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Timbers U23s can't find equalizer in tough loss to Kitsap

PDL SOCCER - Portland miss out on the U.S. Open Cup with Friday's 3-2 loss
by: David Ball Timbers' midfielder Erik Hurtado has the ball go off his head in front of Kitsap defender Mark Lee during the Puma's 3-2 win over Portland's U23s Friday morning at Jeld-Wen.

The Timbers U23 squad caused plenty of nervous moments for the visiting Kitsap Pumas on Friday morning, but couldn't cash in an equalizer down the stretch during a 3-2 loss that cost the team a berth in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

After falling down 2-0 in the first half, the Timbers struck shortly after the intermission when defender Steven Evans launched a long ball out of the midfield - a strike that sailed over a crowd before seeing Brent Richards take a leap at the far past and head the ball past the keeper.

'I saw Brent take off for the post, and I know he wins a lot of balls in the air, so I just wanted to put it close,' Evans said. 'That goal helped a lot, and we kept putting the pressure on them.'

Kitsap seemed to have the game in hand when the Pumas criss-crossed the net a couple times before Robbie Christer put away his second goal of the day, making the margin 3-1 in the 66th minute.

'We got that first goal and it was an adrenaline rush, but they got their cushion right back and that made things harder on us,' midfielder Roberto Farfan, a Centennial graduate, said. 'We got close, but at the end of the day we needed to push harder.'

Kitsap's stroll to victory hit a speed bump in the 72nd minute when forward Bryan Burke was sent off with a red card. The road got rockier when Timbers' Richard Abrego drew a foul after making a long run into the 18-yard box.

Teammate Miles Byass took the penalty shot only to have it blocked by Pumas' goalie Bryan Meredith, who dived to his right and took the ball in the chest. A rebound squirted directly to Byass, who settled the ball quickly and fired a point-blank shot also stopped by Meredith.

'The game was on the line at that point,' Meredith said. 'Facing a penalty shot is never a good thing, and I was a little anxious. I got the first block, and the ball came up on his knee giving me enough time to push out the next one.'

The unlikely back-to-back saves ended up being the difference in the match, as Portland pulled to within 3-2 when Nick Palodichuk found the net in the 80th minute.

The Timbers had several quality chances to force overtime, the first coming when the ball came off the head of a Kitsap defender and floated dangerously toward the top corner. Abrego was in position to finish it, but Meredith jumped in front of him and snagged the ball at the last moment.

Portland's final opportunity came when Byass played a crossing pass over the top, and Erik Hurtado connected with a header that skipped once on the turf before ending up in Meredith's gloves.

The Timbers put up seven shots through the game's first 72 minutes, and matched that total in the short time following the red card, although Portland failed to muster a shot during the four minutes of stoppage time.

The win leaves Kitsap (6-0-1) with a steady nine-point edge in the Northwest Division standings with Portland (3-2-1) sitting in second place. The Pumas travel to El Paso on June 14 for the first round of the 32-team US Open bracket.

Evans nearly tallied an early assist when he sent a rocket shot out of the back, setting up a breakaway chance for Richards, who saw his shot from the edge of the box go just wide in the 15th minute.

Evans also came up with a big defensive play to keep the game scoreless in the early going when he laid down a tackle on Burke to stop a potential 1-on-1 with the keeper.

Christer scored the game first goal in the 20th minute off a cross from the corner by David Gray. The Pumas extended to a 2-0 margin on a goal by Nikolas Besagno in the 32nd minute.

The Timbers almost got one of those back just before the half when Farfan set up for a free kick about 25 yards out, curving a tricky left-footed shot through a crowd and into Meredith near the far post. A rebound came out into the box, but Portland was unable to get a foot on it.

Portland is the defending PDL champions and continues to have its eyes on defending its title despite a pair of early setbacks.

'Our goal is still to be national champs,' Farfan said. 'Things aren't going the way we'd like them to right now, but we're still pushing to get back there.'