The second-seed Vancouver Whitecaps and fourth-seed Rochester Rhinos built 2-0 leads in the first legs of their USL First Division Quarterfinals that held for the series victory despite one-goal losses on the road in the second leg, but the third-seed Montreal Impact had to rally to oust the defending champion Seattle Sounders in what proved to be a wild series.
After trailing 2-1 in the first leg in which all three goals came in the first half and each side saw a man sent off in the second, the Impact came from behind to down Seattle 3-1 in crazy second half in Montreal that saw all four goals scored and another series of ejections to take the series 4-3 on aggregate.
Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar, making just his second start since early August, scored early in the first half, and Leighton O'Brien converted a penalty kick shortly before halftime as the Sounders hung on for a 2-1 victory against the Impact in the first leg of their opening-round total-goals match-up at Starfire Sports Complex.
The teams split this season's series, 1-1-1. Seattle's victory came at Montreal on July 13, as Sebastien Le Toux scored on an assist from O'Brien in the 73rd minute. The Sounders took the initial lead on Friday on Alcaraz-Cuellar's goal in the 14th minute. Le Toux broke behind the Montreal defense into the left side of the box, but couldn't get off a clear shot. The ball went across to Roger Levesque stationed right near the penalty spot, but also couldn't fire. Alcaraz-Cuellar then ran onto the loose ball and, from the right side of the spot, blasted it into the far left corner.
But the lead lasted for just six minutes. Montreal's Leonardo Di Lorenzo took a free kick from about 28 yards away on the left side. He drove it into the box, where the first shot was blocked by Sounders goalkeeper Chris Eylander. But the ball rebounded right out to Pesoli, standing no more than a couple yards away from the net. He drove it into the roof to create a 1-1 tie.
In the second half, names were going down in the disciplinary section of the scoresheet rather than the scoring summary.
Seattle's Kevin Sakuda was sent off with a straight red card in the 78th minute after getting up from a collision with Montreal's Felix Brillant and shoved him away. In a match that already was getting chippy, referee Edvin Jurisevic immediately pulled out the red, leaving the Sounders down a man for the final 12 minutes (16 counting stoppage time).
But by game's end, both teams actually were playing short. Montreal's Stefano Pesoli, who scored his team's only goal, was shown two yellows during a span of eight minutes -- first in the 75th, then in the 83rd.
Altogether, eight cards -- six yellows and two reds -- were handed out by Jurisevic. Impact midfielder David Testo opened the scoring for the Impact at the 56th minute of the second leg of the series in Montreal. After several passes in the offensive zone, Testo completed the set play by sending the short-sided pass of forward Peter Byers into Seattle's net. Sounders goalkeeper Chris Eylander dove to make the save but ended up deflecting the ball in the top left corner.
The Sounders tied the game three minutes later. Midfielder Sanna Nyassi accepted a back-pass from forward Sébastien Letoux on the right flank and centered a low pass in the 59th minute to forward Roger Levesque, who deflected the ball into the net while diving to the ground.
Levesque was later ejected from the game, receiving a red card for a hard tackle on Impact defender Adam Braz.
On the ensuing Sandro Grande free kick, Mauro Biello took the ball in the face but managed to make a short pass to a trailing Rocco Placentino. From the very top of the box, Placentino took a powerful shot that went off the inside of the post to beat Sounders goalkeeper Chris Eylander.
At the 80th minute, Impact goalkeeper Matt Jordan made a spectacular diving save to his right on a Seattle free kick from outside of the box. But on the play, defender Adam Braz was handed a red card for taking forward Roger Levesque down inside the six-yard area and the Sounders were awarded a penalty kick. Alcaraz-Cuellar converted, but the penalty was retaken because a Seattle player had entered the box too early. On his second attempt, Alcaraz-Cuellar hit the post to Jordan's left. Midfielder Antonio Ribeiro entered the game for the Impact in the 88th minute and scored the series-winner less than two minutes later. On the play, midfielder Joey Gjertsen took a well-placed shot from about 35 yards out, hitting the crossbar, but leaving an easy tap into an empty net for Ribeiro, who was all alone in the goalmouth.
The Impact will now face the Vancouver Whitecaps in an all-Canadian semifinal series, but will head out of the country for Honduras to face CD Olimpia on Wednesday at 10 pm ET as part of the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League.
USL First Division quarterfinals
Friday, Sept. 26
Charleston Battery 0 at Rochester Rhinos 2
The Battery came into the match on a run of bad form having won only once in their last 10, but appeared to be headed home with a scoreless draw on the road in the first leg. Then the last five minutes went horribly wrong. English midfielder and assistant coach Steve Guppy scored his first goal of the year for Rochester in the 86th minute and Matthew Delicate scored a well-struck shot from just outside the box in the 90th to give the Rhinos a two-goal advantage for the road.
Minnesota Thunder 0 at Vancouver Whitecaps 2
An own goal by Jonathan Greenfield of the Thunder gave the Whitecaps the series lead 27 minutes into the match and it appeared Minnesota would head home down only one goal when Justin Moose was able to put away his own rebound in the 89th minute to give Vancouver what proved to be a crucial advantage.
Sunday, Sept. 28
Rochester Rhinos 0 at Charleston Battery 1
The Battery put the offensive pressure on early and did not let up, cutting into the Rhinos lead with a strike from Cuban rookie Osvaldo Alonso 12 minutes in on an assist from defender John Wilson. The Battery had several chances in the first 20 minutes of the game, but two fantastic saves from Scott Vallow proved the difference as the Rhinos weathered the attack early and throughout the remainder of the match to advance to the semifinals 2-1 on aggregate.
Vancouver Whitecaps 3 at Minnesota Thunder 4
The Thunder nearly pulled off a second miracle comeback against the Whitecaps, who were eliminated in 2000 after seeing a three-goal advantage erased by Minnesota. Alfredo Valente pushed the series advantage to three just three minutes into the match. Luchi Gonzalez pulled the Thunder back within two in the 23rd, but trailed again by three at the break following a 44th minute tally by Martin Nash. Nash then turned provider for Eduardo Sebrango 10 minutes into the second stanza for a 5-1 series lead. Then it was all Thunder with three unanswered goals. Melvin Tarley found the back of the net in the 64th, but it looked bleak when Ricardo Sanchez was sent off in the 77th. But a minute later, Stephen deRoux stunned the Whitecaps to put the Thunder within striking range. A penalty converted by Frederico Moojen gave the Thunder the 4-3 lead in the match and put them within a goal of series overtime, but it's timing came too late in stoppage time to allow the hosts an opportunity to find the series equalizer, falling 5-4 on aggregate.
USL First Division semifinals
The Rochester Rhinos will face the Puerto Rico Islanders, who enter the postseason on a bye after claiming the regular season championship. The first leg will be in Rochester Friday, October 3 with the second in Puerto Rico Sunday, October 5. In a match-up of the two Canadian clubs, the Montreal Impact will host Vancouver Friday and head west to meet the Whitecaps Sunday.