High flying, head banging action brought 2,678 soccer fans to the edge of their seats Saturday, at Doc Harris Stadium.
Forced to play the final 69 minutes of the match with 10 men after defender Matt Rose was red carded, the Portland Timbers U-23 Premier Development League men’s team rallied from a goal down to defeat the Kitsap Pumas 2-1.
“It was hard fought,” said midfielder Reed McKenna. “We only had 10 men for most of the game, but we stayed together and we were able to pull it off.”
“We have some pretty competitive players on this team from all over the country who will do whatever it takes to overcome adversity,” said goalkeeper Brendan Moore.
Kitsap forward Pat Kelly put the Pumas on the board first with a goal in the 12th minute. McKenna netted his first goal of the season for Portland to tie the game with a minute before halftime. A shot by Timber forward Kharlton Belmar hit the post, but McKenna was right there for the rebound and redirected the ball into the net with his head.
“It was right place, right time,” McKenna said. “We work hard on set pieces. I know if I can get into a good position, I’ll have an opportunity to score a goal. It doesn’t always happen, but you do it every time and maybe you get one a game.”
The Timbers survived an onslaught of fast breaks and shots by the Pumas in the second half. Moore leaped up and sprawled out to make several acrobatic snags and blocks.
“Whatever happens, I can’t let this ball go into the net,” the goalkeeper said to himself as he flew through the air.
When Portland needed an 11th man, McKenna said they listened for the fans. The majority of them were youth soccer players participating in the Clash at the Border tournament throughout Camas, Vancouver, Hockinson and Portland, Ore.
“When you’re running after the ball and you hear them yelling, it makes you want to push a little harder, get a little stronger and go a little faster,” McKenna said. “It might have been the difference. This game was that close.”
The Timbers gained the lead in the 77th minute on a header goal by Belmar. Defender Hugo Rhoads tossed the ball into the box from out of bounds and Belmar flicked it into the net.
“I had my eye on the ball and headed it back. Next thing I knew, I heard the crowd cheering,” Belmar said. “We were battling. [Kitsap] had not lost before, so we knew it was going to be a fight ’til the end. Getting that goal down a man was huge.”
Belmar has scored six goals for Portland in the last four matches. He leads the team with eight goals this season.
“I’ll remember the final whistle, for sure,” Belmar said. “We fought so hard for this win.”
Kitsap (6-1-4) remains in first place in the Western Conference. Portland (4-4-3) moves up to fourth place with three games left to play. After failing to gain a victory in their first seven matches, the Timbers have won four games in a row and still have a shot at the playoffs.
Moore thanked Camas for providing an exciting atmosphere to play soccer in. He also offered advice for the younger players in the crowd.
“It’s a roller coaster. There are highs and there are lows,” Moore said. “When you reach a low point, remember that the next high is just around the corner. Just stick with it.”