USL-1 Championship Final preview
Seattle Sounders will be aiming for their fourth USL First Division title Saturday night when they play host to Atlanta Silverbacks, who will be making their first championship game appearance, at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Washington. The game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports World Canada and Fox Soccer Channel in the US at 10:00pm ET / 7:00pm PT.
The Silverbacks have already made two firsts this postseason. They captured their first playoff victory in the opening leg of their quarterfinal series against Rochester Raging Rhinos, recording three consecutive draws since. Last Sunday, they made it to their first championship game with a penalty kick victory over the second-place Portland Timbers.
On Saturday, the Silverbacks will likely need to complete another first in order to capture the USL-1 title by scoring their first goal this season against the Sounders, a club that suffered just one loss in the second half of the season (11-1-2). Seattle blanked the Silverbacks in their two meetings this season, posting a 3-0 victory at home just over a month ago to follow up a midseason scoreless draw in Atlanta. Chris Eylander was in goal for both clean sheets. An own-goal and strikes from defender Taylor Graham and Roger Levesque gave Seattle the win.
The August 22 victory gave the Sounders the edge 3-2-2 in the all-time head-to-head record between the two clubs. The Sounders are unbeaten in the past three games with a 2-1 win in the second of their two meetings in 2006, as they split that season series.
While history certainly favors the home team, with only one visiting team capturing the championship in the 16 single-game finals held over the league’s 22-year history of the championships, recent trends may prove against the Sounders chances. That lone club to buck the home team trend was the 2006 Vancouver Whitecaps, who won 3-0 in Rochester. In addition, no regular season champion has gone on to win the title since the 1998 Rhinos, who were only the second team to accomplish the feat six years after the Colorado Foxes of 1992.
Another facet in favor of Atlanta is that under coach Brian Schmetzer, the Sounders have not had a clear advantage at home in the postseason, with a record of 4-3-3 and an aggregate score of 10-11 in favor of the visiting opposition. The Sounders have only once won by more than one goal in the four victories and their 2005 championship was captured on penalties against Richmond Kickers.
The Sounders’ history in championships, however, has been rather successful, claiming the title in three of their four previous attempts. Their 2005 championship came on the heels of a 2-0 loss in Montreal the year before and came on the team’s 10th anniversary of their first title in 1995, which was the first part of a back-to-back set of titles, in which they defeated Atlanta Ruckus and Rochester, respectively.
While the Silverbacks, born in 1999, have cemented themselves as the flagship USL franchise in Atlanta with its new stadium being built, a club that has grown into one of the largest in the region, and teams that have reached the finals of the W-League and USL First Division this year, the city does possess a lengthy USL history.
Part of that history includes Atlanta Magic, a club that was a force in the former USL indoor league that captured three consecutive titles from 1993 to 1995 and reached the final the year before and after the streak for five straight appearances.
In the outdoor game, the Ruckus were a success in their inaugural year in 1995, reaching the USL First Division (then APSL) championship series, but fell two games to one to the Sounders after claiming the first game 2-1 via a shootout victory. With the series concluding in Seattle, the Sounders claimed game two 3-0 and won the title 2-1 in game three via a shootout. The loss began a spiral for the Ruckus, who dropped to last place in their division the next two seasons, before ultimately ceasing operations and bowing out of the league.
While the fans of Atlanta may be looking to avenge the 1995 series loss to Seattle, the Sounders faithful may be also looking for a little payback for their elimination from the W-League Championship Final Four when the Silverbacks decisively downed the Sounders 4-1 in the semifinals in Rochester back in early August.