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El Paso 1, Portland 1


There may be nothing new under the sun when it comes to entertainment of any sort. Hollywood -- and even the world of sports -- has served a lot of the same plots to us over and over again.

That said, there's still something about a well-acted thriller, even when you know the ending.

Even with a new coach, the El Paso Patriots once again snatched a tie from the jaws of victory-slash-defeat-slash-pretty much every match, this time against the Portland Timbers, 1-1.

However, this one had the ring of something different. It was an entertaining end-to-end match enjoyed by the nearly 2,000 in attendance at historic Dudley Field. What made it even more satisfying was the fact that it wasn't supposed to be entertaining at all.

While it was a hard-pressed and hard-pressing Portland team that took the initial lead, the Patriots, too, had numerous quality chances, finally capitalizing on one late in the contest.

This one went from one goal line to the next from the beginning, though, and even without scoring a goal, the Patriots' Energizer Bunny was El Paso's own Omar Mora.

In just his third week back from C.D. Zacatepec -- where he inexplicably gained weight while contributing to that team's run deep into the playoffs -- Mora looked dangerous for the first time in a still-tight Patriots uniform.

Mora's ball-handling skills were in full evidence against the aptly-named Timbers, and his shot was a rocket all night long, keeping Portland goalkeeper Matt Napoleon honest every time he touched the ball near the box, as did the rest of a fired-up Patriots squad.

El Paso came into the fracas having given up six goals in their last two matches while losing both the matches and their head coach, Milton "Tita" Queiroz.

The Patriots replaced Queiroz with local youth coach Miguel Angel Murillo while elevating assistant Jesus "Chuy" Enriquez's status, too.

Compared to Portland, though, El Paso might consider themselves fortunate they only had to hire a coach. After nothing but five losses with only one goal scored -- a penalty, no less -- the Timbers were about ready to hire a witch doctor to rid opponent's nets of voodoo.

Turns out all Portland needed was a real doctor and a bit of tonic from an old friend.

After an injury-plagued preseason the Timbers finally got healthy. They also finally got to see what they shelled out their money for in last season's D3 Player of the Year Fadi Afash, hobbled by an ankle injury before the season even started.

Afash started the match by showing his coach Bobby Howe that he hadn't wasted his money, challenging the Patriots defense with runs into the box and displaying moves that must have had El Paso wondering if he'd really been injured at all.

However, the same Patriots defense that hadn't allowed more than two goals in any home match this season -- no more than one in regulation -- was still able to put the clamps on Afash and an opportunistic Portland attack. Until...

...Howe stirred in the tonic water to complete his cocktail. And a Timbers team thirsting for offense drank up.

In the 58th minute, Howe subbed in hard-nosed forward Greg Howes. The second-leading scorer in Portland's lineup last season, Howes had just wrapped up a season of indoor soccer and had yet to get his "outdoor" legs. Howe had stated before the match that he wasn't expecting Howes to contribute too heavily after signing a contract with the Timbers just days ago.

So much for low expectations.

Howes immediately went to work pummeling El Paso's defense with hard runs from both sides of the field. He and Afash were quite the contrast. Call it "Good Cop, Bad Cop," with Howes taking the role of head-buster.

Where Afash fenced his way through defenders, Howes swashbuckled. Where Afash slashed, Howes plowed. And if the premier of this duo is any indication, Portland may have the buddy movie of the year on its hands.

Finally, in the 68th minute, Howes repeated a move he'd done minutes before to no avail, cutting deep down near the Patriots left post and forcing goalkeeper Jesse Llamas to come off his line to front him.

This time, though, Howes found an outlet as Llamas forced the play, zipping an excellent pass far post to a wide-open Afash, who found himself in front of a gaping goalmouth that might have looked as slack-jawed in surprise as the rest of the Patriots. Afash filled the cavity and Portland had its first lead of the season on its first goal scored in the run of play, and looked like it was headed for its first points of the season, too.

El Paso's offense, though, reduced as the match progressed to a cameo role, had the last entry into Portland's script. Not a lot of screentime, but credit the Patriots character actors -- they made it count.

Led by Mora, El Paso had made some real runs at Napoleon in the Timbers' goal. Renato DaGama, not to be outdone, also utilized his superior skill on the ball to create some quality chances for El Paso, which did look like it had some added offensive spark to it after Tita's dismissal.

Still, they don't call 'em Timbers for nothing. As they have often this season, the Patriots smallish forwards and midfielders haven't been able to see the forest for the trees.

But every once in awhile a good breeze comes along to stir the leaves.

So it was when, after another El Paso foray into the Portland box had gone unrewarded, veteran defender Brent Sancho coughed up a bad clearance in the 84th minute.

Sancho attempted to clear the ball near the top of the box, but Patriot midfielder Saul Quinones' leg got in his way. Quinones controlled the ball, sidestepped Sancho and caught Napoleon flat-footed with a low launch the goaltender had little chance of getting.

The epilogue, as usual when the Patriots have a tie, went a little long. But it was still a very satisfying outcome for both teams. Portland gets a much-deserved and long-awaited point while El Paso celebrated a nice rally with a familiar ending.

Everyone wins. The Hollywood Way.

Many Thanks to News Digger John Zukas who scours up all of the local news links during the year.