California clubs win titles
The Pali Blues of the W-League and the Ventura County Fusion of the Premier Development League became the first two franchises to capture United Soccer Leagues titles for the 2009 campaign with thrilling victories on the weekend.
Just days away from the U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier, it was a Mexican international that proved the star of the W-League Championship Friday night as the 2008 champion Pali Blues repeated. The Pacific Palisades club came from behind for a 2-1 win a second straight year, downing the 2007 title winner Washington Freedom on their home field on a goal and assist from Iris Mora.
A foul by Pali defender Kendal Billingsley in the 14th minute gave France's Sandra Matute the opportunity to strike a precise free kick just inside the right post from 24 yards to give the Freedom the early lead. Billingsley made up for the error in the 37th minute on a second consecutive corner from Iris Mora, heading it into the back of the net to level the game heading to the break.
In the 86th minute, Mora found some space all alone in the box and chested down a cross, turned and fired past Eliza Bennett-Hatton from 14 yards for the winner. The goal and assist on the night earned the Mexican star the W-League Champion Most Valuable Player honor as she helped lead the club to its second straight title, becoming the first club to post consecutive unbeaten championship seasons in league history.
The Ventura County Fusion won the 2009 USL PDL title Saturday night, beating the Chicago Fire 2-1 despite playing for nearly an hour with just 10 men. Fusion midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan scored the winning goal deep into injury time on a scramble in the box, making the Fusion, seeded 20th, the lowest-seeded team in league history to win the title.
The hosts opened the scoring eight minutes in on a corner headed home by defender Ivan Becerra, but were left short-handed in the 33rd when Emanuel Guzman was sent off. Chicago leveled the score in the 74th minute when Andre Akpan got his toe on a cross for the equalizer.
USL First Division
It appeared to be a game of musical chairs at the top of the table as Charleston opened the week on top only to see Carolina move in front Wednesday night on a 1-0 victory in Rochester and a 90th minute Kupono Low goal. Portland then joined the RailHawks at number one with a 1-0 win over visiting Vancouver Thursday on a 30th minute Ryan Pore strike.
Charleston fired back Friday with a 2-1 road victory over the Whitecaps to reclaim first place on goals from Darren Spicer and Randi Patterson, but were unable to maintain it as they fell in Portland Saturday 3-1 as Mandjou Keita hit for a goal and two assists. Carolina also jumped past them again, topping Cleveland 2-0 courtesy of Gregory Richardson and Daniel Paladini in the final eight minutes. Rochester and Montreal rounded out the week's action with matching1-0 home wins. Johnny Menyongar downed Austin for the Rhinos and Roberto Brown provided the Impact's winner against Minnesota.
USL Second Division
The action opened with a scoreless draw between Baltimore and playoff-bound Harrisburg Friday evening that secured the third-place slot for the City Islanders. In a first-place showdown, the Richmond Kickers were 1-0 winners in Wilmington to leave the regular season title up for grabs. The Charlotte Eagles joined the lead trio in the postseason with a 3-1 victory in Pittsburgh and Real Maryland kept their hopes alive in a wild 4-3 decision over Bermuda in which they scored the opening two goals and the final two for the win. Heading into the final weekend, the Monarchs, Crystal Palace and Western Mass are chasing the final berth.