There’s not much of a history between the Portland Timbers and the Minnesota Thunder; the Thunder, having a skid to beat all skids, taking only their third home game this season, against the first-year Timbers; unofficially the second-highest team (certainly the best off-season shoppers) in the A-League, after Rochester.
Talent, of course, only goes so far, and Head Coach Bobby Howe deserves a great deal of credit putting together a team that has never played before, into the leaders of the Western Conference.
This game had a pair of unfortunate firsts for Minnesota, with forward and team all-time goals and points leader Amos Magee, and Head Coach Buzz Lagos sitting out red card suspensions, during another 0-1 loss against the Vancouver Whitecaps on June 10.
--- First Half ---
On the field the game looked extremely even, with both teams feeling each other out in the midfield. If an edge was to be given in possession, it would be to the Timbers, who also had the best in quality possessions, but with no serious chances to score. Minnesota, on the other hand, with a forward team of Gerard Lagos and Kirk Miller, were more aggressive, and had a few decent, if not spectacular runs into the Portland penalty area, and chances on goal.
The primary difference in the half were one of styles - Portland played a possession-oriented game, holding the ball and trying to build up an offensive movement; Minnesota, more often than not, would send a long ball forward to one of their strikers, looking to catch the Timbers off-guard. Minnesota’s defense was excellent at keeping Portland outside of the penalty area; Portland’s game was in the midfield, an almost 50-50 area of possession.
--- Second Half ---
In years past, A-League teams would pack in the defense and try for the counter-attack when playing Minnesota at the National Sports Center; those days are apparently past. Rookie Kirk Miller created several fine chances for Minnesota, including a run right up the middle of Portland’s penalty area, but was unable to convert. Minnesota had several chances in the second half, and while the possession of the game was still centered around the midfield, with the teams trying to budge past the defenses, Minnesota was able to force goalkeeper Matt Napoleon to work for his salary with six saves on seventeen shots. Fortunately for Napoleon, he came up with a clean sheet.
Not so for John Swallen, who, in the 55th minute made an outstanding save on a shot by Keith Costigan from the top of the six-yard box, only to have the rebound pop right in from by Mark Baena for an easy put back to the opposite side of Swallen, on the right side of the goal. This series was Portland’s only serious goal-scoring opportunity, having made only four shots the entire game, but it was enough to net the game-winner.
Minnesota, who were offensively minded throughout the game, didn’t push up much more than they had, but with missing-in-action forward Johnny Menyonger somewhere in Liberia, and suspended Amos Magee, the attack sputtered as Minnesota’s forwards just ran out of steam.
--- Observations ---
Kirk Miller made a fine first start in the A-League. He has much to learn before he can keep his starting role, but has a great deal of speed, and never seems to stop running - he’ll make a good second-half replacement. Buzz Lagos seems to have settled on Mark Shulte, Kalin Bankov, Don Gramenz and Chris Gores as his back line, and the midfield, in their first game since the trade of Stoian Mladenov, played much more solidly than earlier in the season. Paul Nowak did not play, as presumably his legal paperwork hadn’t been approved.
Weather: 76, sunny
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
Minnesota 0 0 0
Portland 0 1 1
Portland – Mark Baena (Keith Costigan) – 55th minute
Minnesota – 1-John Swallen; 13-Mark Schulte; 15-Kalin Bankov; 20-Chris Gores; 21-Don Gramenz; 17-Aaron Leventhal (3-Nate Winkel, 66); 6-Morgan Zeba; 5- Mike Gentile (4-Matt Schmidt, 86); 16-Steve Armas; 25-Gerard Lagos; 14-Kirk Miller
Portland – 18-Matt Napoleon; 12-Matt Chulis; 5-Gavin Wilkinson; 14-Scott Benedetti; 2-Jeff Clark; 11-Brian Winters; 8-Michael O’Neil (4-Jesus Ochoa, 64); 15-Vadim Tolstolusky; 3-Keith Costigan; 10-Mark Baena (9-Greg Howes, 79); 7-Darren Sawatsky
Shots 17 4
Saves 1 6
Corner Kicks 7 1
Fouls 8 12
Offside 1 9
Portland – Brian Winters (caution) 24th minute
Minnesota – Chris Gores (caution) 33rd minute
Portland – Gavin Wilkinson (caution) 34th minute
Minnesota – Mike Gentile (caution) 45th minute
Portland – Greg Howes (caution) 90th minute
Referee: Cien Asoera
Assistant Referee #1: Sia Rahimi
Assistant Referee #2: Fotis Bazakos
Fourth Official: Jeremy Schroeder