“Mark [Sherrod] scored a lot of goals for us last year and we expect a lot of goals from him this year. But I don’t think he scored any as pretty as that,” said a satisfied Timbers U23 manager Jim Rilatt minutes after his team’s 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Sacramento Gold at Jeld-Wen Field. Sherrod, chipped Sacramento goalkeeper Dominic Jakubek in the 78th minute to complete the home side’s comeback after the Timbers trailed 2-0 in the first half.
Max Alvarez was the catalyst for the Gold, pressuring the Timbers from the start and lashing a 20-yard shot past David Meves in the game’s fifth minute. Though Portland controlled most of the possession and had several chances to level the score, it was Alvarez who was the most dangerous player on the field over the first half-hour.
On 25 minutes, the diminutive forward scored his second following a determined effort on the wing by Eliot Chambers. The Gold’s midfielder did all the hard work before placing a square pass into the six-yard box for Alvarez to smash home for a stunning 2-0 lead.
Portland finally regrouped and sought better finishing late in the half, having dictated the pace of the game but failed on the final pass too often in the early going. In the 37th minute, Zach Foxhoven nicked a shot off the inside of the near post and into the net to pull the Timbers back into the game. “It just took one of them to put one in and then we would get stronger,” Rilatt said.
Just four minutes later, Gabriel Conelian forced an errant Sacramento clearance with upfield pressure. While the chance might have been wasted earlier in the game, Conelian patiently controlled the loose ball and fired to the far post. The shot deflected off a Gold defender, wrong-footing the goalkeeper and drawing the score even in the 41st minute.
Jakubek made two big saves at the end of the first half to keep Sacramento even going into half, though Alvarez nearly gave the visitors another lead when his shot in injury time caromed off the crossbar.
The second half was less spectacular than the first as both teams settled in and tried to avoid losing the Cup tie. The balance was with the Timbers though, as they continued to pour forward whenever they turned Sacramento over. Mid-way through the half, Portland ratcheted up the pressure, mimicking Caleb Porter’s first team style and forcing repeated turnovers. Sacramento struggled to get the ball out of its own half at times, yet Chambers and Alvarez popped up on counter attacks when the Gold did clear midfield.
Sherrod, who had been a force in the air all night, finally got a long ball he could play from his feet in the 78th minute. Left back Mitch Laurie’s ball dropped to Sherrod, who had beaten Sacramento’s offside trap. Jakubek came out to challenge but the second-year Timbers forward chipped the goalkeeper, celebrating in front of the gathered Timbers Army.
Portland wasted several chances in the final quarter hour to truly put the game away but misses by Michael Escobar and Anthony Hobbs kept Sacramento in the game until the final whistle. Alvarez almost got his hat-trick in the 84th minute but his free kick skipped just wide to the right.
The Timbers advance to Tuesday’s second round and will host the USL Pro Charleston Battery at Jeld-Wen Field. They host Seattle Sounders U23s on Thursday morning in Portland before traveling to Edmonds, Washington to face North Sound SeaWolves on Saturday, making for quite the first week together.