USL First Division Playoff Round-Up
Seattle Sounders joined Portland Timbers, Atlanta Silverbacks, and Puerto Rico Islanders in the USL First Division playoff semifinals.
An intriguing weekend of quarterfinal action saw some surprising results, with Canada’s two USL-1 clubs in Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps seeing their seasons come to a premature end on Sunday.
Seattle took a step closer towards the championship after disposing of the expansion Carolina RailHawks in their two-leg tie. Brian Schmetzer’s side effectively sealed their passage through in the first game on Friday, as goals by Zach Scott and Andre Schmid gave the Sounders a 2-0 win in Cary, North Carolina. A late Leighton O’Brien penalty in the second leg at Seattle’s Qwest Field sealed a 3-0 aggregate win for the Sounders, as the Railhawks finished Sunday’s game with nine men after David Stokes and Joey Worthen were sent off in The Emerald City.
Montreal also had designs on claiming their first league title since 2004, but their season came to an abrupt end after Puerto Rico overturned a one-goal deficit to reach the semis. The Impact’s decision to play the first leg at home on Friday backfired, as they could only claim a slim 3-2 victory over Colin Clarke’s side. It proved to be the last game at the Claude Robillard Sports Complex for Montreal, as Nick De Santis’ squad succumbed to a surprise 3-0 defeat in Puerto Rico on Sunday, with the Islanders advancing 5-3 on aggregate.
Like Puerto Rico, Atlanta have been another dark horse side in USL-1 this season. Despite facing last year’s championship finalists in Rochester Raging Rhinos, Jason Smith’s side made the last four with a 3-2 aggregate success. The clinching game was Friday’s first leg in Georgia, as Warren Ukah and Anthony Wolfe helped the Silverbacks to a 2-1 win over the Rhinos. It was Atlanta's first win in the postseason as a USL-1 club. With the second leg at PAETEC Park on Sunday, Laurie Calloway’s side needed a performance to turn the tie around. Instead, Atlanta earned a 1-1 draw in Upstate New York to secure their place in the semis.
The last semifinal spot went to Portland, who dispatched of Pacific Northwest rivals Vancouver with a 3-1 aggregate success. Despite Jason Jordan giving the 2006 USL-1 champions a one-goal lead after scoring the winner in the first game at Swangard Stadium, goals by former Whitecaps defender Justin Thompson, Timbers captain Andrew Gregor, and substitute Jaime Ambriz gave Portland a 3-0 win at PGE Park on Sunday and their place in the next round.
USL-1 playoff action returns on Friday, as Seattle take on Puerto Rico, while Portland face Atlanta. The Sounders will travel to the Caribbean to face the Islanders in the first leg before hosting Clarke’s side at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Washington for Sunday’s second leg. Qwest Field will not be available to the Sounders, as the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks play host to Cincinnati Bengals that same day.
Portland travel to Atlanta for their first game with the Silverbacks on Friday night before both clubs return to The City of Roses for the second leg on Sunday afternoon. “Atlanta are a strong team going forward,” Timbers head coach Gavin Wilkinson told whitecapsfc.com last Sunday. “We’ll take each game as it comes, as every game is a final now. We’ve got to earn the right to go to the next round, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.”