Atlanta, Seattle advance to USL-1 Final
Both USL First Division semifinal series needed penalty kicks to decide a winner in the two-leg, aggregate score series finished level after 210 minutes of action. The Seattle Sounders downed the Puerto Rico Islanders 4-2 from the spot after a 3-3 series draw and the Atlanta Silverbacks outlasted the Portland Timbers in a 1-1 draw to take it in penalties 3-1. Atlanta will face the Sounders in Seattle next Saturday for the USL-1 title.
A wild, long distance series between Seattle and Puerto Rico saw goalkeeper Chris Eylander prevent the Islanders from advancing to the final with two saves in the tiebreaker. The Sounders took a 2-1 lead on the road in the first leg, but Puerto Rico rallied for a late 1-0 win in Seattle to force a series overtime, where Seattle scored first only to see the sixth-seeded Islanders equalize late again to send it to penalties.
On Friday night, Seattle's Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar gave the regular season champions the lead 24 minutes in on an assist from Leighton O'Brien only to see the hosts put the game on level terms 15 minutes later when Alejandro Gonzalez connected with Petter Villegas.
Defender Danny Jackson left the Sounders down a man with a sendoff in the 56th minute, but rookie Kenji Treschuk gave the visitors the lead in the 69th minute courtesy of an assist from Roger Levesque.
Before the pressure of the extra man proved fruitful for Puerto Rico, they lost Gonzalez to a second yellow and subsequent red card in the 77th to leave each side at 10 as the game came to a close.
With the second leg playing out in a scoreless stalemate, it looked as though the Sounders one goal advantage would hold out when Noah Delgado found Alberto Delgado in the 80th minute for his first goal of the season to give Puerto Rico the 1-0 win in the game and put the series on level terms at 2-2 to force series overtime.
In extra time Levesque found Greg Howes to give the hosts the series lead 3-2, and with a fourth championship game in sight, Victor Herrera put it on hold with a 3-3 equalizer three minutes before the final whistle to send the match to penalties, where Eylander proved the hero.
While the Seattle-Puerto Rico series was a back and forth affair, the Silverbacks and Timbers were battling to a stalemate with a 1-1 draw in the first leg that stood through to the penalties.
The fourth-seeded Silverbacks took the initial lead in the series two minutes before halftime at home Friday night in the first leg when Machel Millwood found Warren Ukah.
Four minutes into the second half, Portland rookie Bryan Jordan tied the series back up with goalkeeper Josh Wicks finishing the game out with 10 saves in the match to take the series home level.
The second leg proved to be a scoreless stalemate, the second of the season between the two teams. It would be Atlanta's Ryan McIntosh, who began the season as the second string netminder, taking on the hero role with eight saves through the match and series overtime before making the critical save in the fourth round of penalties for a 3-1 win. It was redemption for a side that saw elimination from the U.S. Open Cup via penalties by FC Dallas, who will play for the tournament title next Wednesday, October 3 against New England after advancing to the final with a semifinal win in Seattle.
Seattle plays host to the Silverbacks Saturday September 29 at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Washington at 10:00 pm ET on Fox Soccer Channel.
The Sounders are headed to their fifth USL First Division Championship game having won the title in 1995, 1996 and 2005. A victory would give the Sounders, tied with the Rochester Rhinos, the most USL-1 titles in league history. It would also be the fifth USL-1 title for the city with the Seattle Storm having won the Western Soccer League, which merged into what is now USL-1, in 1988.
The Silverbacks, meanwhile, are headed to their first-ever championship game having never previously won a playoff game in their eight-year history before last week's Quarterfinals. Ironically, it is still their only win with all three games after their first leg win over Rochester finishing in draws for a 1-0-3 mark heading to Seattle.
While the Silverbacks may be headed to the championship for the first time, it is not the first-ever meeting between Atlanta and Seattle in the USL First Division Championship. The Sounders won their first USL-1 title in a three-game series against the Atlanta Ruckus in 1995 winning the third game at home 2-1 in a shootout after a opening game 2-1 shootout loss in Atlanta and a 3-0 win at home in the second match.