Timbers U-23s advance to Western Conference final, defeat Fresno Fuego in penalty-kick shootout
VENTURA, Calif. — The Portland Timbers U-23s defeated the top-seeded Fresno Fuego in a penalty-kick shootout, 4-3, in the Premier Development League’s Western Conference semifinals on Saturday night at Ventura College. The match was decided on penalty kicks after the two teams traded second-half goals and finished even at 1-1 through regulation and overtime.
The Timbers U-23s captured their second straight shoot-out win to advance to the Western Conference final on Sunday at Ventura College against Norwest Division-rival Victoria Highlanders FC; kickoff is set for 5 p.m. (Pacific).
Portland will play for the Western Conference championship for the second time in team history. The Timbers U-23s captured the conference title in 2010 on their way to securing the PDL championship.
For a fourth time in the last five matches, the Timbers U-23s battled back from a deficit to earn a result. Defender Evyn Hewett notched the equalizer in the 80th minute off a corner kick by Jose Ribas. Portland’s goal came just two minutes after Fuego forward Tyler Reinhart, the team’s leading scorer, struck for the opening goal after intercepting a back pass by the Timbers U-23s defense.
For the Timbers U-23s, it came down to a penalty-kick shootout for a second straight playoff match. Shooting first, the Timbers U-23s took an early lead, making their first four penalty kicks, while the Fuego missed on its second attempt. Both teams missed their fifth and final attempts, giving the Timbers U-23s the 4-3 shoot-out victory.
The Timbers U-23s defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23 on Tuesday in a penalty-kick shootout in a divisional playoff match to reach the conference championships.
Fresno, which finished with the best regular-season record in the Western Conference at 11-1-2 (35pts), suffered just its second loss of the season.
The Timbers U-23s will face Highlanders FC, which defeated the Ventura County Fusion, 3-2, in the other semifinal matchup Saturday, in the Western Conference finals. It will be the third meeting between the two Northwest Division teams this season. The Timbers U-23s and Highlanders FC split their two meetings during the regular season, with each team winning on the road.
Sunday’s winner will advance to the PDL championships, which will take place Aug. 2-4, featuring the four conference champions from across the league at a site to be determined.