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Jul 8, 2008

Battery and Sounders stay alive in U.S. Open Cup

Charleston Battery, the USL-1 leader, had a great week as they moved past the Houston Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup and are now four points clear of second place in the league. As Charleston solidifies its lead in the standings, several teams, like the Vancouver Whitecaps, made roster changes in the hopes of getting back to winning ways. A few take-homes from the action this past week:

1. Roster moves: The Vancouver Whitecaps had a roster shakeup this past week, transferring veteran defender and club captain Adrian Cann to Danish side Esbjerg fB and trading midfielder Tony Donatelli for the Montreal Impact's Charles Gbeke. After a great start to the season, the Whitecaps have gone winless in their past four games. Coach Teitur Thordarson acquired Gbeke to add more firepower up front -- considering that the Caps have won most of their games this season by a margin of only one goal. But the departure of Cann could prove dicey for Vancouver's back line. Although Cann has missed several games due to international duty this year, his presence is instrumental in the back line. Vancouver does have several quality defenders, including recent acquisition Chris Pozniak, but it will be interesting to see if the departure of the team captain sets the Caps back further.

2. Cup progress: The U.S. Open Cup is beginning to look a lot like last year for the Charleston Battery. Last Tuesday, the Battery managed to hold the Houston Dynamo with only nine men, and they went on to win on perfect penalty kicks. Unlike last year, though, the Battery will not have the benefit of playing their quarterfinal match versus FC Dallas on home turf -- and they will be missing ejected defender Marco Reda and midfielder Chris Corcoran. FC Dallas does not exactly have the greatest record for home wins, but they do have a nearly full roster to choose from. If the Battery defense can hold up well without Reda, though, they may still have a leg up on Dallas in the form of their powerful offense and could orchestrate an exciting upset.

3. Long-range threat: Although the Seattle Sounders have one of the best keepers in USL-1, there was little Chris Eylander could do to stop the fantastic game-winning shot from Battery midfielder Lazo Alavanja in Seattle's 1-0 loss. From more than 30 yards out, an unmarked Alavanja sent a cracking shot into the upper left corner of the Sounders' net in the 10th minute. It was the kind of shot that is usually tried at least once in most USL games but is rarely effective (and usually in desperation). This time, though, Alavanja clearly sized up the shot and quickly took it -- a visual stunner. Alavanja tried the same shot a couple of other times during the game, but Eylander had wised up to his far-reaching ability. In his fourth season with the Battery, Alavanja has already scored two goals this season -- his total sum for last year.

4. The other survivor: The Seattle Sounders find themselves in a similar position as the Battery, as they are the only other USL-1 team remaining in the U.S. Open Cup. (Interestingly enough, there is one USL-2 team, Crystal Palace Baltimore, that will take on the defending champion New England Revolution on Tuesday.) Last year, the Sounders made it to the semifinals before losing in overtime to FC Dallas. Although the Sounders haven't had as much success in the league this year as the Battery, they have yet to concede a goal in their U.S. Open Cup campaign and still look fairly solid. When they meet the Kansas City Wizards in the quarterfinals, the Sounders' defenders, especially frequent fouler Kenji Treschuk, will need to be careful not to give away penalties. The two penalties conceded by the Carolina RailHawks in the Wizards' last cup game proved to be the difference in the result.

5. Play it again, Sam: If anyone thought the Whitecaps' 3-0 loss to the Rhinos two weeks ago was just a fluke, due to the two ejections in that game or otherwise, the Rhinos' 3-1 win in the rematch on Saturday should have put those opinions to bed. During the second half, the Rhinos took advantage of the lagging defense to put several quality goals past the Whitecaps. New Rhinos midfielder Danny Earls made a fantastic cross for Johnny Menyongar to tap in. Rochester's Ze Roberto -- who was lucky not to have been booked for a bad challenge on Justin Moose earlier in the game -- showed great reflexes to put away the Rhinos' first goal after a quick pass from Luke Kreamalmeyer. While the Rhinos are out of the U.S. Open Cup and last in the league standings, there is still a lot of hard work and quality left in their game.

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 soccer podcast on www.theoffside.com and can be reached at anneramzy@gmail.com.

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