USL-1 quarterfinals packed with drama
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.
Two of the three winning teams in the USL-1 quarterfinals were top-seeded, but most of the weekend's games were incredibly exciting and went right down to the last minute. Most featured a huge number of goals, and there was more than one questionable decision by the referees.
1. All hell breaks loose. Both of Seattle and Montreal's playoff games were fiery affairs, but during Sunday's game all hell really did break loose after the 73rd minute. The teams' most memorable moments of the entire season probably didn't add up to the excitement of the combined three red cards, two goals and one penalty that occurred in those last 17 minutes -- not to mention a few scuffles. Give credit to Montreal for coming back from a 2-1 aggregate score to go on to win the semifinal slot.
2. Penalty hijinks. Although Montreal pulled off an amazing second-half comeback, Seattle has a right to feel wronged by the ref. An 80th-minute penalty given to Seattle, for Adam Braz pulling down Sebastian LeToux, should have been a lifeline for the Sounders, but it was anything but. Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar's subsequent effort was ruled ineligible because several players encroached before Alacaraz-Cuellar touched the ball. The problem was that the first player encroaching on the ball was a Montreal player. According to the rules, because it was an opposition player that encroached, the resulting goal should have stood. Instead, the ref made Alacaraz-Cuellar retake it, with his second effort hitting the post.
3. Just falling short. The Minnesota Thunder, in their second-leg playoff game against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday, also have cause to feel a little hard done by the ref. Fighting back from an aggregate 5-1 deficiency at one point, the Thunder kept up the pressure, despite very obviously tired legs, and had a good effort on goal in the 77th minute. The shot, which edged past the keeper, looked to be handled by a Vancouver defender, but the ref gave a corner instead. The Thunder put forth an awesome effort, but considering that they only missed going into extra time by one goal, they must feel a little bitter.
4. Not helping the cause. Ricardo Sanchez, despite doing well for the Thunder this season, really should have just kept his mouth shut after the handling incident. Sure, the entire team was probably upset, but considering that there was still time to score another goal, Sanchez should have realized that staying on the pitch could have helped his team more than saying something bad enough to make the ref give him a straight red. Sanchez seems prone to mouthing off to refs, but especially in a playoff game, he should have thought twice.
5. Rhinos continue remarkable run. The Rochester Rhinos disposed of the Charleston Battery. For the Rhinos, it's a continuation of the second half of their season, in which they showed remarkable improvement. Veteran Steve Guppy even managed to get on the scoreboard for the Rhinos, but was wisely taken off during the second leg in favor of less tired legs. The Rhinos will need to produce their best performance yet, though, when they face league winners Puerto Rico Islanders in the next round.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.