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Aug 26, 2008

Islanders and Whitecaps are pulling away

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.

The Puerto Rico Islanders and Vancouver Whitecaps have begun to pull away from the rest of the pack in the standings, although enough games remain to provide an upset. A few take-homes from the weekend:

1. Diallo on fire. The Carolina RailHawks may be sitting in last place desperately trying to make the playoffs, but that hasn't kept recent transfer Hamed Diallo from playing exceptionally well the past few games, including three goals during the RailHawks 4-3 defeat to the Seattle Sounders. With the RailHawks, Diallo has thrived, connecting well with nearly every midfielder, and showing awesome ball control. It may be too late in the season to recoup lost points, but Diallo is keeping the hope alive.

2. Seattle slumping. Since their defeat in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals, the Seattle Sounders have been having a tough time, winless in their past three games before Sunday and goalless in their past two. But with Josh Gardener back from an ankle injury, things definitely got better for the Sounders. For both of his goals scored against Carolina, Gardener instinctively maneuvered himself into great positions to receive crosses and head them in.

3. Hindsight is 20/20. If the Atlanta Silverbacks could have seen the state of their team less than two weeks after trading Ansu Toure to Miami, they probably would not have let him go. The Silverbacks are now winless in their last six games, having lost the last three. The large number of injuries the Silverbacks have sustained, including Macoumba Kandji, Justin Moore, Tony McManus, and Scott Beute, couldn't have come at a worse time, as Atlanta has now played four games in eight days. The Silverbacks are dangerously close to losing their playoff spot and considering how some of the lower ranked teams have stepped up their game recently, Atlanta may struggle to hang on.

4. Battery running on fumes. With one of the largest games in their franchise history coming up soon (the Sep. 3 U.S. Open Cup final), it's understandable why the Battery has rested some players and taken it a bit easy lately. But the Battery have been winless in their last five games and have drifted from the top of the standings and things didn't improve with a 3-0 loss to Miami over the weekend.

5. Brazilian magic. Charleston's misery primarily came at the hands of Brazilian striker and USL-1 leading goal scorer Alex Afonso, who scored his first ever USL-1 hat trick on Sunday. Not having the most cohesive midfield for much of the season has hindered him. Despite Afonso's habit of trying to go it alone and not passing, the improvement of Miami's midfield and acquisition of Ansu Toure has helped Miami take better advantage of Afonso's skills.

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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