A year ago, the regular season champion Puerto Rico Islanders found themselves in a 2-0 hole after the road leg of their semifinal series against Rochester and came from behind to tie the aggregate score and advance in series overtime 3-2. On Sunday, the Islanders were again trailing the Rhinos at the opening whistle for the second leg of the USL First Division Quarterfinals. And again, they were triumphant.
Puerto Rico showed why they are one of the new powerhouses of the league, again displaying how difficult it is for opposition in Bayamon as they posted a thorough 4-1 victory over the Rhinos in the second leg. It only took 12 minutes for the series to be brought level courtesy of Fabrice Noel on an assist from Jonathan Steele, the 2008 league MVP.
Steele went on to have arguably his best night of a lackluster season, setting up all four goals. With a man advantage following a second yellow card issued to Rhino defender Brent Sancho in the 29th minute, he found Nicholas Addlery for the first lead in the series five minutes before the break and found Noel again 10 minutes from time for a two-goal cushion that proved critical. Amaury Nunes, on loan from USL-2 runners-up Charlotte, pulled the Rhinos back within one two minutes later, but it was not enough with Addlery adding his second of the night in stoppage time to secure the victory.
The Rhinos had taken the series lead Thursday evening at home, taking advantage of a stunning seventh minute red card issued to 2008 Defender of the Year Cristian Arrieta. Defenders Kenney Bertz and John Ball struck in the 64th and 71st minutes to give the hosts a 2-0 lead for the second straight year, but this time Addlery answered right back with a strike in the 72nd.
Puerto Rico was the lone higher seed to advance out of the Quarterfinals with second-seeded Carolina dropping a narrow 1-0 decision in their series against seventh seed and defending champion Vancouver Whitecaps while fifth-seeded Montreal Impact bounced the number four Charleston Battery with a pair of wins, 2-0 at home and 2-1 on the road.
As the lowest remaining seed, Vancouver will face regional rival Portland Timbers, who enter the playoffs after receiving a bye for claiming the regular season title. Puerto Rico will square against Montreal.
USL First Division playoffs
Thursday, September 24
Charleston Battery 0 at Montreal Impact 2
Midfielder David Testo hit from distance 10 minutes in and a second yellow to Matt Bobo just before the break sealed Charleston's fate as the Impact were able to get a second goal from Rocco Placentino with two minutes remaining.
Carolina RailHawks 0 at Vancouver Whitecaps 1
Young phenom Randy Edwini-Bonsu picked the right time for his first professional goal, scoring in the 77th minute with what held not only as the game-winner, but the series-winner as Jay Nolly posted six saves in the first of two shutouts.
Sunday, September 27
Montreal Impact 2 at Charleston Battery 1
A free kick from Stephen Armstrong found Ian Fuller in the box 16 minutes in to draw Charleston back within range of leveling the series, but defender Nevio Pizzolitto buried a rebound off the post seven minutes later to restore the commanding two-goal margin. Tony Donatelli slotted home a nice shot in the 74th to secure the result.
Vancouver Whitecaps 0 at Carolina RailHawks 0
Both clubs had their chances to score, but in the end it was a save from Jay Nolly on a Daniel Paladini penalty kick in the 36th minute that combined with the lone goal of the first leg to send Vancouver through.