(Charlotte, NC) The Eagles' hopes of moving on in the United Soccer League's A-League playoffs came to an abrupt halt Saturday night as the Portland Timbers eliminated Charlotte with a 3-2 win at Providence High School. The Timbers won both games of the home and home series and also the goal aggregate 5-2. Portland will move on to the quarterfinals to face the Hershey Wildcats, who earned a first round bye.
After losing the series opener 2-0 in Portland Thursday night, the Eagles not only had to win at home Saturday night, but also win by three goals or more to advance in the A-League playoffs. At the beginning of the game it looked as though Charlotte was up for the task. They struck first in the game's 16th minute as leading scorer Dustin Swinehtart took a flick off the head from Jacob Coggins and beat Portland goalie Matt Napoleon from close range for a 1-0 Charlotte lead. Misfortune visited the Eagles in the 23rd minute as Leo Garjardo slipped while attempting to clear a ball out of his won box. The Timbers' Michael O'Neil was there to pounce on the loose ball and poke one into the lower right corner of the Eagles' net to tie the match at 1-1. Already down 2 goals coming into the match, it was a goal Charlotte good ill afford to give up.
Charlotte outshot Portland 9-5 in the first half getting solid pressure and good shots away. The Eagles finally grabbed the lead back in the 36th minute as Joey Johnson, who had just subbed on the field, flicked one by Napoleon for a 2-1 Charlotte lead which held to the half. Defender Ben Parry assisted on Johnson's goal. One more Charlotte goal and the series would be tied at three goals each. Charlotte kept the pressure on in the second half getting good chances but were unable to score. Their shots went wide or they were thwarted by excellent goaltending by Napoleon. As the game wore on the Eagles were forced to push forward, opening a few cracks in the defense and the Timbers capitalized. In the 82nd minute Portland's Scott Benedetti fired home a free kick past Charlotte goalie Dwayne Adams to tie the match at 2-2, and put the Eagles behind in the goal aggregate 4-2. Three minutes later Portland would seal Charlotte's fate as Greg Howes scored and the Timbers claimed a 3-2 win and the series. Charlotte finished the game outshooting Portland 21-13 but Napoleon's 11 saves for the Timbers were the difference.
While the Eagles' inaugural A-League season finished on a sour note, Charlotte had much to be proud of. A team that was picked by almost every A-League prognosticator to finish last in their first season, the Eagles surprised many by their 14-10-2 regular season and their securement of a playoff spot. Along the way Charlotte defeated A-League powerhouses Rochester, Hershey and Richmond, and knocked off the Charleston Battery twice. Charlotte's Dustin Swinehart finished as the A-League's second leading goal scorer with 18 and second leading point getter with 39. Goalie Dwayne Adams also enjoyed a superb season finishing with four shutouts, 13 wins and a 1.41 goals against average. Including playoffs, the Eagles finished the 2001 season with a 14-12-2 record.
CHARLOTTE - Dwayne Adams, Ben Parry, Nate Watkins, Jose Correa (70th - Ben Johnson), Hugo Galeano (70th - Jeremy Sorzano), Leo Gajardo, Ryan Leib, Kevin O'Brien (70th - Matt Miller), Dustin Swinehart, Caleb Norkus (63rd - Jeff Johnson), Jacob Coggins (36th - Joey Johnson).
PORTLAND - (Matt Napoleon, Jeff Clarke, Keith Costigan, Gavin Wilkinson, Michael O'Neil, Greg Howes, Mark Baena, Brian Winters, Matt Chulis, Scott Benedetti, Neil Ryan)
A-LEAGUE PLAYOFF UPDATE: In other opening round playoff action:
MILWAUKEE - NASHVILLE: The Milwaukee Rampage bested the Nashville Metros in goal aggregate 4-3. Nashville shutout the Rampage 1-0 in Saturday's game at Milwaukee to tie the series in goals at 3-3. The Rampage won in penalty kicks 4-2 to take the series. Milwaukee will meet the Richmond Kickers in the quarterfinals.
PITTSBURGH - CHARLESTON: The Pittsburgh Riverhounds stunned and upset the highly favored Charleston Battery with a 3-1 win in Charleston, South Carolina Saturday night. Pittsburgh won Thursday night's game 2-1 in Pittsburgh. The Riverhounds will meet the Rochester Raging Rhinos in the quarterfinals.
SAN DIEGO - ATLANTA: The San Diego Flash leads the series via a 2-0 shutout win Wednesday night in San Diego. The two teams will play Game # 2 in Atlanta Sunday afternoon, with the Silverbacks needing a win by three goals or more to advance.