On June 12, the Puerto Rico Islanders were in last place of the USL First Division table. That Thursday night the Islanders began their climb out of the cellar with a 3-0 victory over the Carolina RailHawks and never looked back, winning seven of nine over the past month. On Friday night, the Islanders won their fourth straight on the road, going full circle with a 2-0 win at Carolina, to reach first place in the league for the first time in franchise history beyond the opening weeks of a season.
Although Charleston would reclaim the top spot the following night, it was a momentous occasion for the five-year old franchise that reached a high of making the USL-1 Semifinals last year only to find themselves at the bottom of the table the following year despite non-league success that led to qualification for the CONCACAF Champions League this fall.
The Islanders took advantage of a defensive mistake early on when Petter Villegas played a through-ball right in the middle of the box for Josh Hansen, who easily slotted the ball to the right of Chris McClellan in the 16th minute.
In the 64th minute Islanders forward Fabrice Noel found himself in the right place at the right time for the second strike, picking up a ball in the box that RailHawks defender Kupono Low was trying to clear away.
USL First Division
Friday, July 18
Portland Timbers 1 at Atlanta Silverbacks 1
In a game that appeared to be headed to a scoreless draw, the faithful on hand that stayed for the final moments were treated to a thrilling conclusion. Lawrence Olum delivered what seemed to be a dagger to the home side in the 90th minute of play for the visiting Timbers. But two minutes later in stoppage time, the Silverbacks leveled in the final moments as Ansu Toure sent a low ball across the box that was redirected past Brad Knighton by Scott Buete for the equalizer.
Miami FC Blues 1 at Montreal Impact 3
The hosts broke two streaks on the night, stopping their two-game home losing skid and ending Miami's impressive nine-game unbeaten stretch that featured eight shutouts and one goal allowed. Montreal's David Testo broke the deadlock just before the break with a score in the 44th with Miami drawing level in the 59th on an own goal by Nevio Pizollitto on a corner kick. Severino Jefferson restored the lead five minutes later and Stefano Pesoli secured the victory in the 81st.
Rochester Rhinos 3 at Seattle Sounders 1
Following the path laid out by Puerto Rico, Rochester moved further up the table after sitting in last just a few weeks prior, handing the Sounders their first-ever regular season loss at Starfire Sports Complex. Luke Kreamalmeyer opened the scoring 15 minutes in only to see Seattle level two minutes later courtesy of Leighton O'Brien. Former Sounder Andrew Gregor scored his first goal as a Rhino since his recent trade in the 27th minute on Johnny Menyongar's second assist of the night. Matthew Delicate would lock up the victory over the defending champions in the 75th.
Saturday, July 19
Portland Timbers 0 at Charleston Battery 2
Darren Spicer and Stephen Armstrong scored five minutes apart in the 27th and 32nd minutes to give the Battery a lead they would securely hold with Dusty Hudock only needing to make one stop to earn the shutout.
Sunday, July 20
Rochester Rhinos 1 at Minnesota Thunder 0
The Rhinos continued their incredible escape from last place with their fourth win in five games, hitting third place in the league table. Johnny Menyongar helped down his former club with a strike in the 19th minute. Goalkeeper Scott Vallow needed to make only one save despite the Thunder taking 11 shots.
USL Second Division
Wilmington cruised past Real Maryland Friday 5-2 and Crystal Palace Baltimore handed the Western Mass Pioneers a 2-0 loss that clinched playoff spots for Cleveland and Richmond. On Saturday, the two sides, tied for second, faced one another with Richmond coming out on top 3-1 over the City Stars. Meanwhile, league-leading Charlotte drubbed the Monarchs 8-0 with Dustin Swinehart, Robert Sssejjemba and Joseph Kabwe all tallying twice as Jorge Herrera racked up a stunning five assists. Western Mass rebounded from their defeat for a 2-2 draw in Harrisburg while Pittsburgh finally moved out of last with a 2-0 win over Bermuda. The Riverhounds completed the weekend Sunday with another victory, moving them eighth as they surprised Palace 2-1.
Premier Development League
The regular season came to a close in dramatic fashion as numerous teams were vying for playoff spots throughout the final weekend of play. On Friday, Bradenton downed the division leading Central Florida Kraze 2-1 to qualify and Vancouver Whitecaps Residency clinched a berth with a win at BYU 2-0.
On Saturday, the defending PDL champion Laredo Heat clinched a playoff spot with a 4-0 win at New Orleans, shutting out late-charging El Paso, who downed division champion Austin 3-1, for second in the division. Former two-time finalist Colorado clinched a berth with a 1-1 draw at Des Moines and Tacoma punched their ticket while also grabbing the division title with a pivotally big 6-2 win over Yakima that gave them a plus-three goal differential advantage over Vancouver in the tiebreaker. Expansion Newark nabbed the Eastern Conference wild card spot with a 6-2 win over Westchester, leaving Ottawa, 3-0 losers in Vermont, hoping for a Cape Cod loss on Sunday.
Division leader Ottawa saw its playoff hopes dashed Sunday with Cape Cod's 3-0 victory over Vermont to advance to the PDL postseason. Toronto earned the final berth in the Central Conference with Michigan's 3-0 victory, leaving the final undecided berths in the Southwest. In the end, it was San Fernando Valley's 2-1 win over Fresno that was the focal point as both teams would advance with the Quakes winning the division and Fresno moving on courtesy of San Jose's stunning 3-0 upset win at San Francisco.
The expansion Pali Blues became the first team in the west to win the W-League regular season title Friday, finishing perfect with a 2-1 win at Los Angeles. Pali's victory also clinched a playoff berth for Vancouver. Meanwhile, Minnesota's 4-2 loss in Cleveland secured Chicago a spot in the postseason. On Saturday, the Laval Comets completed the Central Conference playoff field with a resounding 6-1 win in Rochester. Atlanta joined Pali and FC Indiana as unbeatens for the regular season by downing West Virginia 4-1 in their finale. Ottawa and Toronto were both victorious, sending the Northern Division title race to the final day. Washington played the Renegades to a 1-1 draw in Boston to clinch the division title in the Northeast.
The Long Island Rough Riders downed New Jersey 5-0 to not only advance to the W-League postseason, but move into second in the division ahead of Boston. Ottawa claimed the Northern Division crown with a win over Western Mass while Toronto fell 2-1 in Rochester. The final berth went to Seattle in the west when Vancouver denied Real Colorado's bid to advance with a 2-1 defeat of the visiting Cougars.