Timbers battle Aztex to hard-fought draw at PGE Park

PORTLAND, Ore. – Forward Bright Dike scored his fifth goal of the season as the Portland Timbers played the Austin Aztex to a hard-fought, 1-1 draw before 14,985 at PGE Park on Thursday night.

In a physical contest, the Timbers put the Aztex under pressure from the opening whistle and claimed the lead in the fourth minute on Dike’s goal. Featuring the league’s best offense, Austin responded before the break on a strike from midfielder Sullivan Silva to knot the score at 1-1. Aztex defender Kieron Bernard was sent off early in the second half, giving Portland an extra man. The Timbers out-shot the Aztex 13-6, but could not break through despite giving Austin all it could handle through to the end.

Dike scored his third goal in four games, defender Mamadou Danso attempted a pair of shots and midfielders Alex Nimo and Ryan Pore combined for four shots to help the Timbers (9-7-8, 35pts) extend their unbeaten streak to four games. Portland goalkeeper Steve Cronin did not record a save on the six shots he faced.

The Timbers remain in third place in the USL Conference and regain sole possession of fourth place in the USSF Division-2 Pro League standings, breaking a two-way tie with the Carolina RailHawks.

Silva recorded his second goal of the season, forward Eddie Johnson tallied his fourth assist and goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo logged five saves to help the Aztex (13-5-6, 45pts) open their two-game Northwest road trip with a draw.

In a fast-paced first half, it was the Timbers who broke open the scoring. Pressuring the backline, Dike received the ball from midfield, turned and raced up field. As he pulled away from his defender, Dike forced a one-on-one with Gallardo. From the right side, Dike bounced a shot by Gallardo and inside the left post to lift the Timbers to a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute.

Austin answered back in the 26th minute on a strike by Silva. The ball was played into the box for Johnson, who then quickly distributed the ball back out to Silva just beyond the top left corner of the box. Silva hit a low shot through a crowded box that snuck past Cronin, who was screened on the play, and found its way inside the left stick for the 1-1 equalizer.

Dike attempted one of his team-high three shots in the 15th minute. On a ball played in from the left side, Dike out-muscled his defender and ripped a shot from 15 yards out; it sailed just over the crossbar.

The Timbers had a couple of chances late in the first half to find the go-ahead goal with a pair of free kicks inside the offensive third, including one in the 33rd minute. Defender Ian Joy placed a sharply hit ball from the right side into the far side of the box. The ball landed just beyond a Timbers player and into the hands of Gallardo.

In the 37th minute, midfielder James Marcelin weaved his way through the midfield and set up Nimo for a shot from 10 yards out inside the box. Nimo’s effort was blocked at the last second by an Aztex defender.

Both teams came out aggressive in the second half, as the Timbers and Aztex looked to improve their playoff positioning. Austin nearly found the go-ahead strike in the 50th minute, when Johnson collected the ball in the box and only had Cronin to beat. He couldn’t settle the ball and pushed his shot high of the mark.

The match turned in Portland’s favor in the 56th minute, when Austin’s Bernard was issued his second caution of the night after he clipped Pore in the offensive third and was sent off by referee Maurizio Laudani. The Timbers finished the final 34 minutes of the contest with a one-man advantage.

Portland pressured Austin’s backline for the game-winning goal through the half, but it was a great defensive effort by Danso, which kept the game level at 1-1. Against the run of play in the 63rd minute, Johnson was able to work his way down the left side of the box and draw Cronin off his line. He slipped the ball by the goalkeeper towards an empty net, but Danso had tracked back and cleared the ball of the goal line.

The defender then moved the ball out of the back and started the play which led to a close chance by Nimo moments later. From the top right side of the box, Nimo pushed a left-footed shot just wide of the near post.

In the final minutes of the match, Portland had one last chance to steal the lead. A re-start from near midfield found Danso and forward Takayuki Suzuki on the left post. Both players jumped to get a head on the ball and Danso poked a shot just wide of the goal. The Timbers held a 4-2 edge in shots in the second half, but when the final whistle blew, the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

The Timbers continue their three-game homestand Sunday as they play host to Crystal Palace Baltimore at PGE Park at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $12 in advance and are available for purchase at the PGE Park box office, area Ticketmaster outlets, online at www.ticketmaster.com or by phoning (800) 745-3000.

 

Notes: Timbers midfielder Rodrigo Lopez was issued a red card for a play away from the ball in the 90th minute. He will miss Sunday’s match due to a one-game, league-imposed suspension … During the Timbers unbeaten streak, all five goals have been scored by either Dike or Pore … The two teams combined for eight cautions and two records in the contest … Thursday was Timbers Heritage Night at PGE Park. As part of the festivities, the Timbers played host to the Jimmy Conway Testimonial match prior to kickoff against Austin. The match, honoring former Timbers player and assistant coach Jimmy Conway, pitted a team of Timbers Alumni against the Oregon Select XI – a team comprised of players Conway coached at the youth and collegiate levels. The two sides played to a 2-2 draw. Highlighting the day, Conway scored the equalizer for the Alumni, converting a penalty kick in the second half; Darren Sawatzky (2001) also scored for the alumni.
 
Lineups:
POR: GK Cronin, D Smith, D Purdy, D Danso, D Joy, M Marcelin, M Nimo (Lopez, 64), M Savage (Claesson, 50), M Pore, F Dike, F Muhamadu (Suzuki, 72)
 
AUS: GK Gallardo, D Marshall, D Bernard, D Griffin, L., D Watson, M Sakuda, M Alvarez, M Callahan, M Silva (Watson, 75), F Johnson (Patterson, 89), F Griffin, M. (Brill, 58)

Scoring Summary:
POR: Dike, 4

AUS: Silva (Johnson), 26

Timbers player ratings (as submitted by members of the Portland media; scale of 1-10):
Starters

GK – Steve Cronin – 7.5, D – Ian Joy – 7, D – Ross Smith – 7, D – Steve Purdy – 7, D – Mamadou Danso – 8, M – James Marcelin – 8.5, M – Alex Nimo – 7, M – Keith Savage – 6.5, M – Ryan Pore – 7.5, F – Bright Dike – 8, F – Ibad Muhamadu – 7
 
Substitutes
M – Rodrigo Lopez – 6.5, M – Johan Claesson – 7.5, F – Takayuki Suzuki – 7