Harrisburg wins USL-2 title
The Harrisburg City Islanders defeated the Richmond Kickers 8-7 in a nine-round penalty kick shootout Saturday night at the University of Richmond Stadium after playing to a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes of regulation and overtime. It was the fourth USL-2 title game to go past regulation in the last five years.
The fourth-year City Islanders pushed the USL Second Division Final into overtime on the strength of a first-half Islander goal by Brian Ombiji. The defending USL-2 champion Kickers drew level on a Ricky Schramm goal in the 75th minute. Defender Dustin Bixler of the City Islanders was named MVP of the USL-2 Final following the match.
"Bixler played a remarkable game," said Harrisburg Head Coach Bill Becher. "He improved in every match this season and continued to take more and more chances away from Richmond as tonight's game wore on. He really stepped up his game in the final and as part of a defense that is incredible, he stood out this evening."
Beating the halftime whistle by seconds, Harrisburg took a huge step towards their bid for the USL Second Division Championship on a play that started with their calling card – good defense.
David Schofield took everyone in the crowd by surprise when he intercepted a pass from a Richmond defender deep in his offensive third. Pushing the ball wide, Schofield played the ball back across the face of the goal. The cross was too far out for goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale to challenge, yet far enough in front of Schofield's target Ombiji, that the forward could run onto it. Ombiji did run. He sped past two Kicker's defenders and one-timed the ball past Pascale for a 1-0 City Islanders lead at the break.
Nearing crunch time in the 75th minute, substitute Ricky Schramm leveled the Kickers 1-1 with his team-leading seventh goal of the season. But, the goal was less Schramm than it was 2007 league MVP Mike Burke, who brought down a cross from the left flank with a one-time heel pass to Schramm just outside the six yard box. Schramm had enough time to tell Burke how pretty the pass was before firing a ball past Nelson.
The best chance in overtime went to the defending champs as the match should have ended with a lengthy blast from Gorres in the 115th minute. The ball was perfectly placed and hit solid. Bound for glory, the ball collided with the fingertips of Nelson, who had no business getting there. It spun out for a corner kick that Richmond could not do anything with. Not against Nelson anyway.
The game headed to kicks from the mark for the second time in three years for Richmond and for the third time in the last four USL-2 Championship games.
Nelson guessed correctly in the third round of penalties, making a diving save to his left to give Harrisburg an edge. Pascale would not be outdone. He stonewalled the next shot he saw to even the score back up, 3-3 going into the fifth round of kicks.
Four more rounds of precise finishing followed for both clubs. Defenders and goalkeepers stepped up to the mark as every player left on the field at the end of overtime became an important part of the scoring regime.
Pascale, two years after seeing his seventh round shot go off the crossbar in Seattle to give the Sounders the USL-1 title, stepped to the mark in the eighth round and put it away this time.
In the ninth round, defender Ryan Pierce flirted with disaster, hammering his shot centimeters under the crossbar to put Harrisburg up 8-7. Richmond defender Evan Harding stepped to the mark and tried the same trick, but the crossbar, now awakened, would have none of it. The ball ricocheted down and forward, back onto the field. Harrisburg was the champion of USL's Second Division.
Ninety minutes has proven to not be enough for the Richmond Kickers or the USL Second Division in championship games over recent years. The USL-2 title was decided after regulation for the fourth time in the past five years while Richmond went past regulation for the fourth time in their last five championship game appearances.
USL First Division
Northwest rivals Seattle and Portland continued their duel for first in the league this week with Seattle expanding their lead atop the table with a 3-0 win over Atlanta Wednesday to four points. Portland cut it back to one the following night with a 1-0 win over Charleston. On Saturday, the Timbers moved in front with a 2-1 win in Miami. The lead would not hold, however, as they would fall 1-0 in Puerto Rico Sunday as Seattle won 1-0 against Charleston.
Puerto Rico's victory clinched the Islanders a playoff spot for the second straight year for the fourth-year club. Atlanta rebounded from Wednesday's loss to post a 3-2 win in Minnesota Saturday to clinch a berth in the postseason, leaving just two berths undecided.
In other results, the defending champion Vancouver Whitecaps ended a surprising 12-game winless run with a 1-0 decision against Charleston Saturday. Montreal downed rival Rochester 2-0 on Friday, but fell 1-0 in Carolina on Sunday, allowing the RailHawks to move into prime position to qualify for the playoffs tied with Charleston for eighth. The pair sit five points back of Vancouver in seventh and one ahead of Miami in 10th. Carolina has three games remaining to two for Charleston and Vancouver and one for Miami.