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Puerto Rico Islanders Win D2 Championship !!!

The Puerto Rico Islanders won the USSF D2 2010 Pro League Championship Saturday night at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.  In the second leg of their championship series with the RailHawks, the game between the two finalists ended in a 1-1 draw, giving the Islanders a 3-1 aggregate victory and the USSF D2 title.

The Islanders were the 8th and final seed in the USSF D2 2010 playoff seedings.  But they were able to defeat league points leader Rochester and the MLS bound Vancouver Whitecaps to get to the finals against the NASL Conference Champion RailHawks.

After defeating the RailHawks 2-0 in the first leg of the championship finals in Bayamon, Puerto Rico on goals by Sandy Gbandi and Jonathan Fana, the RailHawks faced an uphill task in the second leg at home.  Gbandi again played a crucial role tonight for the Islanders, scoring the opening goal in the 7th minute of play.  The RailHawks Tom Heinemann, who was playing in his second pro soccer championship game this season after starring for the Charleston Battery in the USL-2 Championship, knotted the score in the 19th minute.

But unfortunately for the RailHawks and their fans, Heinemann’s goal was the only one that Martin Rennie’s club scored.  Needing two goals, the RailHawks pressed in the second half.  Etienne Barbara had a nice chance, but it was the Islanders who had the best chance for another goal after they were awarded a penalty kick late in the match following a foul by Brad Rusin and his red-card ejection.  RailHawk goalkeeper Eric Reed came up big, though, and dived to knock Nicholas Addlery’s PK attempt off of the crossbar and keep the score even.

The RailHawks pressed further, and won a free kick in stoppage time.  USSF D2 Best XI midfielder Daniel Paladini lined up for the kick and unleashed a well-placed bullet towards the upper corner of the Islanders’ net, but veteran goalkeeper Bill Gaudette leapt high and denied Paladini, and a few minutes later the game was over with Puerto Rico crowned champions.

A tip of the hat to both NASL clubs and coaches Martin Rennie and Colin Clarke for taking their teams to the finals and providing excitement for their fans.  And special congratulations to La Tropa Naranja on a fabulous season, winning the Caribbean Football Union championship in May, playing well in the CONCACAF Champions League before being eliminated in a tough group and now on winning the USSF D2 Pro League Championship.

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