Monday, September 15, 2008
Islanders and Whitecaps vie for the title
Editor's note: There are three divisions in the United Soccer Leagues: USL-1, USL-2 and the Premier Development League (PDL). USL is not affiliated with Major League Soccer.
The final week of the USL-1 season will see the title race come down to the last couple of games. The first-place Puerto Rico Islanders and second-place Vancouver Whitecaps are way above the rest of the standings in their point totals, but a battle for the last few playoff berths continues to rage. A few take homes from the weekend:
1. RailHawks slip up. Considering the RailHawks' desperation to make the USL-1 playoffs, Sunday's draw with Rochester Rhinos was a huge letdown. After former Rhino Hamed Diallo put away a goal in the first half, the Hawks had countless opportunities to get more goals. Players like Matt Watson won several balls off the opposition, but time and time again the Hawks waited to shoot or passed when they should have shot. Despite the Rhinos bringing on their big guns in the second half (Johnny Menyongar, Luke Kreamalmeyer and Matthew Delicate) the RailHawks still controlled the majority of play. It was only a matter of time, though, before the Rhinos equalized. With only a handful of games left, it will be dicey as to whether the RailHawks can make the playoffs.2. Bidding farewell? Although the RailHawks have several quality players in their attack, it will be interesting to see if Daniel Antoniuk will stay with Carolina past the end of this season, when his one-year contract expires. Antoniuk, the USL-1 2007 MVP runner-up and points leader, hasn't had the greatest year with the RailHawks, scoring only three goals in 28 games, and was rumored to have been on trial with a Swedish team earlier this year. But he is arguably a key member of the RailHawks' team, which has seen marked improvement toward the end of this season, and might still figure into Carolina's plans for next year. 3. Battery hammered. The Minnesota Thunder are almost assured of a spot in the playoffs after hanging a 4-0 loss on the Charleston Battery, with three of those goals in the second half alone. Although the first goal came when Nate Knox capitalized on a defensive error, the other three were hard won by the Thunder and showed the kind of skill the team possesses -- especially from forward Melvin Tarley. Ricardo Sanchez also provided a remarkable cross from halfway down the field, which was critical during the buildup to the Thunder's third goal.4. Missing in action. With much of the activity down at the other end of the field, the Charleston Battery were sorely missing forward Randi Patterson. The active forward, who usually keeps defenders on their toes, was not on the bench. Without him, most of the Battery's shots were fairly harmless and went straight into the arms of Thunder keeper Nic Platter. Toward the end of the game, the Battery not only looked tired, but a bit dejected. It's tough to see a team like the Battery, who have played so well this season, lose the U.S. Open Cup final and drop too many points to win the league. Guaranteed a playoff berth, though, the Battery may come back with a great performance in the postseason.5. Down to the wire. Although the Puerto Rico Islanders have a slight edge, the race for the USL-1 title could go down to the wire when it wraps up next weekend. With a two-point lead over the second-place Vancouver Whitecaps, the Islanders have two games left -- one at home and one in Montreal. The Islanders haven't had back-to-back losses since their first week of play in April, but if they falter -- and the Whitecaps win their last game -- then the title could go to Vancouver.
Anne Ramzy is a freelance sportswriter based near San Francisco. She also is a frequent guest on the weekly soccer podcast on www.theoffside.com and can be reached at email@example.com.