September 13, 2007

It's USL playoff time...

#1 Seattle Sounders v. #8 Carolina Railhawks
Friday at 7:30 in Cary, Sunday at 9:00 in Seattle

The Commissioner's Cup winners come into the postseason having won five of their last six games. Speedy Sebastian Le Toux was a league leader in goals, netting ten on the season. Roger Levesque is another goal scoring threat, putting eight on the board in 2007. Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar is the creative mind of the Sounders, leading the team with 8 assists. The Sounders are led in goal by Chris Eyelander, who had thirteen shutouts on the year.

The Railhawks averaged less than a goal per game offensively, but snuck into the playoffs by virtue of a gritty defense and a 3-0 record over ninth place Charleston. They have a solid keeper in Chris McClellan, and are led by defenders Chad Dombrowski and Caleb Norkus. Connally Edozian is the best threat up front, his hat-trick late in the year against Charleston was very important in the Railhawks' playoff push.

Seattle won both games between these teams in 2007 by identical 1-0 scorelines. The Railhawks should be very pleased to have made it to the postseason in a successful first season on and off the field. However, that's as far as they'll get because Seattle will move on here.
Winner: Seattle Sounders

#2 Portland Timbers v. #7 Vancouver Whitecaps
Friday at 10:00 in Vancouver, Sunday at 8:00 in Portland (FSC)

The league's best defense calls Portland home, as goalkeeper Josh Wicks took the GAA crown with a 0.63 average. Defenders Scot Thompson, Justin Thompson, Cameron Knowles, and Leonard Griffin are also keys to the league leading fourteen shutouts. The attack is led by Andrew Gregor (8 goals, 5 assists) and Bryan Jordan (5 goals). Keep an eye on Luke Kreamalmeyer and David Hague as well.

Vancouver was all over the place this season. The defending champs didn't lose a game until the end of May, but then had a twelve game winless streak during the summer. They did finish with four games without a loss to solidify their playoff slot, but the damage was already done. Matt Nelson, who starred in goal for Harrisburg in D2, was signed late and only gave up one goal in three games. A ton of roster moves kept the lineup in flux, but Eduardo Sebrango was the anchor in the attack with seven goals. Ze Roberto and Alan Marcina came over from Montreal late in the year, and the perennial Martin Nash joined them to put together a formidable lineup.
It's hard to say which Vancouver side will show up. While their last four games were impressive, will that be enough to topple Portland's towering defense? As much as I'd like to say so, I think the Timbers will get the job done here. It might not be pretty, but it's Portland's series to lose.
Winner: Portland Timbers

#3 Montreal Impact v. #6 Puerto Rico Islanders
Friday at 7:30 in Montreal, Sunday at 6:00 in Puerto Rico

I expected Montreal to finish stronger than they did. The additions of Joey Gjertsen and David Testo from Vancouver looked to be keys to the stretch run. However, losses to Rochester and Carolina kept them from climbing higher in the standings over the few weeks of the season. MLS veteran Matt Jordan is the usual starter in goal, and he's supported by defenders Luis Aguilar, Gabriel Gervais, Patrick Leduc, and Mauricio Vincello. Forward Charles Gbeke spearheads the attack; he tied for the league lead in goals with ten.

I don't understand Puerto Rico. I've been very impressed with them each time I've seen them this year, but the results just don't seem to match up. Regardless, they only lost once in their last five games to get them the #6 seed. Former Portland keeper Josh Saunders is the goalkeeper, and he's supported in defense by rookie Jay Needham, Marco Velez, and Mauricio Segovia. Willie Sims had a late hat-trick against Miami. Fabrice Noel joined the Islanders late from the Colorado Rapids. Tai Atieno tied for the team lead with five goals. However, I think the most dangerous player on the roster is Petter Villegas, formerly of the MetroStars. He's most dangerous player in the league with the ball at his feet.

This is the biggest toss-up of the first round in my opinion. Both teams are pretty inconsistent, but I think Puerto Rico might have figured things out late in the year. New coach Colin Clarke took over in midseason, and I think he has things in place the way he wants them now. The key for them is to get a positive result in the first leg in Montreal. It won't be easy, but I think they have it in them.
Winner: Puerto Rico Islanders

#4 Atlanta Silverbacks v. #5 Rochester Rhinos
Friday at 8:00 in Atlanta, Sunday at 6:00 in Rochester

After a disappointing start, the Silverbacks put together a dangerous attack to lead the league in goals scored with forty. They rode that attack to separate four and five game streaks without a loss. Meanwhile, the defense became solid as well with the insertion of Ryan McIntosh into the starting lineup. McIntosh won 9 of his 15 games, giving up less than a goal per game. Forward Dan Antoniuk took the scoring and assist titles for the league, with 23 points and 9 assists. Defender David Hayes tied Antoniuk for the team lead in goals with seven. The attack is varied, with contributions coming from forwards Warren Ukah (5 goals) and Machel Millwood (4 goals) and midfielders Macoumba Kandji (2 goals in 7 games) and Rodrigo Rios (4 assists). The defense is led by the aforementioned Hayes and Matt Bobo. They joined with midfielders Tony McManus and Scott Buete to rack up eight shutouts.

The Rhinos were bitten hard by the injury bug in midseason, and never truly recovered. The Rhinos are led by veteran John Ball, leading scorer Hamed Diallo, and skilled players in Johnny Menyongar and Matthew Delicate. Defenders T-Bone Bonseu and Kenny Bertz are the keys on the backline, where they are backed up by the able Scott Vallow.

Atlanta won both of their meetings this year, 2-0 in Rochester and 4-1 in Atlanta. While I don't think it will be nearly that easy this time around, the Silverbacks have the talent and are playing well enough to handle this round.
Winner: Atlanta Silverbacks

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