Late Alhassan goal lifts Timbers over Puerto Rico

BAYAMON, Puerto Rico – A game-winning goal in second-half stoppage time by midfielder Kalif Alhassan lifted the Portland Timbers to a 1-0 victory over the Puerto Rico Islanders on Saturday at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium. The Timbers extend their unbeaten streak to eight games.

Making his first start of the season, Alhassan scored his first goal of the season in the closing moments of the match. Midfielder Rodrigo Lopez found Alhassan, who had a shot on target saved just minutes earlier, down the right wing 25 yards out from goal. Alhassan spotted Puerto Rico goalkeeper Bill Gaudette off his line and he chipped the ball over Gaudette and tucked it inside the far side of the goal for the game-winning strike.

Goalkeeper Steve Cronin and the Timbers backline logged their fourth consecutive shutout, despite enduring heavy pressure from the Islanders in the second half. The Timbers have not conceded a goal in the last 424 minutes of play. Cronin picked up his 12th shutout of the season as Portland (12-7-9, 45pts) recorded its second win all-time in Puerto Rico.

With the win, the Timbers remain in fourth place in the overall USSF Division-2 Pro League standings and hold onto a four-point lead over the Carolina RailHawks in fifth place.

On a rain-soaked playing surface, the Timbers and Islanders (9-10-9, 36pts) slugged through a hard-fought match. While both sides finished the first half with three shots each, the Timbers had the better of the chances in the opening half.

Midfielder Ryan Pore provided the Timbers’ best scoring opportunity of the first half in the 19th minute. A build up through the midfield set up defender Ian Joy for a well-placed cross from the left side into the box at the penalty spot. Pore slashed through the box, jumped up and hammered a header inches over the top left corner of the goal, just missing his 16th goal of the season.

The Islanders responded with one of their quality chances in the first half in the 26th minute. Portland’s James Marcelin clipped striker Jonathan Fana from behind 25 yards out from goal. The ensuing re-start set up midfielder Sandi Gbandi for a shot on frame. Cronin tracked the ball through the crowd and made a diving stop to his left to keep the Islanders off the board.

Pore set up forward Doug DeMartin for a close chance in the 35th minute. Pore, the Timbers leading scorer, slid a through ball into the box from 30 yards out to DeMartin. As DeMartin went to shoot the ball, he slipped and fell to the ground and the Islanders were able to clear the ball away.

Moments later, pressure by the Timbers set up midfielder Johan Claesson for a shot from inside the box. Gaudette knocked Claesson’s shot up into the air and then punched the ball over the end line to end the immediate threat.

Gbandi had another chance late in the period to put the home side on top. In the 40th minute, he slipped through the midfield and had a breakaway towards the top of the box. Cronin left his line to challenge the play and Gbandi pushed his shot wide of the mark.

Puerto Rico opened the second half, putting the Timbers under extreme pressure. Fana was dangerous for the Islanders throughout the second half creating multiple chances, including one in the 49th minute. He cut through the box and created enough space to unleash a shot from 10 yards out at the left post. Cronin pushed the ball just wide of the post.

In the 68th minute, midfielder Keon Daniel intercepted a pass by the Timbers 25 yards out from goal. He cracked a shot from the top of the box, forcing Cronin to react, but his shot missed just wide of the left post. The Islanders attempted nine of their 12 shots in the second half.

The Timbers were able to settle back into the match and created scoring chances of their own over the final 20 minutes of the contest. In the 71st minute, a one-two combo by Pore and forward Takayuki Suzuki set up the midfielder for a shot from distance. His attempt from 20 yards out rolled wide of the far post.

A hard challenge near the midfield stripe by Pore set up a breakaway chance for Portland in the 87th minute. Pore won possession of the ball and pushed it up field to Lopez streaking down the right side. Lopez slotted the ball to Alhassan near the top of the box out along the left post. Alhassan drilled a shot on frame, which was blocked with a timely save by Gaudette.

The Islanders, led by Fana, continued to cause problems down to the final whistle, but Portland’s defense continued its stand. Another run by Fana through the box came to a halt late in the contest, when defender Stephen Keel delivered a well-timed, tough tackle seven yards out from goal. Timbers midfielder Tony McManus blanketed Gbandi on a re-start in Puerto Rico’s offensive third, which prevented the Islanders’ midfielder from getting to a ball played to the back post.

The Timbers travel back across the country to take on Crystal Palace Baltimore on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 2 p.m. (Pacific). A live broadcast will be available on Newsradio 750 KXL, with a live video webcast online at www.portlandtimbers.com/live.

Notes: At 19 years of age, Alhassan is one of the youngest players to make a start for the Timbers since 2001 … Cronin’s clean sheet was his 22nd as a member of the Timbers, moving him into a two-way tie for first on the Timbers’ modern-franchise career leader board with Josh Saunders … Forward Bright Dike was unavailable for the Timbers due to a one-game, league-imposed suspension for yellow-card accumulation … Portland is 2-3-2 all-time in Puerto Rico.

Lineups:
POR: GK Cronin, D Joy (Purdy, 67), D Keel, D Smith, D Kirk, M Pore, M Marcelin, M Alhassan (Danso, 90), M Claesson (McManus, 75), F Suzuki (Muhamadu, 71), F DeMartin (Lopez, 81)

PRI: GK Gaudette, D Martinez, D Velez, D Henry, D Rivera, M Miranda, M Gbandi, M Daniel (Nurse, 84), M Allison (Jagdeosingh, 80), F Foley (Bangura, 72), F Fana

Scoring Summary:
POR: Alhassan, 90