Battery emerging as a force
Although several games of the USL-1 this week ended up in 0-0 draws, there were some impressive offensive displays as a few quality strikers emerged from the ranks. The Portland Timbers were dethroned from the top of the standings, but the title race is still very close at the moment, with the top six teams separated by only six points. The Seattle Sounders, the defending league champions, got back to winning ways, but the Charleston Battery and Minnesota Thunder look likely to hang around at the top. A few take-homes from the weekend:
1. Sebastien Le Toux is a man on a mission: At least he was on Sunday as the Sounders beat the Atlanta Silverbacks 4-2. Critics have had a go at him this season, arguing that he's not as effective as last year and that defenders may have figured him out. Might want to ask Silverbacks defender Matt Bobo about that -- I bet he might disagree. Le Toux gave him and the rest of Atlanta's back line a major workout on Sunday. Le Toux played with solid confidence, accurately anticipating crosses and packing blistering speed -- not to mention displaying an impressive work rate. Not only did the lanky Frenchman score a goal within 68 seconds of kickoff and get the assist on the second goal, he also managed to shake off a nasty elbow to the face that got Atlanta's Zach Kirby ejected. It's performances like this that show why he's the Seattle Sounders FC's first MLS signing.
2. Credit to Atlanta: The Silverbacks deserve some plaudits though, for putting forth a good attacking game against the Sounders. The rematch of last year's first- and second-place league finishers was probably never going to be a dull affair, but who expected Atlanta to keep attacking after being reduced to 10 men? Not only did they keep attacking, but strikers Macounba Kandji and Ansu Tourethere got off several good shots. The Silverbacks were neck and neck with the Sounders for much of the game, quickly answering with their own goals whenever Seattle scored. Considering that Atlanta had gone several games without scoring on Seattle, Sunday's effort from was one more indication that the Silverbacks are big contenders for the title this year.
3. Randi Patterson is on fire: If Patterson keeps up his current form, the Charleston Battery could prove to be tough to knock off the top of the standings. Patterson, currently the league-leading goal scorer, has now scored five goals in seven games, including one against the Rochester Rhinos on Sunday in a 1-0 win for Charleston. Patterson exhibited fantastic drive on Sunday, at one point taking on three Rhino defenders alone and nearly scoring. It might sound overly confident for one offensive player to take on three, but considering the woeful state of Rochester's back line, it shows that Patterson knew just how to exploit the Rhinos' weaknesses.
4. Evidently the tropics didn't agree with Portland: Or Portland with the tropics. Either way, the Timbers' trip to Puerto Rico and Miami this week wasn't exactly successful: It produced two draws and saw them slip from the top of the standings. The Timbers looked tired, perhaps a bit jet-lagged, but against a poor Miami side, the Timbers' offense still simply could not get it together and Portland had to settle for a 0-0 draw. Portland did manage to battle back from a two-goal deficit against the Islanders to tie it 2-2, but the Timbers need strikers Takayuki Suzuki and Chris Brown to rediscover their early season form.
5. Miami FC is in trouble: Miami's midfield has been in turmoil for weeks, but against the Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps on Friday, it was quite evident that the Blues need to go back to basics and work on simple passing. The ball spent most of the time in the air during both games, ping-ponging around the pitch. The Blues were lucky if they could get in more than 3 touches without a turnover. And while bad passing is a problem, a lackadaisical attitude makes the situation worse. I'll give the players the benefit of the doubt: Perhaps the temperatures were tough on them this weekend. But the slowness and inaccuracy of passes just made it appear as though some of the Miami players would rather be somewhere else.
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.