The USSF D2 playoff series continues with the first leg of matches between the visiting Rochester Rhinos and Puerto Rico Islanders, while the Vancouver Whitecaps host the Portland Timbers at Swangard Stadium. Rochester is the number one seed in the playoffs, having won the USL Conference title and the overall league points total. The Islanders grabbed the eighth and last playoff seed, while Portland and Vancouver earned the fourth and fifth seeds, respectively.
Rochester Rhinos at Puerto Rico Islanders
Despite the disparity in their season records, there’s no way that Coach Bob Lilley and the Rhinos will take the Islanders lightly. This is the third consecutive year that the two clubs have met in postseason, and the Islanders dumped the Rhinos out of the playoffs both in 2008 and 2009. Both times the Rhinos won the first leg at home only to lose in Bayamon, Puerto Rico in the second leg and get knocked out by an aggregate score. This year, however, the first leg of the series will begin at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium, with the Rhinos hosting the return leg at Marina Auto Stadium. Thursday’s match kicks off at 8:05 pm ET.
Neither team comes into the playoffs on a blazing streak of wins. Despite Rochester’s league-leading point total, the team scuffled a bit lately, losing twice to Miami FC in September before knocking off AC St. Louis on the road last Saturday to claim the USL Conference crown. The Rhinos are led in attack by forward Isaac Kissi, who totaled eight goals during 2010, including a brace in the season finale against AC St. Louis. The 23 year-old Ghananian is helped in the attack by Anthony Hamilton, who added five goals and an assist, and midfielder Ryan Heins, who contributed four goals.
The Rhinos were a very balanced team during 2010, ending up fourth in the league in goals scored, and third in least goals allowed. Veteran Scott Vallow and rookie Neil Kitson split time in goal, and both had fine seasons. Captain and central defender Frank Sanfilippo and Troy Roberts provide veteran leadership in the back, and shared the team’s Defender of the Year award. Consistency and quality have been hallmarks of the Rhinos’ season.
For the Puerto Rico Islanders, consistency was not part of the vocabulary in 2010. After opening the season with two victories, the team never again won two in a row, and ended up with a very mediocore 9-11-10 record. But that doesn’t tell the entire tale.
The Islanders won the Caribbean Football Union title this Spring, and eliminated the LA Galaxy in the preliminary round of CONCACAF Champions League competition. They are 2-1-2 in Group D, and have a good chance to move to the next round, although their final group stage game will be against Group D leaders Olimpia in Honduras. So despite their mediocore play in USSF D2, the Islanders have quality. Simply put, they seem to rise to the occasion and are inspired by the level of their competition. Included in their nine victories are wins over Austin, Rochester and Carolina, the three top seeds in the playoffs.
Colin Clarke’s Islanders have been without injured forward Nicholas Addlery for several weeks, but forwards David Foley,Jonathan Fana, Josh Hansen and Kendall Jagdeosingh have attacking ability. Clarke has midfielder and captain Noah Delgado back, and plenty of veterans in midfield and at the back, and a quality veteran, Bill Gaudette, in goal. The Islanders and Rhinos split their two game series in 2010, each team winning at home.
Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps
The Vancouver Whitecaps lost the NASL Conference title over the last two games of the season as the Carolina RailHawks arose to capture the top spot. The Whitecaps drew their season finale to their playoff foes, the Portland Timbers, on Saturday, 2-2. The Timbers won two of the four games between the two Pacific Northwest rivals, with the teams drawing twice.
Coach Teitur Thordarson’s Vancouver club ended the season with only five losses, but drew an incredible 15 games, half of their schedule. Included in those fifteen draws were seven scoreless matches. But the ‘Caps are no strangers to postseason play, as this is their fourteenth consecutive playoff appearance. The ‘Caps and Timbers have met three times in the playoffs previously, with the ‘Caps taking two of the three series.
Both teams are healthy. Coach Gavin Wilkinson’s Timbers ended the season with a ten-game unbeaten streak, and will pit the USSF D2’s leading scorer, Ryan Pore and his 15 goals, and forward Bright Dike with 10, against the league’s tightest defense. Both goalkeepers, Jay Nolly of Vancouver and Portland’s Steve Cronin, have had outstanding seasons, and were key to their team’s success. With both teams entering MLS next season, each will be looking to end their D2 rivalry by eliminating the other. All the ingredients for a great series are here. Thursday’s match kicks off at 10:30 pm ET.
Predictions: This internal argument continues with me concerning the Rhinos-Islanders series, as I see good reasons for either team winning the series. But I’ll go with a hunch and predict the Puerto Rico Islanders to win over the Rochester Rhinos. The Portland Timbers are playing unbeatable soccer right now, and I’d be surprised if they don’t eliminate the Whitecaps and move on to the next round.
Filed under: NASL General News, Portland Timbers, Puerto Rico Islanders, USSF Division 2 News, Vancouver Whitecaps | Tagged: Bill Gaudette, Bob Lilley, Colin Clarke, Gavin Wilkinson, Isaac Kissi, Jay Nolly, Ryan Pore, Teitur Thordarson |