RECAP: WEEKEND PORTUGUESE ACTION
Oguchi Onyewu made a victorious return to Sporting's lineup, while Tony Taylor scored for the second straight week and Caleb Patterson-Sewell maintained yet another shutout.
CD Nacional 2-3 Sporting CP
Ricardo Sá Pinto named a largely second-choice lineup in preparation for Sporting's trip to Bilbao for the Europa League semifinal second leg, but the substitutes produced an eventful win in Madeira to keep Sporting's third place hopes alive.
One of the replacement players Sá Pinto called upon was Onyewu, who took the field for the first time since February in Anderson Polga's regular spot in the center of defense.
Another seldom-used player, Diego Rubio, opened the scoring for Sporting in the 12th minute before Renato Neto's 30 yard blast made it 2-0 for the guests in the 31st minute.
Nacional replied just three minutes later, however, when Mateus controlled a cross at the six yard line despite being surrounded by two Sporting defenders and fired past Marcelo Boeck.
The halftime whistle blew with Sporting enjoying the 2-1 advantage and Gooch having displayed impressive sharpness after the layoff.
The powerful World Cup veteran twice made potential goal-saving interventions in the opening stanza, once by making a lunging tackle on Mario Rondon inside the box in the 22nd minute and once by blocking a Mateus shot for a corner kicks in the 29th.
The second half was less convincing by the Onyewu and the Lions, however.
The 18 year old Rubio's day ended in the 59th minute after a moment in which his youthful lack of self control shone through.
The Chilean teenager, already sitting on a caution, deliberately reached out to take down a ball with his hand in a Maradona-esque attacking position, giving the referee no choice but to produce a second yellow.
With the numerical advantage Nacional was able to create more consistent pressure on Boeck's goal, including a moment in the 70th minute in which an awkward Gooch flick went backwards and put his ‘keeper in a position to have to rush off his line.
In the 75th minute an attempted clearance by Xandão deflected off Onyewu and fell directly to substitute Salif Keita who hit a dipping drive past Boeck to level the scoreline.
In the immediate aftermath of the goal though, Nacional's excitement led to a defensive lapse in which the backline lost track of Ricky van Wolfswinkel.
Sporting's leading scorer easily rounded Marcelo, leaving the Nacional goalie with no choice but to take the Dutchman down and give up a penalty less than a minute after Keita's goal.
Van Wolfswinkel expertly placed his spot kick past Marcelo, restoring the Lions' lead.
The win was not truly secured until the final whistle, however, as Boeck had to produce several strong saves on Claudemir, Candeias and Keita in the dying minutes.
With the win Sporting move to within six points of Braga, who sit in third place and occupy Portugal's final Champions League spot.
The Lisbon giants have three games remaining and will host Académica on 4/30. But first they will focus on the Europa League and travel to Bilbao on 4/26.
Moreirense FC 2-1 GD Estoril Praia
A highlight reel goal from Tony Taylor could not prevent Os Canarinhos from dropping all three points on the road to Moreirense in a critical matchup of promotion hopefuls.
Estoril entered the game with a comfortable lead at the top of the standings, but Moreirense's victory brings them into second place.
The home team opened the scoring in the 32nd minute when Castro headed in a free kick from the left wing, but Taylor equalized just four minutes later.
The US U-23 international received the ball with his back to goal roughly twenty yards out before neatly turning onto his left foot and unleashing an inch perfect drive into the top left corner of the goal.
Taylor was paired with leading scored Licá up top and the duo were dangerous throughout, though Ricardo Ribeiro made several outstanding stops to limit Estoril to Taylor's lone tally.
In the 85th minute Bruno Moreira notched the crucial winning goal for Moreirense by converting a cross from Wagner near the penalty spot.
Taylor was replaced by Guinea-Bissau attacker Gerso Fernandes in the 71st minute, and also picked up a yellow card in the 58th.
With three games remaining Estoril hold a five point lead over Moreirense, and Aves sit just one more point back in third place.
The top two Liga Orangina teams will be promoted to Portugal's first division at season's end.
Taylor will hope to continue his scoring streak and move Estoril closer to promotion when Santa Clara visits the Estádio António Coimbra da Mota on 4/28.
Atlético CP 0-0 CD Aves
Caleb Patterson-Sewell's twelfth shutout of the Liga Orangina season secured a point for Atlético on Saturday, ending a four game losing streak.
The tie marks the first point earned by the Lisbon team since Paulo Pedro took over as coach over a month ago.
The game lacked consistent excitement and the final score line fairly reflected a performance in which neither team created many chances.
Strong performances in net from Patterson-Sewell, who has started every league game of the season for Atlético, continue to be critical for an offensively challenged team that has scored just once in the previous five games combined.
The tie puts Atlético in a three way tie for sixth place.
Patteron-Sewell and crew have three games remaining, the next of which is against Freamunde on 4/29.