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Seven minutes into Portland’s 0-0 draw against Houston, goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic found himself in trouble.

As Darwin Quintero pounced on a poor back pass from Josecarlos Van Rankin and cut back to face a mostly empty net, Ivacic got down quickly and dove right to parry away the oncoming shot from one of the host’s most dangerous attackers.

Ten minutes later, Ivacic was called into action again, this time against a charging Fafa Picault who got in behind the Timbers back line with no other defender to beat. Once again, Ivacic made the save, using his kicked-out right foot to deflect and slow the ball before diving on top of it.

Those saves –– both in the opening 20 minutes –– were just two of the 14 shots Ivacic faced on the afternoon and key moments in the Timbers scoreless draw against Houston.

“In the moment that we were struggling in the first half [Ivacic] was the one who kept us in the game,” coach Giovanni Savarese said. “He performed very, very well.”

Saturday afternoon’s game must have felt strange at first, for both keepers. On one side of the field at Houston’s PNC Stadium stood Ivacic, while over 100 yards away stood Steve Clark, who the Slovenian keeper trained with ever since he arrived in Portland in 2019.

Since Clark departed to Houston shortly after last season’s MLS Cup, Ivacic has started every game for the club and has been called upon frequently. On Mar. 6, he faced 25 shots and made five saves in Portland’s 1-1 draw against LAFC. He made five saves on opening night in the Timbers’ 2-2 draw against New England. Last week, Ivacic became just one of two keepers to save a penalty kick this season when he denied Vancouver’s Cristian Dájome in another five-save outing.

In his 14th-career MLS start on Saturday, Ivacic faced plenty of danger, but stepped up time and time again to make another direct impact on the score line of a game that at times felt more like a track meet.

“Some of the saves [Ivacic] put in today were moments in which we could have been penalized,” Savarese said. “Those saves kept us in the game. He’s showing his quality, he’s showing that he is maturing and we saw that fully here in Houston.”

Out of Ivacic’s four saves, arguably his most jaw-dropping came in the 65th minute. As Quintero's whipped-in cross made contact with Fafa Picault’s head inside the box, the ball seemed destined for side netting.

“Practically, I saw the ball going in,” Savarese said.

So, too, did Houston’s TV broadcaster who instinctually called it a goal over the air until he realized that Ivacic managed to get his left hand on a ball that bounced directly in front of him and push it off the far post. When asked about the save after the game, the keeper said that he just waited for the striker to make his move as he held his ground.

That was the type of day it was for Ivacic, whose performance kept his team in striking distance throughout the 90 minutes. Unfortunately, the Timbers couldn’t capitalize on their handful of opportunities missed finishes prevented them from stealing all three points from Houston for a second-consecutive visit.

While Portland’s attack couldn’t find the goal it needed to reward its keeper’s performance with all three points, Ivacic showed for a second-consecutive week why Savarese and the Timbers’ have put their faith in him.

“Those saves were important,” Ivacic said, “but I don’t want to talk too much about me. I’m just happy that I helped the team.”