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By ESPN Staff
Oct 6, 2008

Vancouver, Puerto Rico reach USL-1 final

The higher seeds Vancouver Whitecaps and Puerto Rico Islanders returned home from Friday's opening leg deficits and rallied to advance to the USL First Division Championship set for Sunday, Oct. 12 in Vancouver at Swangard Stadium. The game kicks off at 7:00 pm ET and will be live on Fox Soccer Channel. Puerto Rico won 3-0 in its second leg to rally for a 3-2 aggregate win over Rochester and Vancouver beat Montreal 2-0 for a 2-1 aggregate victory.

The regular season champion Puerto Rico Islanders were in the biggest hole coming out of their first leg match, trailing the Rochester Rhinos 2-0 and missing first leg red card recipients Edwin Miranda and Scott Jones (two cautions) as well as Nigel Henry, who was still in Rochester Sunday recovering from severe lacerations on his head from a collision with Rhinos forward Matthew Delicate.

With a man advantage in the first leg after Marcina's 36th minute sendoff for an elbow to the torso, midseason acquisition Andrew Gregor gave the Rhinos the lead when USL-1 Goalkeeper of the Year Bill Gaudette made a fantastic diving save on a shot from Scott Palguta. The ball, however, popped up in the air and fell to Gregor for the opening score 63 minutes in.

The second goal would come from USL-1 veteran Johnny Menyongar 15 minutes later. Steve Guppy sent a pass down the left wing to an overlapping Danny Earls. Earls would beat two defenders and send the ball into the box to Menyongar, who would settle with his left foot, transfer to his right foot, and beat Gaudette from eight yards out for a Rochester 2-0 lead.

The Islanders, sans Henry, returned to Puerto Rico and dominated on their home pitch against the Rhinos, outshooting them 18-5 in the match. But it was the nine corner kicks that the Rhinos gave up that proved their undoing as three found their way into the back of the net.

Fabrice Noel struck in the 11th minute to cut the series deficit in half at 2-1 for Puerto Rico, and Taiwo Atieno connected directly with Noah Delgado's corner in the 33rd to draw the series level.

The hosts continued to attack the Rhinos throughout the night, but were stymied by veteran netminder Scott Vallow, who made several fantastic saves to preserve the level score as the Islanders chances continued to mount to the minimal opportunities of the visitors, forcing the match into series overtime.

Vallow's efforts continued through overtime and just when it appeared to be headed to penalty kicks, the Islanders found themselves with one last corner kick and made it count. The ball fell in the box, and in the scramble defender and team leading scorer Cristian Arrieta buried it home for the series winner to send the Islanders, who were eliminated in penalties the year before in the semifinals, through to the USL-1 Championship game.

Ina series featuring two well acquainted rivals who were two of the top three teams in the league defensively, it was not surprising the first leg in Montreal Friday ended with a 1-0 scoreline.

The game, however, did have plenty of offensive chances, but goalkeepers Jay Nolly and Matt Jordan were up for the task. Nolly, however, would not finish the game, receiving a red card in the 52nd minute for grabbing Antonio Ribeiro by the throat as a scuffle broke out in the Vancouver goal area.

Nine minutes later, Ribeiro would give the Impact the lead with a strike into the open net when a rebound off Peter Byers saved shot by rookie keeper Tyler Baldock fell to him in the 61st.

After making three saves to keep the series at a one-goal difference, Baldock showed no nerves in his first-ever professional start two nights later. The young keeper from the USL Premier Development League's Abbotsford Mariners made several critical plays throughout the match while posting the clean sheet as Nolly served his suspension.

At the other end of the pitch, defender Jeff Clarke leveled the series in the 37th minute with a perfect 24-yard line-drive inside the post for his third goal of the year. And just as he had done all year long, Eduardo Sebrango found the important winning goal four minutes later when former Impact striker Charles Gbeke got behind the defense on the left side of the area and centered the ball for the Cuban striker's series winning tally.

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