By JOSE M. ROMERO
The last meeting betwen the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps before both teams head to MLS had all the drama you would expect, especially given the fact they were meeting in the playoffs.
Each team won at home in their USSF Division 2 playoff series, but the Whitecaps were able to hold on for the series victory after posting a 2-0 first-leg victory. Portland's 1-0 home win on Sunday wasn't enough to send the Timbers packing early as they prepare for the move to MLS.
Whether the Timbers should have opened the series in Oregon is moot now; nevertheless, the Timbers put themselves in a 2-0 hole after the first leg and the Whitecaps' strategy was simple for the second – d. up. At least Portland walked off the pitch with some kind of win (1-0) for the sake of their rabid and devoted fan base.
Give the Whitecaps credit, though. They know playoff soccer and have enough veterans and a coach who have been to the dance before, so little was going to faze that team.
Now the Timbers turn their attention to forming their MLS team. The Whitecaps are not ready to devote their offseason to MLS preparation just yet. They'll get the long transcontinental flight to La Isla de Encanto, Puerto Rico, to take on the Islanders in the first leg of that two-leg semifinal series. The match is Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Game Two is Sunday at 7 EST.
Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel in Bayamon, outside of San Juan, is no easy place to play. Just ask the No. 1 seed, the Rochester Rhinos, who were upset in the first round and lost 2-0 in the first leg. The Islanders, who came in as the lowest seed (8) might be peaking at the right time.
This is a rematch of the 2008 USL final, which Vancouver won 2-1 at home over the Islanders. No team has a win over the other this season, as they played to a pair of draws in the regular season.
The other USSF D-2 semifinal features the only higher seed to advance according to seeding form, the second-seeded Carolina Railhawks, against the No. 6 Montreal Impact. Carolina got past No. 7 NSC Minnesota 4-0, scoring all goals in the second leg at home, and the Impact had the easiest time of it, winning 2-0 in the first leg over the third-seeded Austin Aztex in Quebec. Then the Impact went down to Texas and scored a 3-2 result for a 5-2 aggregate goals win.
Thursday night at Stade Saputo in Canada, Montreal continues its defense of the 2009 USL First Division title. It's a 7:30 EST start, with the second leg Sunday at the home of the Railhawks, WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., at 6 EST.
Both teams are unbeaten in their past five matches, all wins for the Impact. Carolina was 2-1-2 against Montreal in the regular season and beat the Impact 2-0 at Saputo on May 30.
Montreal's Ali Gerba and Carolina's Etienne Barbara are the players to watch in this series. Gerba, a former Toronto FC and Canadian national team player, scored nine goals in 13 regular-season games for the Impact. Barbara had eight in 21 matches. Goalkeeper Jay Nolly and forward-midfielder Martin Nash lead the Whitecaps, while Puerto Rico was second in USSF-2 with 152 corner kicks this season.