By Neil Pierson
Stoppage time was nearly over, and Renan Troccoli had the ball at his feet with only the goalkeeper to beat.
With two defenders nipping at his heels and his chance coming from a slightly sharp angle, Troccoli’s shot rolled past the netminder and went inches wide of the far post.
Instead of the win, Troccoli and his Puget Sound Gunners FC teammates had to settle for a 1-1 tie with the visiting Portland Timbers U23s on June 28 at Issaquah High School.
“I started running really fast, I passed the defender and I nearly scored, but it was on my bad foot, my left foot,” Troccoli said of the play.
“It was a good shot. It just didn’t go in.”
Puget Sound (0-6-4, 4 points) remained in last place in the Premier Development League’s seven-team Northwest Division. But it was an encouraging performance for the Gunners after Portland routed them, 4-0, only nine days earlier.
“It was just night and day compared to this one,” said goalkeeper Ian Lambert, who became the first Issaquah Soccer Club product to start and play an entire PDL match.
“We just collapsed at the end last time. I’m so glad the boys could learn from our mistakes. … We fought to the end. I didn’t think we’d ever let up.”
For the first time in 10 matches, Gunners FC had the chance to protect a lead after scoring the first goal. In the fifth minute, Portland goalkeeper Auden Schilder couldn’t control a back pass, and Puget Sound forward Daniel Gavin swiped the ball and scored into the empty net.
The Gunners had chances to double their lead thanks to some strong crosses from left back Robert Hyams, but were unable to get a finishing touch.
Second-place Portland (6-1-3, 21 points) leveled the score in the 34th minute when Niko De Vera crossed the ball to Jesse Garcia-Aguilar, who had an open look from 18 yards and beat Lambert with a hard-hit shot to the far post.
The match settled into a game of cat-and-mouse, with the Gunners owning much of the possession and the Timbers content to defend and wait for counterattacks.
Late in the match, the roles reversed, and Lambert had to make a couple of key saves to preserve the tie.
The Issaquah High School senior-to-be made a spectacular stop in the 82nd minute when he got fingertips to Todd Wharton’s free kick, deflecting the ball off the post. Two minutes later, he denied Wharton again on a shot from the middle of the penalty box.
Portland outshot Puget Sound 12-11. Lambert made six saves, and Schilder had four stops for the Timbers.
Lambert started for the Gunners in a preseason match, and got a few minutes off the bench June 21 in their 4-2 loss at Lane United FC. But with regular ‘keepers Shane Haworth (knee injury) and Cody Jewett (family commitment) out of action, Lambert got a chance to shine in a key situation.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, so I was not going to get caught sleeping,” he said. “I’ve been mentally rehearsing this for a very long time, and it’s just been a blast playing for the boys. Just amazing to come out and get a good result at home against one of the best teams in the league.”
Gunners FC closes its season with two more matches at Issaquah High School. They’ll host Calgary Foothills FC at 7:30 p.m. July 3 and the Seattle Sounders U23s at 7:30 p.m. July 11. Tickets are available online at www.iscgunners.org.
“No pressure,” Troccoli said of the team’s mentality in matches without playoff implications. “Just like (coach Alex Silva) said, we have nothing to lose, so we’re just going to go out there and play, try to get a couple of upsets.”