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Apr 21, 2008

Newcomers impress in USL debuts

Both new and old defensive and offensive lines were put to the test this past week in the USL-1 (the USL has three divisions, USL-1, USL-2 and the PDL), and several new signings got their debuts. Most USL teams, such as the Portland Timbers, were playing their first games of the season, but a few were already playing their second. A few take-homes from the past week:

1. Takayuki Suzuki's got skills. The new Japanese international signing showed some great talent and a lot of promise in Portland's 1-0 win over the Puerto Rico Islanders. He's got great crossing skills, a good work rate, and a healthy appetite for the game. Communication with his mates on the pitch is rumored be a work in progress, as he is evidently still learning English. But if things are only going to get brighter from here, then the future looks pretty darn good for the Timbers offense.

Suzuki's partnership with new signing and former MLS player Chris Brown couldn't unleash a whole lot against the Islanders, after Puerto Rico went down to 10 men and the Islanders inevitably hung back a bit. But it did show good potential and should be interesting to keep an eye on.

2. New Portland keeper Raymond Burse wasn't tested much, but did respond well when he was. At the moment being he's stretched a little thin since he has to go back to his MLS club FC Dallas to fill a spot on the bench for the injured Josh Lambo. But the back line was a bit curious. The Islanders got the better of some of the Portland defenders a couple of times. First games don't always tell a whole lot but if the Timbers want the title this year, they've got to have the solid back line that they had last year. Next Saturday's game against old rivals the Seattle Sounders should be quite an exciting match, considering Seattle's offensive capabilities.

3. It looks like bringing in a few new defenders has worked out well for the Charleston Battery. In their 1-1 draw with 2007 champs Seattle Sounders, the Battery defense was tested several times but mostly held solid. Battery keeper Dusty Hudock had several good saves, and new signing and former MLS defender Marco Reda had a good game as well, despite keeping up the brutal Battery way and receiving a yellow card for a harsh clatter on Sebastian Le Toux.

4. During the first half of Saturday's game, Seattle was reduced to playing a lot of long ball, perhaps due to the Battery locking up the midfield, which included Cuban Osvaldo Alonso making his debut. Alonso had good movement in the midfield, including hitting a huge screamer in the 35th minute that went just inches wide of the goal, but his set pieces need some work. Corners were sent a little too far, and spot kicks launched low into the wall.

5. Despite an atrocious penalty effort from Mike Richardson, the Battery had a fairly good offensive game with some decent chances. Striker Aaron King, who assisted Louie Rolko's first-half goal, put forth many creative efforts. It was mostly down to Seattle's superb keeper, Chris Eylander, that the Battery didn't have more goals. Eylander displayed some sharp reflexes and had several great saves, including a fantastic sideways leap to catch the ball mid-air towards the middle of the second half. When Battery midfielder Dominic Cianciarulo returns from injury, Charleston should be even more dangerous up front.

6. Things started off well for Miami FC on Saturday against the visiting Montreal Impact, but ended badly with a 2-1 loss for Miami. New Brazilian signing Alex Afonso scored another great header in the 16th minute, but just after the halftime break, Montreal scored a controversial goal. Midfielder John Pulido was knocked down, but while the Miami players called for play to be stopped, the ref let it go and Montreal scored. The worst was yet to come, though, as a couple of minutes later Jamaican international Sean Fraser, who scored a goal in Miami's last game against Charleston, had a horrific collision while chasing down a ball and dislocated his elbow. Fraser is a key player for Miami, and the club certainly will be hoping that he has a speedy recovery.

Anne Ramzy is a freelance sportswriter based near San Francisco, Calif. She is also a frequent guest on the weekly www.theoffside.com soccer podcast and can be reached at anneramzy@gmail.com.