USL First Division Weekend Round-Up
Puerto Rico Islanders and Vancouver Whitecaps look to be the two lone contenders for the USL First Division regular season title.
Both clubs put some distance between themselves and the rest of USL -1 after picking up results during the past weekend, while early pacesetters Charleston Battery lost ground on the front two after a pair of weekend defeats.
Montreal Impact headed into this week's CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round tie in positive fashion, as they boosted their playoff hopes with a couple of home wins, while Atlanta Silverbacks saw their winless run extend to six games, as Jason Smith's side look to be struggling through a grueling 11-game league schedule this month.
Action started last Wednesday, with both Canadian clubs playing the same evening as Canada's latest match in FIFA World Cup qualifying. In Quebec, former Whitecaps midfielder Tony Donatelli had a goal and an assist in Montreal's 3-1 home win over Atlanta. Out west in Washington State, meanwhile, the Whitecaps created more of the quality chances versus Seattle Sounders, but the visitors had to settle for a goalless draw.
There were three games on Friday, with Puerto Rico maintaining their grip on top spot in USL-1 with an important 2-1 home win over Charleston. Two goals by Fabrice Noel canceled out Lazo Alavanja's opening strike for the Battery at the Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium. In Minnesota, Carolina RailHawks got early goals from Caleb Norkus and Santiago Fusilier in a 2-1 victory over the Thunder, with both clubs still battling to make the playoffs. In Vancouver, the Whitecaps finally found the scoresheet, as they swept their regular season series of matches with Pacific Northwest rivals Portland Timbers after a 2-1 victory. Nicholas Addlery scored both goals for the Whitecaps, who are now in the driving seat to win the fan-based Cascadia Cup title for a third time.
Atlanta suffered another defeat on the road when it fell 2-0 at Rochester Rhinos. First-half goals by Ross Smith and Tiger Fitzpatrick at PAETEC Park boosted the playoff hopes of Darren Tilley's side on Saturday night.
The weekend ended with three intriguing games on Sunday. USL-1 goalscoring leader Alex Afonso took his tally to 14 with a hat-trick in Miami FC Blues' 3-0 win at home to Charleston. In Montreal, the Impact had a return visit from Atlanta and an identical winning scoreline as Wednesday. Felix Brillant had two goals and an assist in Montreal's 3-1 result versus the Silverbacks. Finally, Seattle found the scoresheet in a major way at home to Carolina. Despite a hat-trick from RailHawks striker Hamed Diallo, the Sounders defeated their North Carolina visitors 4-3 at the Starfire Sports Stadium. Josh Gardner had two of Seattle's four goals in Tukwila, Washington.