USL Wrap: Bottom clubs gaining ground
At the midway point in the season, the clubs in the lower half of the USL First Division table made the most of the holiday week, celebrating some important point earned toward moving into playoff position.
The league action opened Friday evening the Austin Aztex taking three points on a 1-0 victory in Cleveland. Sullivan Silva scored on the half-hour mark to give the expansion side its first victory on the road this season. The enjoyment was short-lived, however, for the Aztex as the defense finally broke down in the second half in Rochester Sunday, allowing four goals in a 21-minute span as the Rhinos rolled to a 4-1 win.
The Fourth of July proved to be a banner day for the underdogs as last-place Minnesota posted a 1-1 draw against Portland, who extended its unbeaten streak to 13. Tony McManus gave the visiting Timbers the lead in the 63rd, but the Thunder stole a point at the death on a strike from Jeremiah Bass. Meanwhile in Miami, the Blues played the league leading Puerto Rico Islanders to a scoreless stalemate. Puerto Rico's draw allowed Charleston to reclaim first on Sunday with a 1-0 win in Montreal on a tally from former Impact striker Dan Antoniuk in the 68th minute. Dusty Hudock posted his 10th shutout with seven saves.
USL Second Division
The week started early for Crystal Palace, but it was the visiting Real Maryland Monarchs who took advantage Monday with a 1-0 road win on a 55th minute strike from Cecil Lewis. Palace then hit the road, but were unable to hold a 1-0 lead in Harrisburg as the league leaders scored three unanswered, including two from Brandon Swartzendruber in the 3-1 result.
Two nights after stunning the Chicago Fire in the U.S. Open Cup, Wilmington suffered a let down at home Thursday to rival Charlotte 3-2. The Eagles' celebration was cut short on the Fourth as they were blanked 3-0 by Richmond, who got two goals from David Bulow. Pittsburgh posted a 2-1 victory Thursday evening in Bermuda on a Tenywa Bonseu winner, but were unable to sweep the two-game trip to the island, falling 1-0 Saturday on a 72nd minute Damon Ming goal.
Premier Development League
The Kitsap Pumas became the first club in the PDL to clinch a spot in the playoffs, which begin in three weeks. They posted a 2-0 win over Seattle Tuesday, then earned a 1-1 tie in Portland Saturday. Cascade's 2-0 defeat in Vancouver was the result that sent the currently unbeaten expansion side to the postseason. Knocked from the ranks of the undefeated, however, were the Des Moines Menace and Forest City London. In a 15-game streak that lasted a year to the day, the Menace fell to Thunder Bay for the second year in a row on the Fourth of July as they were on the wrong side of the 1-0 decision Saturday. Forest City opened the week on the road with a 2-1 win in Fort Wayne Wednesday, but its visit to Indiana turned sour Sunday in a 3-1 loss to the Invaders. Joining Kitsap as the three remaining unbeatens are New Orleans, who posted a 0-0 draw in Mississippi, and Ottawa, who nabbed a 1-1 draw in Ocean City and a 1-0 win at New Jersey.
The Chicago Red Eleven and the defending champion Pali Blues became the first teams to punch their tickets to the postseason. Chicago edged the Minnesota Lightning on the road 1-0 Wednesday and returned home to drub Kalamazoo 5-0 Saturday to lock up a spot. In similar fashion, Pali earned a narrow 3-2 road win Wednesday over Los Angeles before coming home Sunday to blank Ventura County 4-0 to secure its berth.