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Jun 17, 2008

Red cards galore mar USL action

USL-1 was characterized this past week by an unbelievable number of red cards issued. In eight weeks of play, there have been 12 red cards total; last week alone, there were nine. Of six games played, three had multiple ejections -- almost unheard of by USL standards. Was there any rhyme or reason for the sudden flurry of red? It looks like many referees are cracking down on tough challenges, but several of those cards were for offenses like fighting. Whatever the cause, hopefully it's just a fluke. A few take-homes from the action:

1. Too little too late. Looks like Montreal finally caught a break -- but will it be enough to save its season? Things definitely have not been going well for the Impact over the past few months: a goal wrongly ruled out during a 1-0 win over Charleston, a coaching change in the middle of the season and five games at home without a goal. Still, the Impact managed to put one past Dusty Hudock on Saturday, breaking their home scoring duck. Although the three points earned are just a drop in the bucket compared to what they need to get to the top of the standings, that victory might have helped them psychologically more than anything. Starting off the tenure of a new coach with a win might help the Impact shift their mind-set to more winning ways.

2. Shaky defense. If it wants to keep up its winning ways, Montreal is going to need to take a hard look at its frightful back line. It's true that right now the Battery are flying high, and forwards like Randi Patterson and Aaron King can set a blistering pace and cause problems for defenders. (And no, that's not a reference to the wrestling match for which Patterson and defender Adam Braz got ejected.) But during the first half of that game and part of the second, the Impact defenders could not get it together. Some of the defenders, like Cedric Joqueviel, were playing too far forward. Consequently, many times they were late getting back to the goal, leaving keeper Matt Jordan high and dry. Without Jordan's amazing skills, the Battery easily could have been up two goals.

3. Strength in reserve. Evidently, the Puerto Rico Islanders' "makeshift" team cleans up pretty well. The Islanders handed the Carolina RailHawks their biggest defeat so far this season in a 3-0 shutout Thursday. Puerto Rico's Osei Telesford, Fabrice Noel and Victor Herrera all were out on international duty, giving players like Kendall Jagdeosingh and Petter Villegas rare spots in the starting 11. The midfield, with players like Jonny Steele, looked particularly good and showed a lot of skill getting passes through to the strikers. Were the Islanders giving it their all because, being in last place, they have nothing to lose? Maybe, but considering that peripheral players like Jagdeosingh and Villegas have shown they can help provide quality depth, perhaps the Islanders will be able to move up the standings.

4. Carolina doldrums. The RailHawks look like their midfield is struggling and now are in the midst of a three-game losing streak. Despite having last year's leading USL-1 goal scorer, Daniel Antoniuk, Carolina seems to be suffering a bit like Miami was, with the midfield not able to get passes up to the front. In the game against the Islanders, the RailHawks were reduced to trying to land balls over the Puerto Rico defense. Considering that coach Scott Schweitzer has kept largely the same lineup for much of this season, it might be that Carolina does not have the financial or other means to bring in new players. Regardless, the team's situation has gone from bad to worse with these recent losses, and a trip to the bottom of the standings seems likely for the RailHawks.

5. Timbers gut out a result. Although they might be having a poor season so far, you have to hand it to the Portland Timbers for keeping it together during their 2-2 circus of a game against Atlanta on Thursday. I'm not sure I can remember a USL-1 game in which two players from the same team were ejected. Yes, Portland did sit back and play defensively after the first sending off, making life very hard for the Silverbacks. But they cunningly picked themselves up after Miguel Guante's inexplicable own goal and did a great job of hanging on for dear life with only nine players for more than 20 minutes. Even the Timbers Army did their part, ruthlessly booing Atlanta's Macoumba Kandji every time he touched the ball. Earning this result was a good way for the Timbers to go into their two-week break from the USL-1, but they still have a lot of work to do to salvage their season.

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.

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

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