USL First Division Weekend Round-Up
Puerto Rico Islanders took a big step towards claiming the United Soccer Leagues First Division regular season title during the latest weekend of action.
Colin Clarke's side capped a historical week for the Caribbean club on Friday, as they followed their dramatic passage to the CONCACAF Champions League group stages by claiming a late home win over first-place rivals Vancouver Whitecaps. Rochester Rhinos and Seattle Sounders boosted their playoff hopes with important home wins, while Minnesota Thunder earned valuable draws from their two-game Canadian road trip.
Action began in Oregon on Thursday, with Portland Timbers keeping their playoff hopes alive with an emphatic 4-0 win over struggling Miami FC Blues. Chris Brown had two goals and an assist in the victory at PGE Park.
The games on Friday involved USL-1's two Canadian clubs, with Minnesota able to negotiate the poor state of the Saputo Stadium pitch to earn a well-deserved 1-1 draw with Montreal Impact. A Sandro Grande penalty canceled out Stephen deRoux's fine opening goal for the Thunder in Quebec. In Puerto Rico, meanwhile, the Islanders showed no ill effects after playing two nights earlier versus Costa Rican club Liga Deportiva Alajuelense in the Champions League, as a late headed goal by substitute Noah Delgado gave Clarke's side a valuable 1-0 over the Whitecaps. The result took Puerto Rico three points clear at the top of the USL-1 standings and handed them the regular season series over Vancouver.
Saturday had three games on the schedule, with Carolina RailHawks keeping their hopes of clinching a playoff berth alive with a 3-1 home win over regional rivals Charleston Battery, who are now winless in their last seven league games. The result also takes the fan-based Southern Derby Cup competition to the last game on September 19, when the Battery will host the RailHawks at Blackbaud Stadium. In Upstate New York, Rochester Rhinos took sole possession of third place with a 2-0 win over Portland. Goals by Matthew Delicate and Ryan Heins condemned the Timbers to their tenth defeat of the season, with Portland's playoff hopes still hanging in the balance. In Tukwila, Washington, Seattle left Miami FC's playoff aspirations hanging by a thread after a 3-0 win at the Starfire Sports Stadium. Leighton O'Brien scored twice for the Sounders, with the Blues needing to win their final two regular season games at home to have any chance of a top-seven finish.
On Sunday, the Whitecaps missed the chance to draw level with leaders Puerto Rico after a frustrating goalless draw with Minnesota at Swangard Stadium. Both clubs finished the game with ten men after the Thunder's Andres Arango and Vancouver's Omar Jarun each received two yellow cards and sending off during the 0-0 result.
Finally on Monday, first-half goals by Leonardo Di Lorenzo and Peter Byers gave Montreal a 2-0 win over Portland at Saputo Stadium. The victory leapfrogged the Impact into fifth place in the league standings, while the Timbers suffered a second-straight defeat on the road. Portland remain two points short of a playoff place and will likely need wins in their final two games to have any chance of making the postseason. The result also secured Rochester's place in the USL-1 playoffs for a 13th straight season.