The Minnesota Thunder defeated the Montreal Impact 3-1 Saturday night, securing the seventh and final spot in the USL First Division playoffs. Brian Cvilikas, Ricardo Sanchez, and captain Jeremiah Bass all scored for the Thunder, tallying up seven goals in the last two games.
In the 10th minute, the Thunder lost a crucial player. Nathan Knox was injured right away to start the game tonight, and was out for the remainder of the game.
"Hopefully Nate Knox isn't seriously injured. His performances, personality, and goals helped put us in the position we are in tonight," said interim head coach Donny Gramenz. Knox's injury will be evaluated this week.
The Thunder had a scare early in the game, with a close call in the 15th minute. Simon Gatti was caught in an offside position after finding the back of the net on a ball from Adam Braz.
Montreal took the lead in the 32nd minute on a free kick by Alex Surprenant. After a foul in the penalty arc of the goal, Surprenant stepped up to take the kick and nailed it into the back of the net, making it impossible for Thunder goalkeeper Nic Platter to save.
The Thunder bounced back quickly though, and tied the game in the 38th minute. Sanchez took one of his famous free kicks from 25 yards out, slamming the ball in the back of the net and evening the score 1-1. The goal by Sanchez tied teammate Melvin Tarley for fifth in the league in goals. The Thunder took the lead in the 60th minute, with a goal from Cvilikas. Sanchez took a free kick, spinning the goal on net for Tarley. Tarley headed the ball far post to Cvilikas, who nodded the ball in the back of the net.
In the 70th minute the Thunder finalized the game scoring their third and final goal. Tighe Dombrowski sent a ball to Jeremiah Bass who one-timed the ball into the back of the net. "That was the perfect goal," said General Manager Djorn Buchholz.
"I am very happy for the men tonight. They deserve to be in the playoffs. However, we are not content with just making the playoffs. We will enjoy the result and get back to business on Monday and start preparing for our battle with Vancouver," said Gramenz.
USL First Division
Wednesday, Sept. 17
Rochester Rhinos 0 at Miami FC Blues 1
Looking to secure a spot among the upper half of the playoff field, the Rhinos were unable to earn advance their cause in their season finale, falling on the road to Miami on a 72nd minute strike from Alex Afonso. With Josh Saunders on loan to Los Angeles, Sam Reynolds made six stops for the shutout.
Friday, Sept. 19
Carolina RailHawks 2 at Charleston Battery 1
Facing a must-win situation to keep their playoff hopes alive, the RailHawks jumped on the Battery, who have never beaten Carolina, with two early goals from Hamed Diallo in the eighth and 24th minutes. Mike Richardson would cut the deficit in the 65th minute, but it would not be enough.
Atlanta Silverbacks 1 at Puerto Rico Islanders 1
With a playoff berth on the line, Jason McLaughlin gave the visiting Silverbacks the initial lead in the 55th minute only to see defender and offensive scoring juggernaut Cristian Arrieta level terms just six minutes later. The draw gave Puerto Rico the USL-1 Commissioner's Cup as regular season champions and secured an important bye to the semifinals for the Islanders, who are in the midst of participating in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Saturday, Sept. 20
Portland Timbers 0 at Carolina RailHawks 1
The playoff hopes of the RailHawks looked over as the final minutes of a scoreless stalemate ticked away at WakeMed Soccer Park, but an unusual scramble in the box left an open net for rookie sensation Martin Nunez to put away the winner to put Carolina in pole position for the final playoff berth only to see their hopes dashed less than an hour later when the out of town scoreboard saw the Minnesota lead turn to victory, claiming the final berth for the Thunder.
Vancouver Whitecaps 3 at Seattle Sounders 2
In what may be the final game between the two league rivals, the two did not disappoint. The defending champions opened the scoring 10 minutes in courtesy of Sebastien Le Toux only to see Vancouver rattle off three straight in the second half for a commanding advantage. Eduardo Sebrango opened the run with a strike in the 54th. Three minutes later Justin Moose gave the visitors the lead. Ten minutes later Moose turned provider, finding Jeff Clarke for what proved to be the winner as only two minutes later in the 69th minute Kevin Sakuda would pull the Sounders back within one.
Sunday, Sept. 21
Atlanta Silverbacks 0 at Miami FC Blues 1
In an inconsequential finale, Sam Reynolds posted his second straight shutout to compliment Sean Fraser's winner in the 53rd minute.
Puerto Rico Islanders 0 at Montreal Impact 0
USL's two CONCACAF Champions League participants collided the in the league's final game of the regular season, but with the playoff scenarios previously decided, the match had little meaning for the two sides who were cautious heading into their midweek non-league tournament matches against Mexican powers. Despite what was primarily their reserve squad, the Islanders managed to hold the Montreal regulars for t he scoreless draw, removing the tiebreaker status of their regular season championship by finishing a point ahead of Vancouver.
USL First Division Playoff Field: 1-Puerto Rico Islanders, 2-Vancouver Whitecaps, 3-Montreal Impact, 4-Rochester Rhinos, 5-Charleston Battery, 6-Seattle Sounders, 7-Minnesota Thunder