The Washington Freedom, a legacy of the former WUSA team, advanced to the W-League Championship tournament in Rochester, New York on August 3-5 with a pair of impressive wins over the weekend to capture the Eastern Conference Championship, downing the four-time semifinalist Ottawa Fury, who had reached the final the past two years, 1-0 on a goal from U.S. international Christie Welsh, who has been in multiple national team camps in the past year.
The club, having previously won a WUSA championship, has continued in building a tradition of success in women's soccer that would make them instant contenders for a title should a new women's pro league launch in 2008. In addition to the W-League side reaching the semifinals in their first official season, the USL Super-20 League women's team won a championship last year and is returning to the North American Finals in New Hampshire this coming weekend for a second straight season, giving the club a shot at two titles in one weekend.
Washington opened the Eastern Conference Playoffs against a young, but talented Toronto Lady Lynx team Saturday and showed their strength early on as Lori Lindsay and Welsh combined for the first three goals for a 3-0 lead 31 minutes in as they cruised to a 6-1 victory.
On Sunday, Welsh's goal in the 24th minute, set up by Australian international Kelly Golebiowski, proved enough as their defense handed the unbeaten regular season champion Fury, who stunned star-laden Jersey 4-0 the night before, their first shutout of the year.
Also advancing to the W-League Final Four to join the host Rochester Rhinos were the Atlanta Silverbacks and Seattle Sounders.
Atlanta, led by Canadian internationals Christine Latham and Sharolta Nonen stunned their Central Conference opposition from the Midwest Division by blanking the Michigan Hawks 4-0 in the semifinals and blasting the 10-1-1 Minnesota Lightning 5-2 as they built a 5-0 lead before allowing two late consolation strikes. Sarah Steinmann and Latham had braces in back-to-back games, respectively.
The Sounders and San Diego Sunwaves clashed for the Western Conference title after shutting the perennial favorites and defending champion Vancouver Whitecaps, led by former US international Tiffeny Milbrett, out of the playoffs. Having lost 2-0 less than a week before, Seattle returned to California and avenged the defeat 2-1 Friday as they rallied for the win against the Sunwaves and their Mexican international stars Sophia Perez and Maribel Dominguez behind the leadership of Michelle French, who set up the game-winner.
Premier Development League Playoffs
The regular season champion Hampton Roads Piranhas fell victim to the tradition of top seeds falling in the conference playoffs as they saw their unbeaten season deemed meaningless with an opening round loss to 14-seed Brooklyn 6-5 in the seventh round of penalties after a 1-1 draw. Brooklyn would go on to also knock off the other Eastern Conference division champion Cape Cod, edging their rivals 1-0 in the conference final.
In the Central Conference, the defending champion Michigan Bucks avoided upset by dispatching of playoff newcomers St Louis 4-1 in the semifinals and blanking division rival Chicago, who knocked off Heartland Division champion and playoff debutant Thunder Bay 3-1, for the championship, 3-0, and a return to the league semis.
The division champions Laredo Heat and Carolina Dynamo won their openers against Central Florida and El Paso, respectively, in the Southern Conference playoffs with Laredo advancing to the PDL semifinals for a second straight year with a 2-1 win over the Dynamo.
In the Western Conference, the division champions also avoided upset as the Fresno Fuego downed the Tacoma Tide and the BYU Cougars topped the San Fernando Valley Quakes. Fresno helped contribute to the curse against top seeds by bouncing the second-seeded BYU side 3-0 to leave third-seeded Michigan as the lone team of the top five in the overall seeding to advance to the semifinals.
USL First Division
After making a slew of player moves during the week with three other clubs, the defending champion Whitecaps went to battle with northwest rival Seattle looking to curb their current slide that has seen them drop from first to fourth behind Portland, Seattle and Montreal. Seattle via Roger Levesque took an early lead in Vancouver 16 minutes in, but the Whitecaps leveled with a Tony Donatelli penalty in the 41st and grabbed the lead five minutes from time courtesy of new addition Alen Marcina. It would not hold, however, as Greg Howes blasted a 30-yard free kick in to the lower far corner of the goal in the final seconds of stoppage time for a 2-2 draw Friday.
In other results on the week, league-leading Portland played to a scoreless draw at home against Atlanta while created some space from last place with a 2-1 comeback win in Minnesota on a pair of Yuri Morales goals Thursday. California, however, fell 1-0 at home Saturday to Puerto Rico while Rochester rallied from two down at home to down Minnesota 4-2. Hamed Diallo scored twice for the Rhinos. Meanwhile in Carolina, Miami extended their unbeaten run to five with a 4-1 win over the RailHawks.
USL Second Division
The playoff field is set as the previously clinched defending champion Richmond Kickers were joined by the Harrisburg City Islanders, Charlotte Eagles and expansion Cleveland City Stars this week. Harrisburg secured their spot with a 2-0 win Wednesday over chasers Crystal Palace Baltimore and a 2-1 victory over Richmond Saturday. Cleveland downed the 2006 finalist Eagles, who locked up their berth based on tiebreakers with Palace, Saturday 1-0.
In other results, Palace, hoping for results to go their way and knowing they may need improved goal differential, drubbed Bermuda 8-1 Saturday. Wilmington had a busy week with a 2-2 draw against Richmond Wednesday, a 2-0 win at Western Mass Friday and a 3-2 loss at New Hampshire Saturday. Cincinnati nabbed a late 3-3 draw against Charlotte on a 90th minute penalty.