(DUDLEY FIELD, El Paso, TX) - Laurenco Andrade tallied two goals and Michael Griego added another as the El Paso Patriots defeated the Portland Timbers, 3-1, in their last home match of the season, eliminating Portland from the A-League playoffs.
Already out of the playoff race itself, El Paso started a mostly local lineup in front of a vocal crowd of 1,735. The team responded early and well.
In the 17th minute, Ciudád Juárez native Omar Carrera, in goal for usual starter Scott Alexander, blasted a goal kick three quarters the length of the field to El Paso's left wing. The opportunistic strike found Andrade, who had a step on Timbers defender Gavin Wilkinson.
With the energy of Carrera's long-traveling kick making the ball difficult to handle, Andrade, Wilkinson and Portland keeper Josh Saunders - off his line to challenge - were all left wondering exactly where it would bounce. But the soft touch of the smooth Brazilian won out, as Andrade finally wrangled the ball to the outside of his right foot, surprising Saunders with a low strike to the center of the net and a 1-0 Patriots lead.
Just six minutes later a hard foul on Andrade near the Timbers area gave El Paso a direct kick just left of center 25 yards out.
El Paso Andress High grad Griego pegged a hard shot through the Portland wall and into the left upper 90 past a diving Saunders, giving the Patriots an unlikely 2-0 lead just 23 minutes into the match.
The El Paso defense also did its job well. Head coach Jesus "Chuy" Enriquez matched talent for talent in negating dangerous Timbers forwards McKinley Tennyson and Fadi Afash, both of whom enjoyed success in a Portland win earlier this season here.
For the fleet-footed Afash, Enriquez had Sidnei dos Santos, the Brazilian Shadow, who matched his mark move for move.
For the straight-ahead strength of Tennyson, there was veteran Guillermo McFarlane, El Paso's hard man for the vast majority of the franchise's 13 seasons.
Both did their jobs well, forcing Timbers coach Bobby Howe to substitute for the pair in the 65th minute.
One of Howe's subs made things interesting just eight minutes after entering the match.
Byron Alvarez, the native of Mexico so grateful to the Timbers organization for sticking with him after immigration politics nearly ended his season, snuck by El Paso's defense in the 73rd minute, planting a perfectly-struck ball low and far post past a diving Carrera, and giving his team new life.
But the Patriots unplugged Portland's oxygen tent in the 83rd minute, using another long ball to set up their final score.
Andrade and Griego combined for this one, as Andrade took the long kick from the edge of the El Paso defensive third with his back to the net. Turning in, he dished it to Griego on his right wing, who then deftly touched his own leading pass, finding Andrade in stride to drive home the final strike of the final home match.
With only one match left to play - next Friday, hosting El Paso - Portland (14-11-2, 44 points) is now unable to catch up to idle Vancouver (14-6-7, 49 points) in the Pacific Division race.
El Paso (9-14-3, 30 points) also has one more opportunity to play spoiler in the Pacific Division race.
Although assured of a playoff berth, Seattle (15-7-5, 50 points), which lost tonight, 2-1, to Central Division-leading Minnesota, keeps a precarious hold on the top spot with one match to play - at home next Sunday against El Paso, in both teams' final game of the season.
EL PASO 3, PORTLAND 1
El Paso 2-1-3
Scoring: ELP Andrade (Carrera, 17), ELP Griego (23), POR Alvarez (73), ELP Andrade (Griego, 83).
PORTLAND: Josh Saunders, Nick Downing, Gavin Wilkinson, Aaron Heinzen (50, Jason Melendez), Hugo Alcaraz, Brian Winters, Scot Benedetti, Jake Sagare, Lee Morrison, Fadi Afash (65, Manuel Brasil), McKinley Tennyson (65, Byron Alvarez).
EL PASO: Omar Carrera, Sidnei dos Santos, Guillermo McFarlane, Carlos Martinez, Junro Narita, Santiago Pinedo, Mario Garcia, Javier Carrazco (69, Jose Diaz), Jose Abarca (90, Daniel Casteñeda), Mike Griego (84, Omar Mora), Laurenco Andrade.
Shots: POR 2-3-5, ELP 4-4-8. Saves: POR 1-0-1, ELP 0-1-1. Fouls: POR 4-3-7, ELP 6-6-12. Offsides: POR 2-2-4, ELP 2-1-3. Corner Kicks: POR 2-6-8, ELP 1-3-4. Cautions: POR Heinzen (50, PI), ELP Garcia (88, USB). Officials: Jesse Johnson, Jair Marrufo, Ian Glasgow, Andrew Gage. Attendance: 1,735.