Late Claesson goal lifts Timbers to road win

AUSTIN, Texas – Midfielder Johan Claesson scored his first goal of the season in second-half stoppage time to break a late deadlock and lift the Portland Timbers to a 2-1 win over the Austin Aztex at Nelson Field on Saturday.

The Timbers owned a one-goal lead for most of the match on a 14th-minute goal by forward Mandjou Keita, until Austin found the equalizer in second-half stoppage time. Moments later, Claesson delivered the game-winning strike in the final minute of the match to seal the victory and extend Portland’s unbeaten streak in league play to 14 matches.

With the win, the Timbers move into a three-way tie with the Charleston Battery and Puerto Rico Islanders for first place in the USL First Division.

Keita scored his league-leading seventh goal of the season, midfielder Tony McManus logged an assist and goalkeeper Steve Cronin recorded three saves to lead the Timbers (8-1-6, 30pts).

Second-half substitute Gifton Noel-Williams tallied late to level the score and forward Kyle Brown took a game-high six shots and earned the assist for the Aztex (3-8-6, 15pts), who dropped their second straight match Saturday.

Keita scored the go-ahead goal for the Timbers before the quarter hour mark. A Portland throw in deep in its offensive third was kept alive with a well-time tackle from McManus at the top of the box. He then passed the ball out wide to Keita near the top right corner of the box, and Keita unloaded a shot from 15 yards out that snuck between the near post and Austin goalkeeper Sam Reynolds and into the back of the net.

Forward George Josten had a chance to double Portland’s lead in the 36th minute after battling through a pair of Aztex defenders and earning a breakaway. As he charged into the box, Reynolds left his line to challenge the play. Josten tried to slip a shot around Reynolds and into an open net, but the ball hit off the far post and rolled back into play.

Cronin was forced to make two of his three saves on the night in the opening period. In the fifth minute, Brown weaved his way through a set of Timbers defenders down the left side and found space inside the box. Cronin left his line, and with a sliding challenge was able to smother a chance by Brown from close range.

Midway through the first half, Austin forward Eddie Johnson, the team’s leading scorer, unleashed a shot on frame from the right side of the box that was denied with a quick reaction save by Cronin to maintain the Timbers’ one-goal lead at the break.

The Aztex opened the second half with a pair of chances, including another attempt from Brown inside the box on a pass from Johnson, but his shot in the 62nd minute sailed over the crossbar.

The Timbers regained their momentum and rhythm in the later stages of the second half, and would go on to out-shoot the Aztex 17-14 on the night. Near the 80th-minute mark, midfielders Keith Savage and Brian Farber set up a one-two combo along the right side. Their efforts set up a shot for Savage at the top of the box, but his attempt missed wide.

Midfielder Ryan Pore had a chance to find his fourth goal of the season minutes later, but Reynolds was able deflect the shot wide of the goal on a sliding challenge inside the box.

Down by a goal, the Aztex were able to find the equalizer in stoppage time of the second half. Against the run of play, Austin was able to earn a corner kick off a long ball played down field. On the play, Noel-Williams was able to fight his way through a crowded box to punch in the late goal and lock the score at 1-1.

After the Austin goal, the Timbers pushed the ball up field to McManus on a quick re-start. Claesson then received the ball with space, and blasted a low shot on frame that deflected off the hands of Reynolds and landed in the back of the net as the final seconds of the match counted down. The Timbers recorded their first win on the road since May 24 in Puerto Rico.

Portland continues its road stretch with a two-game series against the Miami FC Blues on Friday, July 17, and Sunday, July 19 in Miami, Fla. Kickoff times are set for 5 p.m. (Pacific) and 3 p.m. (Pacific), respectively.

Notes: Keita has a goal or an assist in each of his last seven matches … Temperature at kickoff on Saturday was over 100 degrees … Defender Takuro Nishimura made his first league appearance since May 24. He had missed the past several games due to injury … Portland is now 2-1-5 on the road this season.

POR: GK Cronin, D Hayes, D Keel, D Knowles, D Thompson, M Suzuki (Pore, 59), M Claesson, M McManus, M Farber (Nishimura, 83), F Josten (Savage, 65), F Keita (McLaughlin, 86)

AUS: GK Reynolds, D Evans, D Bernard, D Marshall, D Alcala, M Harwell (Williams, 59), M Callahan (Caugherty, 71), M McMahen (Holmes, 71), F Silva, F Brown, F Johnson

Scoring Summary:

POR: Keita (McManus), 14
AUS: Williams (Brown), 90
POR: Claesson, 90