With a 2-0 semifinal victory Saturday against the Eastern Conference champion Reading Rage, the defending Premier Development League champion Laredo Heat became the first team in league history to reach the final three consecutive years. They will play host to the Thunder Bay Chill, who downed the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency 2-1 in a thrilling finish in the other semifinal, in the PDL Championship game Saturday.
Galvan suffered a blow to the mouth that required stitches in the 24th minute of the match and was forced to the bench, where he stayed for the rest of the opening half while leaving the Heat down a man.
His teammates, though, did more then just pick up the slack, as they kept control of the sphere and dictated the contest before scoring the game winner in the 41st minute via the foot of the unlikely Ramos, who knocked in his first PDL career goal.
It was fitting that the score came from the effort of the Heat's other unlikely hero, Greg Mulamba, who had a strong outing all night and came into the contest with two goals in the last two playoff games.
Mulamba shook off a couple of defenders as he made his way into the box via the right side of the field. As he broke into the area, he sent a cross that pinballed off a pair of Rage players and landed at the feet of Ramos.
The scoring was capped by another fine combination between Theo Browne and U.S. U-20 international Felix Garcia in the 78th minute.
Browne broke free down the right side, and just as he crossed the top area line he fed Garcia, who was speeding down his right side down the middle of the box. Garcia scooped up the pass and sent the ball past goalie Jeremy Vuolo.
It was Garcia's fourth goal of the postseason, and the one that earned the Heat a chance at defending its PDL championship.
In the first-ever all-Canadian semifinal in PDL history, a crowd of 1,546 at Thunder Bay's Chapples Park saw the game's decisive moments take place in the four minutes of second half stoppage time.
After a goalless first half, Scott Milroth gave Thunder Bay the lead just after the hour mark, but just as he did one week ago in the PDL Western Conference semifinal against San Fernando Valley Quakes, Randy Edwini-Bonsu equalized in the final minute to seemingly set up extra time.
Yet, the extra half hour would not be required as the Chill's Alvaro Zendejas headed home a corner in the fourth minute of stoppage time to secure Thunder Bay's first-ever berth in the PDL championship final.
Just before the quarter-hour mark, Whitecaps Residency were given a major opportunity to take the lead. A foul by Brazilian defender Wilson Neto on the elusive Edwini-Bonsu in the Thunder Bay box gave Anthony DiNicolo the chance to put the visitors in front from the penalty spot. Unfortunately for the Vancouver centre back, his penalty was well saved by Chill goalkeeper Stephen Paterson, who dove to his left to block the spot kick.
The Chill took the lead through Milroth on 61 minutes. The American defender got on the end of substitute Jeremy Gold's free kick to head the ball into the top corner of the goal to give the Chill a vital lead.
With the game still well poised, the crowd were then treated to a dramatic finish from both sides. After Thomas had denied Gold a chance to increase the Chill's lead, Edwini-Bonsu got on the end of a Gagandeep Dosanjh through ball before placing a clinical finish past Paterson to make it 1-1 on 89 minutes.
For the second time in the space of a week, it looked like Vancouver might be heading to extra time in the PDL playoffs. However, Thunder Bay were the side with the heroics in the four minutes of stoppage time. After Gold was denied again by Thomas, a corner by the Chill striker was flicked on by Swartzendruber and knocked home at the far post by Zendejas for a 2-1 final score.
USL First Division
Tuesday, July 29
Vancouver Whitecaps 2 at Miami FC Blues 1
The Whitecaps concluded the season series against Miami with a 2-0-1 mark and a sweep on the road with Eduardo Sebrango opening the scoring in the 57th minute and Alfredo Valente providing the winner in the 81st. Miami's Alex Afonso had equalized in the 61st.
Friday, Aug. 1
Seattle Sounders 2 at Puerto Rico Islanders 1
The Puerto Rico Islanders returned home from a six-game road stretch on the strength of a five-game win streak only to see the run end at home. Sebastien Le Toux opened the scoring eight minutes in with Taiwo Atieno putting the game back on level terms five minutes before the break. Josh Gardner would give the visitors the win on the hour mark.
Vancouver Whitecaps 3 at Carolina RailHawks 2
The Whitecaps moved ahead of Charleston to the top of the table in a dominant performance in Carolina. Charles Gbeke gave the visitors the initial lead just two minutes in on assist from Omar Jarun, who doubled the advantage in the 10th minute. Santiago Fusilier cut into the deficit in the 18th minute only to see Eduardo Sebrango restore the two-goal advantage in the 35th. Vancouver defender Takashi Hirano would be sent off in the 43rd minute, but the RailHawks were only able to capitalize for one goal courtesy of Martin Nunez in the 83rd.
Charleston Battery 1 at Atlanta Silverbacks 2
Macoumba Kandji gave Atlanta the lead on a penalty in the 12th minute only to see the advantage disappear less than a minute later when Stephen Armstrong found the back of the net at the other end. Ansu Toure would provide the Silverbacks winner in the 37th, but left his side a man short for the final 18 minutes when he was sent off for a late tackle.
Saturday, Aug. 2
Portland Timbers 2 at Minnesota Thunder 2
After rallying to beat Seattle a week before, the Thunder saw for a second straight game a two-goal lead vanish at home. A Ricardo Sanchez penalty in the 18 and a Luchi Gonzalez strike in the 66th gave the hosts the commanding advantage, but the Timbers, winless in the last four, fought back. Miguel Guante tallied in the 70th minute and Jason Jordan converted a penalty five minute later for the equalizer.
Sunday, Aug. 3
Atlanta Silverbacks 4 at Rochester Rhinos 3
In a wild back-and-forth contest, the Silverbacks and Rhinos exchanged a league season-high seven goals. Macoumba Kandji looked to have secured a 1-0 advantage headed to the break with a penalty in the 42nd only to see Andrew Gregor equalize on an excellent set piece corner two minutes later. The visitors took the lead again in the 50th minute via Jerson Monteiro that began a three-minute, three-goal span that saw Kandji push the advantage to two in the 52nd and Matthew Delicate cut it back to one a minute later. The two sides then exchanged penalties with David Hayes converting for Atlanta in the 71st and Mauricio Salles for Rochester in the 75th.
Vancouver Whitecaps 0 at Charleston Battery 2
The Battery moved back to the top of the table with Vancouver on the strength of two goals from Osvaldo Alonso. Armstrong set up the opener 10 minute in and Alonso converted a penalty 61st. Dusty Hudock, who left due to injury in the 18th, and Keith Wiggans combined for the clean sheet.
Carolina RailHawks 0 at Puerto Rico Islanders 1
The Islanders returned to the win column while extending Carolina's winless run to eight games with a Cristian Arrieta header in the 37th minute. Bill Gaudette helped preserve the win with a penalty kick stop against Kupono Low in the 45th.
USL Second Division
With the playoffs around the corner, the race for the final berths is down to the final week. The Charlotte Eagles secured a bye to the semifinals with a 2-1 win at Pittsburgh and defending champion Harrisburg City Islanders were put into the postseason courtesy of Richmond's 2-1 victory at home over Wilmington Friday. Richmond would also go on to clinch a bye to the semifinals with a 3-2 win at Wilmington Saturday.
Third-place Cleveland denied Charlotte's bid to also capture the regular season title with a 1-0 victory on an 89th minute Floyd Franks penalty Saturday. In other action, playoff-bound Crystal Palace Baltimore downed Real Maryland 3-2 Thursday and the Bermuda Hogges 3-0 Sunday. Bermuda fell 4-2 at Harrisburg Saturday.