Best in west: Timbers wrap up Western Conference regular-season title
PORTLAND, Ore. - The Portland Timbers took home the Western Conference regular-season crown with an emphatic 5-0 shutout of the Puerto Rico Islanders before 6,523 Thursday night at PGE Park.
It marks the first time the Timbers (17-7-2, 53pts) will finish the regular season on top of their conference as an A-League franchise, clinching the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, which begin Wednesday, September 1 at PGE Park against an opponent to be determined.
With two games remaining until the postseason, the Timbers are perhaps the hottest team in the league, extending their unbeaten streak to eight games for their longest such run in four seasons.
Bayard Elfvin got goals from five different players.
The Timbers got things rolling when Scott Benedetti centered the ball from the near corner in the 18th minute to Edwin Miranda, who launched it into the back of the net for the 1-0 Portland lead.
It was Miranda’s first goal of his professional career.
Byron Alvarez tacked on a goal of his own in the 39th when he took a pass from Brian Winters and slid a perfect touch off the outside of his right foot and into the right side of the goal, making it 2-0.
Alvarez continued to give the Islanders fits in the 42nd, as he broke free from the Puerto Rico defense and was yanked down from behind by Chris Gores, who was ejected and the Islanders were left to play a man down for the remainder of the match.
Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar put on a clinic in the 64th, weaving his way through three Puerto Rico defenders en route to an unassisted goal, his fifth on the year.
Alcaraz-Cuellar has scored a point in six consecutive matches during the Timbers’ unbeaten streak.
The Timbers upped the score to 4-0 when Benedetti ran onto a ball from Alcaraz-Cuellar and sailed it into the upper-left corner of the net.
Fadi Afash topped off the scoring in stoppage time, heading down a great cross from Scot Thompson past Puerto Rico goalkeeper Michael Ueltschey.
Mauricio Salles gave the Islanders (5-16-6, 21pts) their only real chance at a goal early in the first half, zeroing a long shot over the crossbar.
The Timbers next play host to the Minnesota Thunder in a nationally televised match on Fox Sports World on Friday, Aug. 27. Kickoff is 8 p.m.
TIMBERS NOTES: Tickets for the first Timbers playoff game go on sale Monday, Aug. 23 … next Friday’s match against Minnesota at PGE Park is Oregon Youth Soccer Association Night, featuring post-game fireworks … defender Lee Morrison sat out with a red card suspension drawn last week at Minnesota … defender Aaron Heinzen, who is finished for the season after having surgery on his left ankle, will share the broadcast booth with Andy McNamara as color analyst for the remainder of the year.
SCORING SUMMARY: Miranda, 18’ (Benedetti); Alvarez, 39’ (Winters); Alcaraz-Cuellar, 64’ (Winters); Benedetti, 75’ (Alcaraz-Cuellar); Afash, 90’ (Thompson).
PENALTY SUMMARY: PR Rivera, YC (39’), Gores, RC (42’); POR Elfvin, YC (55’), Winters, YC (61’).
LINEUPS: PUERTO RICO (5-16-6) Ueltschey GK, Ortiz D (Toal 86’), Zuleta D, Gores D, Rivera D, Deering M, Maliza M, Da Silva M, Garay M (Astondoa 27’), Salles F, Diaz Arce F; PORTLAND (17-7-2) Elfvin GK, Wilkinson D, Henning D, Thompson D, Alcaraz-Cuellar M, Winters M (Arzate 86’), Benedetti M, Miranda M, Sagare M, Alvarez F (Afash 72’), Gordon F (Antoniuk 78’).