The champions and the challenger



United Soccer Leagues

The six clubs in the USL First Division that have previously won league championships advanced to this year's playoffs, joining the Puerto Rico Islanders, who claimed their first title by winning the USL-1 Commissioner's Cup as the regular season champions. The Fox Soccer World Canada USL-1 Game of the Week will be Rochester Rhinos at Charleston Battery on Sunday at 4:00 pm PT.

Puerto Rico will face lowest remaining seed in semifinals. While the Islanders may have received a bye to the USL-1 semis, they will have to defeat two former champions en route to also capturing the league championship in three weeks. The USL-1 quarterfinal action that will determine the first opposition for Puerto Rico begins Friday, as teams open their two-leg, aggregate score series.


VANCOUVER WHITECAPS v MINNESOTA THUNDER

Finishing second behind the Islanders by one point were the 2006 champion Vancouver Whitecaps. Vancouver will open at home on Friday against the seventh seed Minnesota Thunder, who would face Puerto Rico as the lowest seed, should they advance from the series when it concludes in Minnesota on Sunday, where the Thunder won their championship in 1999.

The pair played to a mirror image 1-1-1 tie in the season series, with both teams winning 1-0 on the road in the first six weeks of the season before playing to a goalless draw in Vancouver two weeks ago.


Leg One: 9/26 @ Vancouver 7:00 PT -- Leg Two: 9/28 @ Minnesota 3:05 PT


MONTREAL IMPACT v SEATTLE SOUNDERS

In a battle of two of the last three teams to win a title, four-time champions Seattle Sounders (1995, 1996, 2005, 2007) look to defend their crown against the two-time champions Montreal Impact (1994, 2004). The third-seeded Impact will open the series on the road Friday against Seattle, just two days after hosting Mexican side Atlante FC in their second CONCACAF Champions League group match on Wednesday. They return home to face the sixth-seeded Sounders to conclude the series on Sunday.

The Sounders and Impact also finished tied on the season, going 1-1-1. They opened the season series with a 1-1 draw in Seattle before the Sounders followed that up with a 1-0 win in Montreal. Seattle then fell to the Impact 2-1 in Seattle two weeks ago to complete the three league meetings.


Leg One: 9/26 @ Seattle 7:00 PT -- Leg Two: 9/28 @ Montreal 2:00 PT


ROCHESTER RHINOS v CHARLESTON BATTERY

Three-time champions Rochester Rhinos (1998, 2000, 2001) will play host to the 2003 champions Charleston Battery on Friday. The Rhinos, the only club among the field to have never missed the postseason, travel to Charleston to wrap up the series on Sunday - which will be live on Fox Sports World Canada and Fox Soccer Channel in the United States.

Charleston is the lone team among the playoff sides to have won the season series against their quarterfinal opposition, sweeping the Rhinos 3-0-0, and by a 6-1 margin on aggregate. They won the two meetings in Charleston by two-goal margins (2-0 and 3-1), with a 1-0 road victory sandwiched in between. They have not faced one another, however, since the final contest on June 28.


Leg One: 9/26 @ Rochester 4:35 PT -- Leg Two: 9/28 @ Charleston 4:00 PT (FSWC, FSC)

So who would the Islanders like to face? Of the four seeds (4-7) that could be their semifinal opponent, Seattle is the only club that Puerto Rico did not claim a winning record against in the season series, going 1-1-1. And with the travel distance involved with a potential Seattle series, combined with CONCACAF Champions League commitments, the defending champions are the one club the Islanders are hoping to avoid in their semifinal series.

The Islanders swept the Thunder in three contests by an aggregate score of 7-3 on the year, while they finished unbeaten (2-0-1) against Rochester and Charleston. Puerto Rico had an aggregate tally of 7-1 against Rochester, concluding with a 2-0 road win a week ago. They posted a 5-2 aggregate advantage against the Battery, but their 0-0 road draw on August 29 was the last meeting.

While they will not meet Vancouver and Montreal in the semifinals, the Islanders did finish the season without losing a season series against any of their off-season counterparts, posting a 1-0-2 record against Vancouver, and a 1-1-1 record against Montreal.