Puerto Rico Islanders secured the United Soccer Leagues First Division regular season title on the final weekend of action.
Colin Clarke's side got the point they needed from their final two regular season games to win the Commissioner's Cup for the first time in the five-year history of the Caribbean club. While the Islanders earned a first-round bye in the USL-1 playoffs, many other issues were resolved, as the playoff picture was clarified over the weekend.
Action started on Wednesday night, with Rochester Rhinos missing a great chance to push their claims for a third-place finish when they fell 1-0 away to Miami FC Blues in south Florida. Alex Afonso's second-half winner meant the Brazilian striker finished as the top regular season goalscorer in USL-1 with 15 goals, even though Miami missed out on the playoffs for a second straight season.
There were two games on Friday, with Puerto Rico ensuring a first-place finish after a 1-1 draw at home to Atlanta Silverbacks. Cristian Arrieta canceled out Jason McLaughlin's second-half strike for Atlanta, as the Islanders moved on to the playoff semifinals. In South Carolina, Charleston Battery were the next club to miss out on a chance of a third-place finish, as regional rivals Carolina RailHawks kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a 2-1 victory at Blackbaud Stadium. Two goals from Hamed Diallo in the first half meant the RailHawks retained the fan-based Southern Derby Cup for a second straight year.
Carolina's win on Friday was then followed by a dramatic 1-0 victory at home to Portland Timbers in one of three matches played on Saturday. Martin Nunez's strike in second-half stoppage time was not enough to leapfrog Scott Schweitzer's side into the playoffs, as the RailHawks ended their campaign in eighth place. Portland, meanwhile, finished in last place after suffering a fourth-straight defeat to end the year. Minnesota Thunder, meanwhile, secured the last playoff place with an impressive 3-1 victory over Montreal Impact. Goals by Ricardo Sanchez, Brian Cvilikas, and Jeremiah Bass at the National Sports Center Stadium ensured seventh place for Minnesota and a playoff berth for the first time in four seasons. In Washington State, meanwhile, Vancouver Whitecaps won the 111th all-time meeting with Interstate 5 rivals Seattle Sounders 3-2 at Starfire Sports Stadium. Three second-half goals from Eduardo Sebrango, Justin Moose and Jeff Clarke meant the Sounders finished the season in sixth place, while the Whitecaps re-claimed the fan-based Cascadia Cup.
With the playoff positions set after Saturday's games, the final regular season matches on Sunday meant little more than pride to the four clubs in action. Miami FC Blues capped their 2008 campaign with another home win, as Sean Fraser's fortuitous second-half goal gave Zinho's side a 1-0 win over Atlanta in their last match at Tropical Park Stadium before the Blues move base to Florida International University next season. The final regular season match of 2008 saw USL-1's two representatives in the CONCACAF Champions League meet at Saputo Stadium, with Montreal drawing 0-0 with Puerto Rico. The Islanders finished a point clear at the top of the table with the result, even though Puerto Rico had a squad of just 12 players for the game in Quebec.
With the regular season at an end, six of seven playoff-bound clubs clash this coming weekend in the USL-1 quarterfinals. The Whitecaps face Minnesota over two legs this Friday and Sunday, while Montreal and Seattle will also square off this weekend. Rochester and Charleston make up the third quarterfinal match-up. The three winners will then join Puerto Rico in the semifinals on October 3 and 5, with the USL-1 championship final set for Saturday, October 11. Click here for information on the USL-1 quarterfinals.