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Highlanders Rally Past Fusion
Will face Timbers U-23s in Western Conference Final

Saturday, July 27, 2013

VENTURA, Calif. -- The Victoria Highlanders FC defeated the Ventura County Fusion 3-2 after extra time on Saturday in the PDL Western Conference Semifinals. The victory pushes the Highlanders into the Western Conference Final for the first time in team history, where they will meet the Portland Timbers U-23s, who defeated the top-seeded Fresno Fuego 4-3 in a penalty shootout in the second semifinal after the two teams finished tied 1-1 after extra time.

Photo courtesy Ventura County StarThe scoring was opened early by the hosting Fusion. A foul on Highlander Riley O’Neill was waved off and the Fusion's Kennedy Chongo was able to capitalize in the sixth minute. Victoria goalkeeper Elliot Mitrou was kept busy in the first half and made a big save in the 19th minute to limit Ventura County’s lead to one. Two minutes later, on a Highlanders’ counter-attack, Brett Levis was taken down in the box and a penalty kick was awarded to Victoria. O’Neill, whose footprints were already all over the game, came in and confidently placed it into the bottom right corner of the net.

With the score knotted at one apiece, the Fusion were able to put on some pressure. Fusion Defender Harrison Delbridge took a knock down in the 33rd minute and was helped off the field and was kept off due to a nagging cut.

The Fusion were able to regain the lead in the 44th minute after lengthy neutral zone play as Chongo’s cross from the wing was put home by midfield John Lopez on a clean volley. Ventura County were able to take the lead into the locker room and neither team was able to come out for the second half with too much force. Tarnvir Bhandal received a caution after holding Chongo back in the 56th minute. At this point Craig Gorman came in for Cam Stokes. Two minutes later Riley O’Neill received a caution of his own.

Victoria managed to hit back on the hour-mark as Levis continued to play a major role in the contest. The 18-year-old sent a blast from 25 yards out that went into the top corner to pull his side back on level terms.

Chongo continued to be a threat but had his next good opportunity called offside in the 66th minute. Mitrou was taken down in the 81st minute, prompting the Highlanders Athletic Therapist to come on field to tend to the ‘keeper. Mitrou would remain in net for the remainder of the match, picking up a caution in the 88th minute for dissent. The Highlanders were unable to capitalize on a corner kick in the 90th minute and the game went to extra time.

Levis broke the tie six minutes into overtime as he broke through the defense and put the ball away to give Victoria their first lead of the match. Mitrou was forced to parry a shot away in order to keep the lead just two minutes later. The first half of overtime ended without many scoring chances for either side.

Ventura County came out pressing in the second half of the additional 30 minutes, but were unable to generate any real scoring chances. Victoria’s Ryan Ashlee was able to make a few key tackles to keep the lead intact as the Highlanders would maintain the lead through the remainder of extra time, sending them through to Sunday's final.

Timbers U-23s Elminate Fuego In Penalty Shootout 

The Portland Timbers U-23s defeated the top-seeded Fresno Fuego in a penalty-kick shootout, 4-3, in the PDL’s Western Conference Semifinals. The match was decided on penalty kicks after the two teams traded second-half goals and finished even at 1-1 through regulation and extra time.

The Timbers U-23s captured their second straight shoot-out win to advance to the Western Conference Final on Sunday at Ventura College against Norwest Division-rival Victoria Highlanders FC; kickoff is set for 5 p.m. (Pacific).

Portland will play for the Western Conference championship for the second time in team history. The Timbers U-23s captured the conference title in 2010 on their way to securing the PDL Championship.

For a fourth time in the last five matches, the Timbers U-23s battled back from a deficit to earn a result. Defender Evyn Hewett notched the equalizer in the 80th minute off a corner kick by Jose Ribas. Portland’s goal came just two minutes after Fuego forward Tyler Reinhart, the team’s leading scorer, struck for the opening goal after intercepting a back pass by the Timbers U-23s defense.

For the Timbers U-23s, it came down to a penalty shootout for a second straight playoff match. Shooting first, the Timbers U-23s took an early lead, making their first four penalty kicks, while the Fuego missed on its second attempt. Both teams missed their fifth and final attempts, giving the Timbers U-23s the 4-3 shootout victory.

The Timbers U-23s defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23 on Tuesday in a penalty-kick shootout in a divisional playoff match to reach the conference championships.


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