If Charleston wins, the Battery will host the San Jose Earthquakes on Tuesday, May 28.

Fan support at JELD-WEN (remodeled to a true soccer-specific stadium in 2011) is among the best in North America. The Timbers sell out every match (just as the Battery will, someday), the Timbers Army supporters’ group in the North End is vocal, engaged and creative, and thousands of fans have paid $100 just to get on the waiting list for season tickets. Midweek reserve matches often draw 5,000 paid attendance. The Portland Thorns of the NWSL put more than 12,000 people in the stands on Sunday. Portland calls itself “Soccer City USA,” and you don’t hear other cities mounting campaigns to claim the title. So it’s not as if the Battery will be playing in front of indifferent, empty seats.

The newly reconstituted Timbers U-23s are undefeated in three matches so far in 2013.

The newly reconstituted Timbers U-23s are undefeated in three matches so far in 2013.

These aren’t the Timbers per se, and that’s a good thing. Under new coach Caleb Porter, the MLS Timbers are playing the best soccer in franchise history. But the Timbers U-23s have been one of the best West Coast teams in the PDL in recent years (the 2010 team went undefeated), and this freshly minted edition is off to a fast start. They didn’t get underway until earlier this month, they’ve only had about a dozen practice sessions, and their first match was a week ago today, when they came from behind in Portland to beat Sacramento FC in a First Round U.S. Open Cup game. Since then they’ve won twice, beating the Seattle Sounders U-23s and the North Sound Sea Wolves.

Here’s the nice thing about playing a team from Portland if you’re me, though. Since they take their soccer seriously in Cascadia, there’s plenty of advance media on the match to which I can link. So instead of having to research the team from the ground up, I can point you toward much better resources. Here’s the Timbers’ page dedicated to their U-23s. Here’s the club’s preview of tonight’s match from the Timbers front page. Here’s a nice little advancer from the wonderful folks over at the Stumptown Footy fan blog, with a headline that captures the task before the Battery: The Portland Timbers U-23s are Fearless. Go read that.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Portland Soccer blogosphere has yet to really pick up on the Open Cup campaign. But if you want a sense of just how seriously the local media take soccer in the Rose City, here’s the local newspaper’s feed of just Timbers stories.

Battery expectations

A few things to keep in mind before tonight’s match.

Kevin Klasila

Kevin Klasila

First, there’s a good chance we’ll see a change in goal. Before leaving for Houston, Coach Mike Anhaeuser said he planned to manage this two-game trip in a manner similar to the Harrisburg-Dayton trip earlier this month, which means there are three reasons to think that Kevin Klasila could make his second start of 2013 tonight. First, Anhaeuser gave Klasila the start in Dayton, where the Battery recorded a shutout. Second, the U.S. Open Cup puts a premium on domestic players — although I don’t this would prevent Anhaeuser from starting Odisnel Cooper, who qualifies under quirk of immigration law. And finally, Kevin’s mother left a comment on the site saying she’d heard he was going to start.

Personally, as well as Cooper has played, I think Klasila would be a great choice for this match. He looked like he was playing with his hair on fire during Friday’s scrimmage, he’s a better communicator than Cooper is at this point, and he’s a fierce veteran presence on the road in a hostile environment against a team that is perfectly equipped to pull off a big upset in the Open Cup.

That said, if I ever figure out how to read Anhaeuser’s mind, no one will be more surprised than I would.

Cody Ellison

Cody Ellison

Beyond the keeper situation, look for a fresh John Wilson at left back. Anhaeuser held him out at Houston just for this match. Another guy who should be bumping up against the rodeo gate tonight is Cody Ellison, the Battery’s big cowboy centerback. He’s serving a three-game USL PRO suspension, so this is the only game he’ll play between May 11th and May 31st.

Right back Mark Wiltse has put his stamp on the position for Anhaeuser this season, but with Ellison available and centerback Colin Falvey the indispensable captain of this team, it will be interesting to see what the coach does with Taylor Mueller tonight. Mueller is a Pacific Northwest guy who was drafted by the Timbers. He can play at both right back and centerback. For the record, Wiltse pitched in at right midfield late on Sunday after Sean Ferguson checked into the lineup. Another guy to look for tonight is left midfielder Jarad van Schaik, who played for the Timbers U-23s in 2009-10.

Open Cup rules limit Anhaeuser to five foreign players (Cubans Cooper and Heviel Cordoves don’t count against that number). But midfielders Michael Azira and Amadou Sanyang both returned to Charleston yesterday (source: Andrew Bell), leaving the Battery with just four foreign players (Falvey, midfielder Nicki Paterson, Dane Kelly and Emmanuel Adjetey) and only 16 men for tonight’s match. Which means, as Anhaeuser said on Friday, that tonight’s starting lineup is going to hinge largely on which players look fit to play the full 90.

Jose Cuevas started against Charlotte and Houston.

Jose Cuevas started against Charlotte and Houston.

That’s not the only reason why I’ll be paying special attention to Jose Cuevas tonight, but it’s certainly a good one. Cuevas played the first hour against Houston, and though his uncanny finishing touch hadn’t yet fully returned, he looked a lot more like himself against the Dynamo Reserves than he did against the Charlotte Eagles. So how did his body respond to his longest outing since pulling his hamstring on April 13? Is he ready to go? Will he be stronger on short rest or a bit fatigued?

Tonight is going to feel like a big game, because, No. 1, it’s a big game for a team like Charleston that values the Open Cup. But it’s also likely to be played in much more of a big-game atmosphere, and with MLS personnel in the stands. So this is an opportunity for big-game players to state their case, and here’s hoping Cuevas and the Battery’s other stars step up and take it.

The game itself

Battery President Andrew Bell will be calling this one live on Sports Radio 1450 AM. If you’re out of range, the station streams Bell’s audio via its website.

If you followed our #streamthematch campaign on Sunday, you know that Timbers owner Merritt Paulson obliquely announced Sunday night that the club would be streaming video from JELD-WEN tonight “only cause I like Charleston.”

So, in theory at least, we anticipate being able to go on the Timbers site tonight at 10:30 and get the raw video feed from the stadium. But so far I’ve seen no confirmation of that change from the Timbers. Battery President Andrew Bell sent an email this morning that said “Live stream tonight with my audio,” but being obsessive-compulsive, I immediately wrote back to clarify whether his audio would be patched into the video feed from the stadium. I haven’t heard back from him yet, but will update this once I do.

Anyway, the way this has come together hasn’t offered much opportunity for us to turn tonight’s game into a Battery fan event, so I’ll be covering things from home. In case you want to hang out online, I’ll be Tweeting as @CHSSoccernet using the game hashtag #CHSvPDX.

TOP IMAGE: That’s a photo I took of JELD-WEN on a return trip to Portland in 2011. You can sprinkle my ashes there when I die. Dan Conover photo.