The second leg of the 2010 USSF D2 playoff championships will be determined Saturday in Cary, North Carolina. The Carolina RailHawks will host the Puerto Rico Islanders at 7:00 pm ET. The RailHawks lost the opening leg in Bayamon, Puerto Rico last Sunday 2-0, and will need a great performance to overcome their two goal disadvantage.
The question for the RailHawks will be ….which team will show up? The RailHawks were second behind the late Austin Aztex in USSF D2 regular season scoring in 2010, knocking in 44 goals in 30 games. But in the playoffs, they have been shutout on the road in each first leg game, being blanked by NSC Minnesota, Montreal and Puerto Rico before coming back at home in the second leg to take each series. Will that trend continue Saturday?
Certainly the RailHawks have enough offensive weapons. Midfielder Daniel Paladini made the USSF D2’s Best XIs, and Charleston Battery striker Tom Heinemann has added punch to the offense that also features Etienne Barbara, Gregory Richardson and Josh Gardner as proven scorers. Despite many late season injuries, Coach Martin Rennie has revamped the backline and they have been successful.
The Puerto Rico Islanders road to the playoff championship has been eventful, too. The eighth ranked team in the playoff setup, Colin Clarke’s Islanders dispatched regular season champion Rochester and MLS-bound Vancouver to get to this point. After being eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League days before last Sunday’s match, I wondered how the Islanders would react, but La Tropa Naranja showed their character and played well against Carolina at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium and got a late second goal by Jonathan Fana to make the RailHawks’ task in the 2nd leg that much more difficult. Veteran Bill Gaudette came up with the clean sheet against the RailHawks.
Saturday evening’s championship game will be streamed online on both club’s websites and will be the conclusion of the 2010 USSF D2 season. The spotlight on the game seems to have been dulled somehwat, though, with news earlier this week that former D2 owner Phil Rawlins has self-demoted his Austin Aztex team to D3 and moved it to Orlando, while his D2 counterpart Rob Clark of Rochester has also demoted that proud franchise to D3. I guess they couldn’t wait one more week until the offseason to announce these moves. Classy.