USL wrap: Tight race at the top
At the close of action Saturday, three teams stood tied atop the USL First Division standings with a fourth just three points back.
It all began with Puerto Rico playing to a scoreless draw with the Rhinos in Rochester Friday evening, pulling the Islanders even with the Charleston Battery. Then the Carolina RailHawks moved within three points of the leaders Saturday with a surprising 1-0 victory over Charleston, handing the Battery their first defeat at home on the year courtesy of a 26th-minute Sallieu Bundu strike two minutes after Charleston striker Randi Patterson was sent off.
Portland then joined Charleston and Puerto Rico at the top with a 2-1 victory on the road against the Austin Aztex later that evening. Mandjou Keita gave the Timbers the initial lead in the 14th minute, but the Aztex appeared to have stolen a point when Gifton Noel-Williams struck in stoppage time. Then midfielder Johan Claesson stunned the home fans with an immediate answer for the win.
A second scoreless draw for Puerto Rico Sunday against the Cleveland City Stars put the Islanders back in the league lead.
In other contests, the last-place Minnesota Thunder were thumped handily in Vancouver 4-0 Thursday evening, but rebounded at home Saturday to hand Montreal a surprising 3-0 loss, giving Minnesota its second win of the year and momentarily moving the Thunder out of last prior to Cleveland's draw. Vancouver, on the other hand, traveled to Miami and suffered a 2-1 defeat Sunday.
USL Second Division
The week started off with the biggest surprise twist as the league leading Harrisburg City Islanders fell 2-0 at Crystal Palace Baltimore Friday evening on a pair of goals from Dan Lader. Meanwhile in Wilmington, it was all Jamie Watson as the striker tallied three assists and the final goal in a 4-0 Hammerheads win over Western Mass.
On Saturday, Real Maryland went up on a pair of goals in which Lucio Gonzaga and Cecil Lewis each had a goal and assist en route to a 2-1 win. The other two matches on the night were no contest as Charlotte cruised to a 5-0 win over the Pioneers and Richmond rocked visiting Bermuda 7-2.
Premier Development League
In the next to last week in regular season action, it was all about the playoff races. The action started with a busy Wednesday night in which the Long Island Rough Riders defeated Brooklyn 1-0 to put themselves and the Ottawa Fury into the postseason from the Northeast Division. The following night, the Bradenton Academics locked up a spot in the Southeast with a 4-2 victory at Central Florida. The Reading Rage bombed Fredericksburg 6-1 Friday evening to secure a spot from the Mid Atlantic while Mississippi joined Bradenton in the Southeast with a 5-0 win at Atlanta.
Saturday was the busiest night for adding to the playoff field as seven teams clinched. In the Great Lakes, the Chicago Fire advanced with a 2-1 road win over perennial power Michigan and the Kalamazoo Outrage moved on with a 2-0 win at Cincinnati. Meanwhile in the Heartland, the Des Moines Menace clinched their ticket with a 4-0 win over Springfield.
Nearly everything was resolved in the Northwest Saturday. The Kitsap Pumas secured the regular season division title with a 1-0 win over Abbotsford while fellow first-year clubs Seattle Wolves and Portland Timbers U-23s joined them in the postseason. Portland won 4-2 at Yakima and Seattle handed Cascade their first home loss 3-0.
The Southwest rounded out the weekend qualifying with the Los Angeles Legends and Hollywood United Hitmen playing to a scoreless draw that clinched berths for both Saturday. Then the Ventura County Fusion qualified with a 1-1 draw against Southern California.
Playoff qualifying was the hot topic in the next to final week in the season. The 2008 runners-up FC Indiana Lionesses secured a spot Wednesday with a 4-0 win over Kalamazoo. Then the Atlanta Silverbacks advanced with a scoreless draw against Charlotte Friday.
Tampa Bay joined Atlanta from the Atlantic Division the following night with a 4-0 win at Richmond. The Washington Freedom won 3-0 at New Jersey Saturday, sending them and the Hudson Valley Quickstrike Lady Blues through.