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North Texas escape with a close win over Portland Timbers 2

An unexpectedly close affair, a special moment for a star player, and updates on the team’s current roster.

Saturday night, North Texas SC took down the Portland Timbers 2 in a close battle that ended 2-1.

The MLS Game of the Week also featured some better camera quality than we’ve become accustomed to alongside featured coverage on mlsnextpro.com.

After a month featuring back-to-back games in elevation and a two-week bye, North Texas finally made the return home to Choctaw Stadium in Arlington.

Kicking off just before sunset, a well-shaded crowd earned some relief from the 103º F weather, eager to finally see their team play again.

Many of whom expecting a blowout, the one-thousand-plus attendees instead witnessed North Texas scrape by in an unusually close game that featured their 9th different back-line in just 11 matches.

“It means a lot to have all these fans here and definitely motivates me to play better,” said Alejandro Araneda who earned an assist on the day. “Before the game, Pa told me that I was going to get an assist today... it meant a lot and I ran to the bench to Pa right away.”

After connecting with José Mulato for the game’s first goal, Araneda ran over to the sideline before embracing Coach Pa-Modou Kah.

A special moment that is emblematic of the confidence Kah has instilled in his players, and the bond that is shared between the team.

At the same time, however, Mulato celebrated his 3rd goal of the season a bit differently.

The 19-year-old’s unique goal celebration is usually reserved for those expecting a child, and sources later confirmed that Mulato is in fact a soon-to-be father.

A special moment for the player and the team, congratulations to Mulato.

Mulato wasn’t done after his big announcement, however, earning the team a penalty kick in the 19th minute. Bernard Kamungo would go on to tuck it away with his signature one-hop run-up earning his 7th goal of the season.

From there on, the game went a bit downhill with North Texas barely holding on for the next 70 minutes.

The Timbers would get a goal back in the 43rd minute as it was clear the North Texas players had become a bit too comfortable with their early lead.

“We started off so well, first 30 minutes we were in total control then it got a little sloppy. Not just one person but the entire group from 30 to 90,” said midfielder Blaine Ferri. He continued, “It could’ve been over a lot quicker than it was.”

From bad to worse, it didn’t help with frustrations when in the 92nd minute a clear back pass was called as an offside goal. Kah refused to comment on the play after the game for fear of getting fined by the league.

That said, there were some good takeaways from the game including the call-up of three academy players in Alejandro Urzua, Dylan Lacy, and Mason Grimm.

Kah was especially pleased with the performance of Urzua, who came on for Ferri in the 76th minute.

“He understands when he comes into the game what he needs to do and he’s a very mature player. He showed it today in a little tense game which didn’t need to be tense in my opinion. It’s a game that we should have showed why we in first place and I think the sloppiness and complacency kicked in a little bit,” Kah stated.

Clearly unhappy with the result, Kah could at least find some comfort in his team’s dissatisfaction with how they played.

Nonetheless, the game would finish 2-1 as they hold onto the top spots in both the Western Conference and the league’s power ranking. The boys in red and blue also captured their 4th straight win, despite it coming in an unpleasant fashion.

Here’s a video of the team celebrating their close win including a nice moment between Kah and Mulato:

Where were some of the regulars...

Although the team was happy to call up some well-performing youngsters, it was clear that the absence of five regulars would throw off their momentum.

Star goalkeeper Antonio Carrera, who has allowed only five goals in seven matches this season, has once again been called into the U.S. U-20 National Team. This is his third call-up this season as he’ll be competing in the Concacaf Championship to help earn the U.S. a spot in the U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Tokyo Olympics.

He joined the team alongside Chicago Fire’s Chris Brady and ahead of slightly older Fulham FC keeper Alex Borto. Part of a deep 2004 class for the USMNT, this experience is not only a great opportunity for Carrera but a testament to how much he’s progressed this season.

Nolan Norris, who’s converted to center-back this season, was missing as well. After back-to-back starts for the U.S. U-19s against England and Norway the 17-year-old will be rejoining the team in the upcoming days.

The versatile defender is not only great with his feet but has been playing above his age group all season. Born in Fort Worth, the Texas native has been in the Dallas system since 2017 and will be a prominent part of the line-up for North Texas for the rest of the season.

Also missing from the defense is Lucas Bartlett. The 2022 SuperDraftee suffered a rib injury this past week, and Kah confirmed he will be missing for at least a week or two.

Moving to the midfield, Tomas Lacerda picked up a slight injury just before the game, and although he was a scratch for this match, he’ll be rejoining the roster soon.

The final absentee was Tarik Scott, who earned the honor of being featured in the FC Bayern World Squad. He will be missing from the roster for a while as he’ll spend the upcoming weeks training with Bayern coaches before an eventual matchup against their U-19s.

The program is in its second year of operation after a successful 2021 which uncovered a few stars from around the world. The highlight of last year’s camp just so happens to be José Mulato, whose work with Bayern helped earn him a loan to North Texas from his childhood club of Deportivo Cali in Colombia.