Timbers U-23s face Fresno Fuego in conference semifinal Saturday
PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Timbers U-23s face the Fresno Fuego in the Premier Development League’s Western Conference semifinals Saturday at Ventura College in Ventura, Calif.; kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. (Pacific).
The other conference semifinal matchup Saturday features Victoria Highlanders FC against the host Ventura County Fusion at Ventura College at 5 p.m. (Pacific). The two semifinal winners will take the field Sunday for the Western Conference title at Ventura College at 5 p.m. (Pacific).
The Timbers U-23s advanced to the Western Conference championships for a second straight season, after defeating Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23 in a divisional playoff match Tuesday that was decided in a penalty-kick shootout. Forward Clark Phillips put the Timbers U-23s up 1-0 with a goal in the 68th minute, but Whitecaps FC U-23 leveled the match with a goal from midfielder Bobby Jhutty in the 83rd minute.
The game advanced to the shootout after the teams remained tied, 1-1, through regulation and 30 minutes of overtime. Goalkeeper David Meves scored the decisive fifth goal for the Timbers U-23s in the shootout, after Whitecaps FC U-23 missed on its fifth attempt.
Under head coach Jim Rilatt, the Timbers U-23s have reached the Western Conference championships for a third time in the last four seasons. Portland has qualified for the postseason in four of their first five seasons in the PDL and became the league’s first undefeated champion in 2010, with a perfect 20-0-0 record through the regular season and playoffs.
The Timbers U-23s, second-place finishers in the Northwest Division, face the Southwest Division-champion Fuego for the first time. The semifinal matchup features the two best defensive teams in the Western Conference in 2013. Portland finished the regular season having allowed the fewest goals in their division (12) and second-fewest in the conference only to Fresno (8).
Meves finished the regular season tied for third in the PDL with six shutouts and fifth in the league with a 0.85 goals-against average.
The Fuego assembled an 11-1-2 (35pts) record during the regular season, one of the best records in the entire PDL. Fresno had a 13-match unbeaten streak come to an end in their regular-season finale July 21 as the team fell 1-0 to LA Misioneros FC on the road in its only loss of the season.
The Fuego also led the Western Conference in goal-scoring, tallying 32 goals in 14 matches during the regular season. Forward Tyler Reinhart paced the team with six goals and six assists, finishing the regular season tied for fifth among the league’s assist leaders.