USL wrap: Leaders battle to stalemate
The Puerto Rico Islanders squared off with their fellow league-leading Portland Timbers Thursday evening, but neither side was able to gain the advantage and sole possession of first as the two played to a scoreless draw. The tie extended Portland's unbeaten streak to an all-time regular season record, including over multiple seasons, at 17 games. Bill Gaudette posted five saves for his fifth straight shutout heading into Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League Preliminary Round match against Toronto FC. The Islanders would go on to suffer a 4-2 loss Saturday in Vancouver while resting numerous starters in preparation for the upcoming tilt.
The draw allowed the Charleston Battery to pull level for a three-way tie once again, defeating Carolina Friday evening 2-1. But the RailHawks kept within striking distance of the trio Sunday with a 4-0 win over Miami, coming off a 2-1 win in Minnesota on a Paulo Araujo brace. A Gregory Richardson hat trick pulled the RailHawks within two points of the leaders.
In other USL-1 action, the Montreal Impact rolled to a 4-1 victory over the Cleveland City Stars Tuesday, but needed to rally from a two-goal deficit in Austin Saturday for a 2-2 draw. Cleveland would continue on to Rochester and suffer another tough 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Rhinos.
USL Second Division
The Wilmington Hammerheads opened the week with a 3-1 win over visiting Richmond Wednesday to join the Kickers and Harrisburg in a three-way tie at the top of the table. Then on Saturday they became the first to clinch a playoff berth with a 2-1 victory at Harrisburg. The City Islanders and Kickers would both join the Hammerheads in the postseason field with Western Mass falling 3-0 in Pittsburgh Sunday after drawing 1-1 against the Hounds in the first meeting between the two on Friday.
Premier Development League playoffs
The trend of upsets continued as the 2009 postseason opened in the PDL, including the early exits of unbeatens and regular season league champions. The 5-0-11 New Orleans Jesters were bounced in the First Round by the Bradenton Academics, who went on to knock out the Southeast Division's top-seeded Mississippi Brilla at home 3-2 in overtime. The 12-0-4 Ottawa Fury were knocked out in the division final 2-1 in overtime by the Ocean City Barons. And the regular season champion Reading Rage were sent packing 2-1 by the Cary Clarets in their division final. In addition, the defending champion Thunder Bay Chill were upset in the First Round by the Real Colorado Foxes 1-0.
In all, only four games of the 16 divisional playoff matches were decided by more than a goal and four division finals were decided in overtime. Des Moines will be host the Chicago Fire, Ocean City and Cary in one Elite Eight host location while Bradenton, Kitsap and the Ventura County Fusion travel to Laredo for the other set of PDL quarterfinals and semifinals.
While the defending champion Pali Blues predictably captured the Western Conference title with a 5-2 win over the Colorado Force, the other two conference tournaments saw some interesting twists. The first surprise came Saturday when the Atlanta Silverbacks were stunned 2-1 by the Charlotte Lady Eagles in the Eastern Conference. In the other half of the bracket, the Washington Freedom downed Tampa Bay 2-1 and then went on to advance to the league semifinals for a third straight year with a 2-1 win over Charlotte.
In the Central, the FC Indiana Lionesses blanked Buffalo 3-0 Saturday while the Ottawa Fury set up a rematch of the 2008 conference final with a 4-2 victory over Chicago. The Fury avenged the previous year's defeat with a 2-1 victory fueled by two own goals from FC Indiana, who had allowed just two goals on the season.