Dearth of goals in USL-1 action
There was quite a dearth of goals in the USL-1 this past week, with most teams winning by a slim 1-0 margin. Good strikers who stay uninjured and don't jump ship for a lucrative MLS contract seem to be hard to come by in the USL, but several good offensive partnerships have started to form, and more than a few teams have gotten their defensive ducks in a solid row in the back line. A few observations from the weekend:
1. Rochester Rhinos hit the road with a thud. It would have been hard to imagine most teams winning their first game of the season against a team that has already played four games. This past weekend, the Rhinos started their season off with back-to-back losses, and their lack of match fitness was evident. The Rhinos crashed out 2-0 away to Charleston Battery on Friday and then 1-0 away to Minnesota Thunder on Sunday. New Rhinos coach Darren Tilley made a strange decision to put left-footed former Newcastle man Steve Guppy on the right wing to start for the Rhinos against Charleston, and Guppy wasn't very effective. When Guppy finally made his way to the left side after the halftime break, he got some great crosses in, but the Battery defense was too crowded and solid to give way to Rochester's lukewarm offense.
2. Charleston forwards. The Battery offense didn't look entirely convincing in their first win of the season, but the elements are there for it to get better. Randi Patterson managed to get the ball in the back of the net for a lucky first goal, but he also had some communication problems with fellow forward Lester More. At one point Patterson ran down a ball in More's path, thereby making the play offside, although More could have taken the shot and been onside. With a little more time on the pitch together, More and Patterson could work out their communication to put forward better plays. Substitute Aaron King, who replaced More, looked great for the 20-odd minutes that he played, bringing a great pace to the game that was evident in Charleston's second goal. A King/More partnership up front could potentially be prolific.
3. It's beginning to get ridiculous in Puerto Rico. Yet another fight went down on the soggy Puerto Rico pitch this weekend during Montreal's 1-0 win over the Islanders. To be fair, the problem initially started with an inexplicably vicious tackle from Montreal striker Roberto Brown on defender Nigel Henry. After Brown upended Henry, Osei Telesford immediately ran over to give his two cents' worth to Brown. The ref then made a bad situation worse, appearing to shove Telesford away from Brown, sending him flying. From there, all hell broke loose, with nearly every person on the pitch either squaring off or trying to pull people apart. Yes, Montreal's Brown was rightly ejected for that nasty tackle, but did Osei Telesford need to open a can of worms by confronting him in that manner? No. Puerto Rico needs to put an end to these antics. Seriously.
4. Jordan's return boosts the Impact. Despite the continued presence of a huge puddle -- the players have actually named it "Murray the Puddle" -- plus other puddles on the soggy Puerto Rico pitch, the 10-man Impact did manage to take a vital three points home, with much of the credit due to the defense. Regular keeper Matt Jordan was back in goal after sitting out last week's 3-2 defeat to Atlanta with a back injury. Having kept 11 clean sheets last year, Jordan is a key part of the Montreal defense and showed his skills with a brilliant penalty save from Victor Herrera in the 32nd minute. Jordan's solid presence between the sticks likely will play a vital role in helping the Impact push up the USL standings.
5. Miami's midfield in shambles. Considering that Miami FC is now coached by former Brazilian World Cup-winning midfielder Zinho, the current disorganized state of the Miami midfield comes as a bit of a surprise. Throughout Miami's 1-0 loss to the Carolina RailHawks on Sunday, the midfielders could barely manage a decent cross or pass to each other and were constantly stripped of the ball when they were in possession. Brazilian striker Alex Afonso was even dropping back to try to move things along -- a poor use of his aerial scoring skills. Miami has had to contend with several injuries already this season but will need to come together and sort the midfield out if it wants to start winning games.
Editor's Note -- There are three divisions in the United Soccer Leagues: USL-1, USL-2 and the Premier Development League (PDL). USL is not affiliated with Major League Soccer. For more information, you can visit the USL Web site.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.