Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta Silverbacks in next Saturday’s USL First Division championship final after both clubs came through their two-leg semifinal ties.
In what proved to be two very intriguing contests, both series needed penalty shootouts on Sunday to determine who would reach this season’s league final.
After easily disposing of bottom seed Carolina RailHawks, the Sounders ultimately had their hands full with a Puerto Rico Islanders side that had impressively dumped Montreal Impact out of the postseason the week before. Friday’s first leg at Puerto Rico’s Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium proved to be an eventful affair, as a crowd of over 12,000 saw Seattle claim a 2-1 result in a game that had each side finish the contest with ten men, as Sounders captain Danny Jackson and Islanders midfielder Alejandro Gonzalez both received red cards.
Sunday’s second leg proved equally as dramatic, as Puerto Rico left it late to level the tie at 2-2 through substitute Alberto Delgado. The crowd of 3,107 at the Starfire Sports Complex saw the semifinal head into extra time, where Seattle restored their advantage through Greg Howes on 101 minutes before Puerto Rico sent the tie to penalties when another substitute in Victor Herrera made it 3-3 on aggregate with a strike three minutes before the end of extra time. In the shootout, it was the USL-1 regular season champions that prevailed, as Sounders goalkeeper Chris Eylander made spot-kick saves from Taiwo Atieno and Lars Lyssand to help Seattle win the shootout 4-2.
The other semifinal tie also went the distance, as Atlanta ended Portland Timbers’ fine season on penalties in Oregon. The two sides were unable to break the deadlock in Friday’s first leg at the RE/MAX Greater Atlanta Stadium, as Portland’s Bryan Jordan cancelled out Warren Ukah’s first-half strike for a 1-1 result.
Despite nearly 12,000 fans in attendance at Portland’s PGE Park, and the Timbers Army at their colourful best, it was Jason Smith’s Silverbacks that withstood large amounts of Timbers pressure to eventually take the tie to a penalty shootout. After both teams missed their first spot kicks, a Luke Kreamalmeyer miss and a Ryan McIntosh save from Lawrence Olum secured a surprising 3-1 shootout success for Atlanta.
The USL-1 championship final is set for this coming Saturday, with Seattle hosting Atlanta at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Washington. Kick-off is 7pm local time and can be seen on Fox Sports World Canada or on Fox Soccer Channel in the US.