Young American midfielder Luis Gil made his USSF D2 league debut for AC St. Louis Saturday night as a second half substitute, but the Portland Timbers’ Bright Dike spoiled the talented Californian’s debut by scoring the games’ only goal, giving Portland a 1-0 win and a big three road points at AB Soccer Park. Gil was acquired days ago on loan to AC St. Louis from Real Salt Lake, and is one of the most promising talents in American soccer. The U-17 American international will turn just 17 years old in November. Portland takes the season series from AC St. Louis by winning twice against the expansion team, drawing once and losing on their last visit to the Gateway City, courtesy of Mike Ambersley’s hat trick.
On a very hot, humid evening, the two teams battled hard, and tempers flared on both sides right out of the gate. Portland’s Alex Nimo and Saints’ captain Jack Traynor both received yellow cards in the 7th minute, but the physical nature of the contest did not diminish. Portland had the better scoring chances early, but AC St. Louis goalkeeper Alec Dufty was strong in goal and kept Portland off the scoreboard, despite facing ten Portland shots in the first half alone. AC St. Louis had a shot by former Timber Luke Kreamalmeyer miss the frame in the 36th minute, and Dike a shot wide three minutes later. In the 41st minute, though, Dike came through for Coach Gavin Wilkinson’s team, beating Dufty to score his fourth goal of the season. Dike, who scored a great goal Wednesday against NSC Minnesota, is becoming an offensive force. The young forward from Notre Dame is taking some of the scoring burden off of midfielder Ryan Pore, who leads USSF D2 with 12 goals. Keith Savage got the assist on Dike’s goal in his second start of the season.
AC St. Louis sharpened their level of play in the second half, forcing Timbers’ goalkeeper Steve Cronin into making six saves, but were unable to equalize. AC St. Louis’s Chris Salvaggione had a couple of second half chances, including a great opportunity to knot the score when Kreamalmeyer’s low cross across the box was just slightly behind him. Mike Ambersley also had a headed shot from defender Tim Velten that Cronin was able to hold onto. Ambersley, who scored four of his six league goals against Portland this season, was held in check by the Timbers tough backline quartet of Steve Purdy, Ross Smith, Mamadou Danso and Josh Cameron, and AC St. Louis kept Ryan Pore off the scoreboard for the third consecutive time after Pore scored twice in the teams’ first meeting. Portland goes over the .500 mark and broke a four game winless streak with the victory, taking their record to 8-7-7, while AC St. Louis falls to 5-11-6 and suffered the first defeat of their current home stand.
AC St. Louis coach Dale Schilly wasn’t fond of the very physical nature of the game allowed by the officials. “We could not find enough moments to create the chances we needed,” stated Dale Schilly. “The problem is Portland is a very good team, a physical team, and the referee allowed them to get away with some things that just didn’t allow us to play. So when you are in an environment where a referee allows certain things for a physicality side it is just hard for us to be able to compete.”
The AB Soccer Park crowd of over 2,600 anticipated young Mr. Gil taking the field, and they cheered enthusiastically when Gil came on as a 78th minute substitute for defender John Lesko, as Schilly changed tactics and went with a three-man backline to help find an equalizing goal. Gil did not have many touches, but he handled himself quite well and showed poise and confidence, and registered a headed shot on goal late in the contest. I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly after the game, and he impressed as being a quality young man who would make any parent proud.. Looking forward to seeing him gain more playing time after just arriving in St. Louis. Other second half substitutes included Brad Stisser, Anthony O’Garro and Ryan Moore for AC St. Louis, while Coach Wilkinson brought in Takayuki Suzuki, Rodrigo Lopez, Tony McManus and Johan Claesson. Newly acquired Timbers’ Dutch forward Ibad Muhamadu made his first start, teaming with Dike to give the Timbers’ a talented and imposing frontline duo. I also enjoyed seeing Elvir Kafedzic in the Saints’ starting lineup for the first time since being injured in the first Portland match.
Part of the fun of having a home team to root for is the fans, coaches and players one meets. I had the pleasure of chatting with Alec Dufty’s dad, Dave, who made the trip from North Carolina and is an alumnus of the old NASL San Jose Earthquakes. I met some of Ryan Pore’s family, who traveled from Ohio to root for their favorite midfielder. Also met Paul Sepp, a great Timbers’ fan who writes for the excellent blog, Dropping Timber http://www.droppingtimber.com/ . Paul already has posted some soccer-related photos of his visit to St. Louis, and enjoyed the atmosphere at AB Soccer Park (well maybe not the humidity)). Troy Cole, the AC St. Louis midfielder who had to sit in the stands tonight as he reached the five yellow card limit, came over and said hello late in the contest. He was chomping at the bit to be on the field, and will return to action against the Puerto Rico Islanders next week. I also got to speak briefly with Coach Wilkinson following the game’s conclusion. He was quite gracious, and very complimentary of the improved AC St. Louis team. Coach Wilkinson will become the Timbers technical director next season as they enter the MLS, with John Spencer taking over the coaching reins. Finally, hard-working Brad Cleveland of the AC St. Louis front office told me that the AC St. Louis – Puerto Rico Islanders will go on as scheduled next Friday night, August 20th at AB Soccer Park. There was talk of the match being rescheduled because of the Islanders’ CONCACAF Champions League commitments this week, but Brad confirmed that the game will go on as originally scheduled. AC St. Louis will need a result against the Islanders Friday because both Miami FC and Crystal Palace Baltimore gained points in Saturday night action. The Timbers travel to Minnesota to face the NSC Minnesota Stars next Saturday night.
Even though my home team lost, and the heat and humidity at the game were more than I prefer, I drove home afterwards happy. Win, lose or draw, attending a game is fun. Watching professional soccer with other devoted fans, cheering, enjoying the atmosphere and seeing young players develop their talents and wily veterans demonstrate the skills that keep them drawing a paychecck — you can’t beat it. Although I applaud USSF’s efforts to stabilize D2 soccer in North America, I hope the new ownership and soccer specific stadium requirements established earlier this week aren’t so rigid as to discourage existing and future ownership groups and communities from being involved. As much as I love watching televised matches (is filling the DVR with soccer matches obsessive?), having a nearby team that fans can get involved with is the key to growing this sport. Some may see D2 soccer as minor league, but the players, coaching staffs, front office personnel and fans in D2 are major to me.
St. Louis Starting Lineup: Dufty, Bloom, Velten, Lesko, Traynor, Bauer, Kreamalmeyer, Cosgriff, Salvaggione, Ambersley, Kafedzic
Portland Starting Lineup: Cronin, Purdy, Danso, Smith, Cameron, Pore, Savage, Nimo, Marcelin, Muhamadu, Dike