The Carolinas are the hot spot so far in the young 2009 USL First Division season as the North Carolina-based RailHawks posted two road wins on the week to stay atop the table (6-2-1) while their neighbor Battery in South Carolina kept pace with a pair of home wins to remain the lone unbeaten team in the league (4-0-4).
Charleston sits only three points back of Carolina with a game in hand, but the most impressive number in the table is goals allowed -- two.
On Wednesday, veteran goalkeeper Dusty Hudock helped guide the club to its fifth shutout of the campaign with a narrow 1-0 victory over visiting Miami at Blackbaud. Defender Nelson Akwari helped provide the lone strike of the match in the 77th minute. Darren Spicer's goal came as the result of a Tsuyoshi Yoshitake free kick from the right flank finding Akwari on the far post. Akwari headed the ball back across the crowded goalmouth for Spicer to push in. It was Spicer's first goal of the 2009 season.
Akwari was not the only defender providing at both ends as Frankie Sanfillipo took a turn on Saturday against the visiting Rochester Rhinos in a 2-0 victory.
With the Rhinos playing a man down following a 62nd minute red card to Taiwo Atieno, the former Rhino Sanfilippo hit a highlight-reel goal, blasting a shot from the right flank 35-yards out as Scott Vallow could only watch it sneak just inside the far corner in the 71st minute to make it 2-0. It was his second goal of the year as he also scored the 2-1 winner against Carolina, his other former club.
In the 56th minute Randi Patterson ran onto a flick from Wednesday's hero Spicer and found himself with space 25 yards from goal. After a settling touch he blasted a low right-footed drive just inside Vallow's near post for the lead.
Hudock went on to only need one save Saturday evening to post his sixth shutout, extending the club's current shutout streak to 287 minutes.
USL First Division
Friday, May 22
Carolina RailHawks 3-0 Cleveland City Stars
Daniel Paladini was the star of the night, setting up two goals in a three-minute span for an early 2-0 lead. He connected with Andriy Budnyy in the 18th minute and John Cunliffe in the 21st. The whole grew more difficult for the hosts as Alioune Gueye was sent off in the 31st. Joseph Kabwe came off the bench to cap the night for Carolina with the final tally in the 77th.
Portland Timbers 1-1 Puerto Rico Islanders
After a scoreless stalemate in the first half, things picked up early in the second frame as Sean Fraser gave Puerto Rico the initial lead in the 52nd minute. David Hayes found Mandjou Keita, however, seven minutes later to level terms.
Saturday, May 23
Miami FC Blues 0-0 Minnesota Thunder
Pat Hannigan made several key stops among his five saves to keep a clean sheet on the night as his counterpart made three saves of his own at the other end to post a matching shutout.
Sunday, May 24
Carolina RailHawks 1-0 Austin Aztex
The RailHawks made it two for two on the road and Daniel Paladini again played hero, stepping to the spot in the 83rd minute to convert a penalty following a controversial handball call in the box. Caleb Patterson made six saves for the shutout victory.
Portland Timbers 2-1 Puerto Rico Islanders
The Timbers finally posted their first victory in Puerto Rico with Brian Farber setting up the go-ahead and winning tallies of the night. He connected with Friday's goal scorer Keita in the 24th minute for the initial lead, but Jonathan Steele found John Krause to equalize in the 34th for the Islanders. The celebration at the JRL was short-live though as Farber found defender Mamadou Danso less than a minute later for was held as the game-winner.
USL Second Division
In a light week for USL-2, the Bermuda Hogges kept their surprising form going with a 1-0 victory over visiting Real Maryland Friday. Domico Coddington again provided the winner. Also on Friday, Western Mass picked up its first win of the year, downing the visiting Wilmington Hammerheads 2-1 as Harrisburg dominated en route to a 3-0 win over the 2008 regular season champion Charlotte Eagles, who are a stunning 1-3-2 on the campaign. On Saturday, Richmond and Baltimore played to a 1-1 draw.
Premier Development League
In one of the most competitive qualifying campaigns ever for US Open Cup berths, all eight spots were open heading into the weekend as no one had clinched by the close of Friday night's action. Four teams would claim spots Saturday as the Kitsap Pumas, Ocean City Barons, Orange County Blue Star and St Louis Lions all received tickets to the dance. Three more entrants were decided Sunday with the Chicago Fire, Mississippi Brilla and Reading Rage all finding a way into the tournament.
The group-leading El Paso Patriots were left waiting for Monday's make-up game between the Laredo Heat and RGV Bravos that had been rescheduled due to the swine flu concerns during the week of the original date. Laredo, needing a win and more to tie and edge out the Patriots on tiebreakers, played a thriller in Hidalgo, but came up short in a 3-3 draw. W-League
The headline grabbers for the week were Angelika Johansson, Christy Rife and the Long Island Rough Riders. Johansson scored four in Hudson Valley Quickstrike's 6-0 drubbing of New York Saturday as Rife tallied three in Charlotte's 4-1 victory in Richmond. Long Island posted back-to-back road wins with a 2-0 win at Western Mass Saturday and a 4-1 victory at Connecticut Sunday in which Brooke DeRosa had two and Kerri McCabe tallied a goal and two assists.