On Thursday evening, the NASL Conference champion Carolina RailHawks travel to Saputo Stadium to battle the 2009 USL-1 playoff champion Monteal Impact in a 7:30 pm ET kickoff. At 8:05 pm ET, the Puerto Rico Islanders play host to the Vancouver Whitecaps in the other first-leg game of the USSF D2 playoff semifinals. The second leg contests of both series will be played Sunday in Carolina and Vancouver, respectively.
Carolina RailHawks at Montreal Impact
Befitting of a playoff semifinal, both the Impact and RailHawks are playing excellent, consistent soccer. Montreal flies south to Cary, North Carolina on the wings of a five game win streak. Carolina is 4-0-1 in its last five games, including two shutouts of the NSC Minnesota Stars in their quarterfinal series. Carolina won two of the four games in the regular season between the two clubs, with Montreal winning once and coming back from a two goal deficit to earn a draw in the other match. Montreal eliminated the Austin Aztex in their quarterfinal playoff round, winning both legs by an aggregate score of 5-2. Impact forward Ali Gerba scored four goals in the two games with Austin.
Impact Coach Marc Dos Santos is counting on the Saputo Stadium crowd to help the Impact Thursday night defeat Carolina. ” They are a well-organized team that is playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said Marc Dos Santos. “All the games against them this year were close ones. That being said, it will be the team that limits their mistakes that will make it to the championship finale. We are counting on our 12th player in Montreal Thursday.”
Montreal goalkeeper Matt Jordan, who left the Saturday’s game with Austin due to a groin injury, is expected to play Thursday night. Midfielder David Testo, however, will be out with injury. Still, Montreal’s impressive display of stout defense, solid midfield play and the goal-scoring exploits of Ali Gerba will be tough for Carolina to overcome.
The RailHawks had a tough time getting a handle on NSC Minnesota, going two and a half hours without scoring before getting four goals in the last half hour of the second match at WakeMed Soccer Park. Coach Martin Rennie will rely on his rebuilt defense, featuring Eric Reed in goal along with Devon McKenney, Kupono Low, Brad Rusin and Daniel Woolard. Midfielder Daniel Paladini was a force for the RailHawks in their win over NSC Minnesota, coming off the bench to score once and garner two assists. The RailHawks have a number of attackers who can score, as the team was second to Austin in the regular season in team scoring.
I coudl see the series going either way, but Montreal has been in better scoring form recently than Carolina, and I think Montreal will be playing in the championship.
Vancouver Whitecaps at Puerto Rico Islanders
Unlike the other playoff series, neither the Whitecaps or Islanders come into Thursday’s first leg in Bayamon, Puerto Rico particularly hot. Both teams won their quarterfinal first game but lost the second, advancing on aggregate goals. The eighth-seeded Puerto Rico Islanders dumped the number one seed, the Rochester Rhinos, out of the 2010 playoffs while Vancouver ended Portland’s season.
The Whitecaps have been playing great defense all season long. Teitur Thordarson’s club has only allowed 23 goals in 32 regular season and playoff games in 2010. Something is indeed going right on their end of the field. Vancouver’s problem all season long has been finishing, but recently added youngsters Gershon Koffie and Cody Arnoux have both found the back of the net recently,and captain Martin Nash is always a steady figure in midfield.
Puerto Rico have been enigmatic all season. Talented and focused enough to capture the Caribbean Football Union trophy and to find success in the CONCACAF Champions League, their season record was barely good enough to get them into the 2010 playoff picture. But Coach Colin Clarke’s Islanders are historically good in tournaments, and despite losing forward Nicholas Addlery to injury, the team has been finding enough goals to get by lately. Their defense has been consistent.
Both teams should have had ample time to recuperate for Thursday’s game. My hunch is that Puerto Rico will take the series, but that is strictly a hunch.