Timbers extend unbeaten streak in draw with Carolina

CARY, N.C. – A solid defensive performance, anchored by five saves from goalkeeper Steve Cronin, helped the Portland Timbers extend their unbeaten streak to seven matches with a scoreless draw against the Carolina RailHawks at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday.

The Timbers opened their regular-season ending, four-game road stretch with their third consecutive shutout. Portland’s backline has not allowed a goal in 334 minutes of play and has shut out five of its last six opponents.

Cronin recorded four of his saves in the first half, midfielder Rodrigo Lopez and forward Ibad Muhamadu each attempted a team-high three shots for the Timbers (11-7-9, 42pts). Defenders Ian Joy, Stephen Keel, Ross Smith and Quavas Kirk held strong through 16 shots by Carolina (10-8-8, 38pts).

Portland picked up a point on the road with the draw, but remains in third place in the USL Conference and fourth in the overall USSF Division-2 Pro League standings; the Timbers have already clinched a playoff berth.

The Timbers and RailHawks battled back and forth throughout the contest, with the play through the midfield setting up chances for both clubs. Portland and Carolina combined for 28 shots.

Cronin was called into action early on in the contest, making a diving stop on a low driven shot by RailHawks midfielder Josh Gardner from the left side. Forward Tom Heinemann laid the ball off to Gardner streaking down the left touch line, and Cronin’s out-stretch hand pushed Gardner’s shot wide of the right post and out of play in the second minute.

Lopez had a chance to break the deadlock for the Timbers in the 12th minute. Pressure on the RailHawks backline opened Lopez up for a shot from the left side 20 yards out from goal. He hammered a shot on frame that was punched away by Carolina goalkeeper Nic Platter.

Portland forward Bright Dike’s hard-working effort nearly led to a strike on goal in the 21st minute. The rookie slipped between a pair of defenders and played the ball forward into space near the top of the box. Before Dike could earn the one-on-one with Platter, RailHawks defender Greg Shields tracked back and knocked the ball out of danger.

The RailHawks managed 10 shots in the first half, including a handful of efforts which sailed just over the goal. Midfielder Floyd Franks collected a free ball near the top of the arch and blasted a shot just over the bar in the 17th minute. Heinemann received a centering pass in the 36th minute and ripped a half volley just over the bar from 20 yards out.

Early in the second half, a series of corner kicks nearly helped the Timbers jump on the board, but a pair of timely reaction saves by Platter maintained the scoreless affair. From the right side, Lopez sent in a corner kick which fell at the near post for midfielder Keith Savage. His strike from inside 10 yards was turned away by the out-stretch arm of Platter as he dove to the ground.

Two corner kick attempts later, the play led to a cross by Lopez to the left side for defender Stephen Keel, who headed the ball on frame from seven yards out along the post. Platter was able to fight through the crowd to punch the ball clear in the 52nd minute.

Cronin continued his aggressive play in the second half and, coupled with the backline’s steady efforts throughout the period, held Carolina to six shots. Pressure on Heinemann near the hour mark forced the striker to lift one of his six shots on the night over the goal. Cronin picked off several crosses into the box over the course of second half, ending threats from the RailHawks.

Late in the match, Kirk made a run down the right side and tried to pick out Dike on a run at the near post. Kirk’s low cross was knocked over the end line by Shields in the 80th minute. Six minutes later, forward Takayuki Suzuki set up defender Mamadou Danso for a header 12 yards out. Danso’s effort from near the penalty spot was collected safely by Platter.

The RailHawks nearly stole a goal in the 90th minute. From midfield, Daniel Paladini, who scored the equalizing goal in the previous match up this season between Portland and Carolina, played a well-timed ball up field for midfielder Matt Watson. On a breakaway along the right post, Watson pushed a rolling shot around the arms of a diving Cronin and wide of the far post.

Notes: The last goal conceded by the Timbers was Aug. 26 in a 1-1 draw with the Austin Aztex …Midfielder Ryan Pore, the Timbers leading scorer, was unavailable for Saturday’s match due to personal reasons … Lopez returned to the field following a two-game, league-imposed suspension for a red card on Aug. 26; it was his first start since July 3 … Of the 10 games played in the all-time series between the Timbers and RailHawks, five have ended in scoreless draws.

Lineups:
POR: GK Cronin, D Joy, D Kirk, D Smith, D Keel, M Lopez (Alhassan, 75), M Claesson (McManus, 66), M Savage (Suzuki, 67), M Marcelin, F Dike (Danso, 81), F Muhamadu (DeMartin, 75)

CAR: GK Platter, D Shields, D Low, D Woolard, D McKenney, M Franks, M Gardner (Paladini, 77), M Watson, M Lowery, F Russell, F Heinemann

Scoring Summary:
None