Before a weeknight crowd of over 2,200 at AB Soccer Park Wednesday night, Mike Ambersley scored a hat trick and Alec Dufty recorded another clean sheet to chop down the Portland Timbers, 3-0. AC St. Louis ties the season series with Portland at 1-1-1, with Ambersley scoring all four of the team’s goals against the Timbers. The Timbers return to AB Soccer Park on Saturday, August 14th for the fourth and final meeting between the two USSF D2 clubs. The victory ties AC St. Louis for fourth place in the NASL Conference with Crystal Palace Baltimore, each with 19 points on the season.
After returning from a four game road trip that saw the team go 1-2-1, AC St. Louis began a five game home stand with their matchup with Portland, and definitely got off on the right foot. The young Saints ended Portland’s five game unbeaten streak, but not without some challenges. Early on, Dufty made a point-blank save on a shot by the Timber’s Derek Gaudet, and Gavin Wilkinson’s squad seemed to have a fair run of play. But in the 25th minute, Mike “Goal Getter” Ambersley got free to the left of the Timbers’ goal and beat MLS veteran Steve Cronin. Two minutes later, Ambersley struck again, gathering a long kick from Dufty and lobbing the ball over Cronin, who had come out of goal to stop the play.
AC St. Louis was up 2-0, barely halfway through the first half, but the Timbers continued to press. They tried working the ball over the top to the dangerous Bright Dike, but he was bottled up by the swarming and physical AC St. Louis defense, only getting off two shots in the game. Ryan Pore, the leading scorer in USSF D2, got touches on the left flank, but was thwarted by the defense, and wasn’t nearly as threatening as usual. The Duftman in goal made a great save on a late first half shot by Portland’s George Josten, getting his hand on a low ball bound for goal. AC St. Louis took a 2-0 lead into the locker room at half, but not before losing defender Zach Bauer with a hard knock. Bauer was replaced by midfielder Collen Warren, newly acquired on loan from Real Salt Lake. Captain Jack Traynor also took a blow to the chin and had to exit to the locker room right before intermission, but he was able to return in the second half.
Wilkinson changed his lineup for the second half, bringing in Rodrigo Lopez and Quavas Kirk for Gaudet and Steve Purdy, respectively on the humid evening, but Ambersley put the game out of reach with his third goal of the night, scoring in the 57th minute off a rebound from a Troy Cole shot. Both coaches emptied their benches as the heat and physical play wore on each squad. Wilkinson brought in James Marcelin, Takayuki Suzuki and Doug DeMartin, and AC St. Louis coach Dale Schilly subbed in Ryan Moore, Anthony O’Garro and Elvir Kafedzic. AC St. Louis outshot Portland 14-11, with 6 shots on goal to the Timbers’ 3. although the visitors amassed seven corner kicks to only three for AC St. Louis.
It was a big win for Dale Schilly and his AC St. Louis squad. This was their second home win in a row by a 3-0 score. Although AC St. Louis did not dominate the run of play the way they were able to on July 10 here against Montreal, to shut down offensive threats like Pore and Dike was a credit not only to Dufty but the entire defense. Dufty looked outstanding in goal, confident in his decision-making, with good reactions and the ability to get high in the air to punch away dangerous crosses. Besides earning his sixth shutout in league play, he also got an assist on Ambersley’s second goal. Nice.
But the night belonged to Mike Ambersley, who scored the expansion team’s first hat trick. The Goal Getter is my friend Mac’s favorite Saint. Ambersley isn’t physically imposing or particularly fast, but he’s a bulldog with a nose for goal and has a gritty edge to his play, along with the skill to get shots off in tight spaces. He is a difference maker and a proven game winner. His trio of scores tonight put him in fourth place for the USSF D2 league lead in goals scored, and seventh in the overall points race. Good to see an AC St. Louis player among the league leaders.
This was indeed a tough match, as not only Bauer and Traynor, but Chris Schuler and Brad Stisser also came off the field with knocks. Hope none are too serious. Captain Jack actually had his front teeth cut through his lip/chin, but got patched up and returned to the match to anchor the backline and keep Portland off the scoreboard in the second half. Jack is another player that isn’t a big, strapping guy, but he has a huge heart and throughout this season has been banged up but pulls himself together and goes on. Truly a leader.
Things are looking up for AC St. Louis. Defeating a hot Portland club and climbing up closer to playoff contention is huge. Gauchinho, the Brazilian playmaking midfielder, will be back from suspension for Sunday’s game against NSC Minnesota. Collen Warren and Chris Schuler, the two loanees from Real Salt Lake, have shown well so far and helped the club, and Ryan Moore got off a couple of shots in the game, almost scoring in stoppage time off of a deflection. AC St. Louis have been able to score goals against the Stars, but in both league contests have surrendered late goals to drop points that looked well in hand. Should be an interesting contest. AC St. Louis is now 5-10-4, while Portland drop to 7-6-5 as they continue their road trip Saturday against FC Tampa Bay.
AC Starting Lineup: Dufty, Bloom, Bauer, Schuler, Traynor, Cole, Velten, Cosgriff, Kreamalmeyer, Ambersley, Stisser