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Friday, May 1, 2009

Finishing touches lacking as Carolina ties Portland

Posted by on Fri, May 1, 2009 at 2:35 PM

click to enlarge Amir Lowery in the thick of green things in Portland (photo by Craig Mitchelldyer)
  • Amir Lowery in the thick of green things in Portland (photo by Craig Mitchelldyer)

USLLIVE/ WEB—Although the RailHawks are now in command of the league table with 10 points in four outings, it’s a bit worrisome that they've scored only four goals in four games. Fortunately, an airtight defense, led by the central trio of Mark Schulte, Jack Stewart and Amir Lowery, hasn't given up a goal since the season opener against Minnesota. Schulte and Lowery, furthermore, have played every minute of the season, with Stewart just a half-hour behind.

Last night, with a perfect nine points in three games, the RailHawks went to Portland for the first of two fixtures against the Portland Timbers. In a hard-fought, foul-heavy contest, the apparently tiring ’Hawks held off their hosts in the second half to escape with a point for the 0-0 draw.

The ’Hawks dominated possession in the first half (what we were able to see, for the USL Live feed was down, but that's another story), firing 11 shots to Portland's seven. Both keepers were in good form, however. Carolina's Caleb Patterson-Sewell turned away a couple of dangerous shots in the second half as Portland seemed to find their rhythm in possession.

RailHawks coach Martin Rennie showed a different mix of players. First off, striker Sallieu Bundu, after starting the first three games and scoring a goal, wasn't named to the lineup at all. Gavin Glinton started up top, and Ukrainian striker Andriy Budnyy took a place on the bench in his first lineup appearance. Kupono Low returned to the midfield, replacing an ailing Brian Plotkin. Matt Watson made his first appearance in a lineup this year, coming on for Daniel Paladini in the 61st minute. Surprisingly, Devon McKenney, returning from a one-game suspension, stayed on the bench as Caleb Norkus started at right back, while Jeremy Tolleson, recovering from an injury, made his first appearance on the lineup card, although he didn't play.

Continuing his practice from Sunday's game against Minnesota, Rennie's four second-half substitutions were noticeably aggressive: Watson, Budnyy, Cunliffe and Hamed Diallo—all attacking players.

Although the team's inability to score off numerous chances was frustrating, in the end, getting a point against a tough team has to be considered a positive result. Not only was it the first road game for the squad, but it was also, unfortunately, their first before a large, raucous, highly engaged crowd: Attendance was 8,549, and most everyone in the youthful, exuberant "Timber Army" wore green scarves and stood singing and chanting throughout the game, egged on by the team mascot, a lumberjack wielding the expected horror-movie prop. Portland will take its impressive fan base, along with its team, to the MLS in 2011.

The USL schedule has its share of extreme oddities this year, and one of the milder ones is that the RailHawks will stay in town to play Portland once again, on Saturday at 10 p.m. (You can watch the game, theoretically, at USLlive.com, or if you have Dish or Directv, try looking for the Portland television feed. It was on channel 687 on my DTV.)

Look for Eric Reed to be in the goal and Schulte, Stewart and Lowery to anchor the back. For the Timbers, goalkeeper Chris Seitz, who is on payday loan from Real Salt Lake, should be in the goal as long as the game is being played Saturday. Beyond that, who knows?

Match stats here.

For the Portland-generated match report, click here.

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