Cal FC's stirring run through the U.S. Open Cup hadn't been all that unexpected -- this is a team filled with pros, remember, even if they're amateurs here, or at least close to it.
But what the Thousand Oaks club pulled off Wednesday night defied belief.
Artur Aghasyan finished a breakaway five minutes into overtime, and Cal FC fended off wave after wave of attacks by the Portland Timbers to stun the Major League Soccer side, 1-0, in a third-round clash at Jeld-Wen Field, a result that shook the foundations of American soccer.
Eric Wynalda's side was outshot, 43-11, conceded 11 corner kicks and dodged more than a dozen bullets to pull off what might be the greatest upset in this country's premier knockout tournament since MLS's formation 16 years ago.
The reward: a showdown next week in Tukwila, Wash., with three-time defending champion Seattle Sounders, which routed the second-tier Atlanta Silverbacks, 5-1, on Wednesday to advance to the round of 16.
"I think we are the ultimate Cinderella story -- that's for sure," Wynalda told reporters in Portland. "A bunch of misfit kids who did something unbelievable. This is what this Cup is about."
Cal FC is the first U.S. Adult Soccer Association team to defeat an MLS club in the Open Cup, although Texas' Roma FC toppled Chivas USA on penalties following a 0-0 third-round draw in 2006. The Galaxy took care of the amateurs in the following round.
Timbers Army, Portland's fanatical supporters group, serenaded Cal FC when it was over with chants of “You deserve it!” and “Beat Seattle!” The game drew 5,489 fans to the stadium a few blocks west of downtown Portland.
Wynalda, a veteran of three World Cups and a star striker in Germany and in MLS, had on his mind the UEFA Champions League final a week and a half ago in Munich, which he covered as a studio analyst for Fox Sports. Chelsea upset Bayern Munich on penalties in that one after being outshot, 43-9, and outcorner-kicked, 20-1.
“Look up what happened with Bayern Munich and Chelsea,” he told ESPN Los Angeles before addressing the media in Portland. “It's the exact same stats. We looked a lot like Chelsea.”
That they did. Like Chelsea, Cal FC wore blue shirts, shorts and socks after playing to this point in 2010 Chicago Fire replica jerseys, in which the primary color is red.
Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson, who has an ongoing Twitter feud with Wynalda, tweeted that Cal FC's victory was an “amazing story.” He continued: “Don't know what to say to our supporters other than I am sorry and utterly embarrassed.”
Cal FC, with nine players who have pro experience, two of them former MLS players and three others with time in MLS training camps, hung in under heavy Portland pressure. The Timbers came close to scoring 15 times, but goalkeeper Derby Carrillo was masterful, making 13 saves, and fortunate: None of Portland's shots on goal were particularly difficult to stop, and the best chances were sent over the crossbar or whizzing past the posts.
His best save was a stunning point-blank stop on Scottish star Kris Boyd just before halftime, but Boyd was flagged offside on the play.
Beto Navarro anchored a terrific backline, boosted to five men by the end, that won dozens of headers following Timbers crosses, got in the way of shots and hampered Portland's ability to get open looks despite spending much of the game surrounding Cal FC's box.
Boyd should have given Portland the victory, but he skied a penalty kick well over the bar in the 80th minute after Richard Menjivar was whistled for a hand ball, then fired weakly at Carrillo from close range after a superb sequence from Kalif Alhassan and Darlington Nagbe in stoppage.
Portland played as close to a first-choice lineup as John Spencer could, given injuries, international call-ups and the tournament's five-foreigner limit, and it was in charge almost the entire game -- and certainly from the 30th minute on. Brent Richards' appearance in the 65th minute amped up the intensity, and he went just over the bar twice in his first three minutes on the field.
Perlaza, Jack Jewsbury and, in the first half, Eric Alexander also fired high, and Alhassan, Jewsbury, Richards and Perlaza also put shots just wide of the mark.
“They could have done a lot better with chances, and they didn't,” Wynalda said.
Aghasyan's goal followed a battle for the ball in midfield, with Danny Barrera, while falling, volleying the ball past the Timbers' pushed-up backline. The former Real Salt Lake forward raced past David Horst to collect the ball, took it to the Portland box and chipped goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who had come well off his goal line.
Cal FC is the sixth amateur team ever to reach the cup's fourth round in the MLS era and the second in as many days. USL Premier Development team Michigan Bucks on Tuesday upset the Chicago Fire, one of eight MLS clubs to lose in their tournament openers.
Hollywood United, then a USASA team, beat Portland in the 2006 Open Cup, when the Timbers were a second-division team. The Sounders then routed HUFC, 6-0.
U.S. OPEN CUP
Jeld-Wen Field (Portland, Ore.)
Portland Timbers 0, Cal FC 1 (OT)
C -- Artur Aghasyan (Danny Barrera) 95
Portland Timbers: Troy Perkins; Jack Jewsbury, Hanyer Mosquera, David Horst, Steven Smith (Freddie Braun, 46); Kalif Alhassan, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Eric Alexander (Brent Richards, 65); Kris Boyd (Ryan Kawulok, 91), Jorge Perlaza. Unused subs: Joe Bendik, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Sebastian Rincon, Chris Taylor.
Cal FC: Derby Carrillo; Hector Espinoza, Beto Navarro, Jesus Gonzalez, Mike Randolph; Diego Barrera (John Alex Caceres Quintero, 52), Pablo Cruz (Paulo Ferreira-Mendes, 72), Richard Menjivar, Eder Arreola (Cesar Rivera, 52); Artur Aghasyan, Danny Barrera. Unused subs: Pedro Ferreira-Mendes, Jordan King, Michael Roca, Makai Werring.
Yellow card: Rivera 101.
Referee: William Niccolls. Att.: 5,489.