Friday, July 30

A Quest for W-League Glory

The Vancouver Whitecaps will be looking to make history Saturday evening in Santa Clarita, CA in the W-League Championship game as they take the pitch with the opportunity to become the first club to win the title three times. On the other side of the field will be the Buffalo Flash, a second-year side looking to bring women’s soccer into the limelight in Northern New York where the Rochester Rhinos have long-been the top dogs with USL First Division and US Open Cup championships. For one player, Kelly Parker, the game also represents unfinished business.

The Pali Blues claimed a playoff spot at the last minute to keep their bid for a third consecutive league championship alive, but the run finally came to an end in Vancouver to a Whitecaps squad that has returned to its former dominance in the Western Conference. Thursday evening, they proved that their 6-0-4 unbeaten season was not propped up by a weak conference with parity below the top seed as they cruised out to a 2-0 first half lead on a goal and an assist from Kaylyn Kyle in the first 13 minutes en route to a 3-1 victory over the regular season champion Hudson Valley.

The victory sent the Whitecaps to the final for the fourth time in club history, having previously reached the championship in 2001, 2004 and 2006, claiming titles in the last two. The Whitecaps join the Chicago Cobras as the only club to have reached the final four times.

Melissa Tancredi was the leading scorer on the season with five goals and an assist with Jodi-Ann Robinson pairing up with her for three goals and two assists. Led by a number of Canadian internationals, the Whitecaps are as close to a professional team as could be.

The Flash, on the other hand, are a professional team. Buffalo finished the season 10-0-2, topping last year’s record of 9-2-3 and knocked out longtime league power Ottawa (8-1-3) in the conference final, 1-0, to reach the final four. On Thursday, they downed Atlanta behind the efforts of former W-League MVP and WPS player Kelly Parker, who scored twice in the second half to break a 1-1 halftime stalemate.

Parker was the leading scorer on the team in just seven games played with 11 goals and five assists, but was not the only player with eye-popping numbers. Mele French and Ann-Marie Heatherson each had seven goals in nine games and Veronica Boquete, who set up Parker’s two semifinal tallies had five goals and seven assists for the season in just five appearances.

There is unfinished business at hand for Kelly Parker Saturday. Although she did not play, Parker ended a miserable personal championship drought last year as a member of champion Sky Blue in WPS, but she will be out to finally win the elusive W-League title in Santa Clara.

It began with the Ottawa Fury, who four times reached the W-League Final Four under Parker’s leadership, coming up short each time, including twice in the championship game. The four-time All-League selection moved onto the FC Indiana Lionesses in 2008, but suffered the same fate, losing in a heartbreaker that saw the club’s lead disappear in the final seven minutes of the match against the Pali Blues, making Parker 0-3 in Finals, coming up short for the fifth time W-League championship events.

Catch the game Saturday night on Fox Soccer Channel, 10 pm ET.

Thursday, July 29

A Better Bid Process: The Bid-Weighted Lottery

There is often a lot of hullabaloo over the bidding process for hosting of playoff games in United Soccer Leagues as well as for US Open Cup matches. Publicly, the controversy over the decisions in awarding these events and the accompanying home field advantage has traditionally been hotter for the US Open Cup fixtures as witnessed by the drama and mudslinging between DC United and the Seattle Sounders last year prior to the tournament final.

That does not mean USL announcements have slipped by the attention of the fans, media and front offices of the teams over the years as top seeds have found themselves on the road, or clubs with great crowds or media coverage come out on the short end of the bidding process that is far from transparent. The PDL playoff hosts were released last week for the conference playoffs set for this weekend. I am sure there are some grumbling executives around the nation today as they head to their postseason destination while working on bids for the Final Four.

The current policies utilized by USL and US Soccer create a very subjective process that in no way resembles the concept of fair play. Around the world draws are used to determine match hosts in tournament competitions, but the realities of the American soccer business make that impractical. And when you bring it into a playoff perspective where seeding can be applied, those same financial impracticalities also create issues as often times a great team on the field may be far from capable of hosting a playoff-caliber event, especially a four-team conference tournament.

However, that does not mean lotteries, seeding and financial factors cannot be brought together.

My concept is that a weighted lottery process for determining match hosts should be adopted. As will be detailed below, this new idea would allow for both the important financial health of the tournament events to remain a top concern while also creating not only some randomness to the selections, but more importantly, fairness to an extremely subjective bidding process.

Having worked for United Soccer Leagues for over 10 years and another three years with a USL Premier Development League team, I am fully aware of the difficulties involved in selecting a ‘winning’ bid and the positive and negative feelings associated with being on the team’s end of those decisions. It is not in the least bit fun. Sometimes I was involved in the evaluation process of the bids; sometimes I wasn’t. The one thing I can honestly say is that more often than not, there is no clear right choice and not everybody involved was in agreement. And I couldn’t even hazard a guess at how many angry phone calls from team executives I overheard as they berated the league directors after being notified of the decision. And if the allegedly aggrieved team had a poor experience on or off the field, you were assured of a second salvo. Believe me, being in the governing organization’s position is a no-win scenario.

This biggest problem with the bidding process is that often times bids are very close to one another and you are literally splitting hairs on which is better on paper or making prognostications on which team will fulfill their proposal better. In the US Open Cup, US Soccer has to weigh the bottom line versus a perceived value in a lower division team playing host to a match. At USL, where the teams are also customers of your business that could walk away once the playoffs are over, many times the evaluation debates swung from seeding, to media outreach, to fan support and finally financial considerations. Unfortunately, just like the US Open Cup, the financials typically won out as the postseason is costly and the effort to minimize team financial losses were the overriding concern. The more you could reduce the costs of travel and collect revenue from the host, the further the playoff travel pool in which all the teams paid into went after the conclusion of the postseason. In an ideal world, you would like the top seed to host, but you can’t ignore the bottom line. If you were in a hard-to-reach location you were out of luck or needed to show plenty of green to counter the travel scenarios. And being Canadian made it many times more difficult because only teams in 3-4 divisions of the eight played games north of the border during the season and would be prepared to do so in short notice for the playoffs. Teams have a hard enough time keeping players from college call-backs so to lose players because visa issues keep them from leaving the country only compounds the lack of competitive capabilities or fairness.

In the US Open Cup, the debate has no more public of a symbol than DC United. Last year’s decision surrounding the host of the tournament Final, which ultimately featured the Seattle Sounders and DC United was the impetus that brought an issue long debated behind the scenes to the forefront. United has been the center of a lot of the controversy in recent years as they have not traveled since losing in Harrisburg in 2007, receiving hosting honors against clubs very capable of being the home side such as Seattle, Charleston, Harrisburg, Ocean City, Richmond, and Rochester (twice). Last week’s Quarterfinal win over Harrisburg was United’s 10th consecutive (most of them at a second venue) game at home in the tournament, including against fellow MLS members. They next face Columbus…. in yet another home fixture.

I have discussed the current process and the controversy, but this post is supposed to be about the solution.

Here it is, acquire 10 balls for a draw. Then for each hosting scenario - determined by geography as it is now, - weight the bids on a ratio of 1-10 between the two clubs, so long as both put forth the minimum hosting requirements. If the two bids are extremely competitive, then they both get five balls in the pot for the draw. If one meets the minimum and the other bid is far superior, then give the better bid nine balls in the pot.

For the US Open Cup, this creates at least an opportunity for the smaller clubs with fewer resources the opportunity to be able to host the contest.

More importantly, it takes the narrow subjective decisions out of the equation as the bids that are comparable will now have fair chance at being drawn instead of being selected based on some singular criteria in the bid. It also evens the playing field in situations where the bid evaluators are trying to weigh cash guarantees versus potential gate revenue or ‘trade-out’ values such as hotels, meals and travel provisions provided, a scenario that has allegedly fallen in favor of the guarantees more often than not. And for USL playoffs, the top-seeded teams with coaches and players who earned it on the field won’t be completely shut out because the front office of the club is not as strong as another team’s.

The process will never be completely transparent as bid details are not going to be released publicly, but in the end, if a team’s ball is or isn’t drawn, at least there was some fate involved and not some random decision made by an individual who has not seen a single minute of their season or ever visited their office/stadium.

The detractors, mostly those at the governing organizations, will say this creates a situation in which the financial health of the competition is put at jeopardy. I would counter that it would do the opposite.

Clubs will no longer be able to ‘allegedly’ use backroom influence to sway decisions and would have to put forth maximum bids. MLS clubs desperate not to travel will have to increase their bids to ensure a greater disparity from the counterpart’s bid in order to receive more balls in the draw. A lower division club, expecting not win a bid against a higher level opponent under the current format will now be more inclined to increase their bids to improve their odds in the draw. In the end, the water level on the bids will rise.

Now, I realize comparing bids in a four-team situation is a lot of work, and the crazy scenarios listed out each week when the US Open Cup host scenarios are announced are a testament to that. But, if the competition’s governing body so chooses, they can increase the ball number, to say 20, and just select one ‘winner’ out of an entire foursome based on the bids. This works just as well for four-team conference playoff situations in USL where a myriad of teams can be alive going into the final week or two of the season when the bidding process is occurring.

And as far as the media are concerned, the weighted lottery is actually not a new concept. The NBA draft order for the first three selections has utilized a weighted lottery since 1990 and is a separate annually televised event held approximately a month before the draft itself.

History at Forefront of PDL Playoffs

The perfect 16-0-0 Portland Timbers made history this year in the Premier Development League regular season, but the record books are stacked against them as they begin the playoffs as one of two unbeaten teams on the year. They are joined by the 11-0-3 Mississippi Brilla, the 12th team to go without a loss. Both face the daunting task of becoming the first unbeaten league champion.

Portland and Mississippi each have someone very familiar with the challenge ahead. The Timbers U23s are led, in part, by Director of Soccer Development Amos Magee, a member of the 1994 Minnesota Thunder side that was the first in league history to finish with a perfect record (18-0). For Brilla, Assistant Coach Todd Eason played for the second and last team to previously finish perfect, the 1998 Jackson Chargers.

Despite dominating their respective seasons, both finished in disappointment as Minnesota fell in a tiebreaker shootout to tournament host Greensboro Dynamo after a 1-1 draw and Jackson dropped a 3-2 decision to the San Gabriel Valley Highlanders.

For Magee, the memory brings out quite a bit of emotion, “I had a goal that was called offside that was not offside. I am still bitter about that.”

“This could exorcise those demons for me,” he said about Portland’s impending playoff campaign that could supplant Minnesota’s status as the only team to finish without a true loss (two defeats in shootouts) to remain the league’s best result. “There is still a tiny, little lingering disappointment from the ‘94 season.”

It is a surprising sentiment that Magee is still upset at missing out on the title considering he went on to win a USL First Division championship later with the Thunder and play in Major League Soccer, but it came after a fantastic debut season in which they dueled with the Milwaukee Rampage. Led by experienced French pro Pierre Morice and league MVP and future MLS player Manny Lagos, the Thunder swept a Milwaukee side fronted by future US internationals Brian McBride and Tony Sanneh, then a forward, for two wins during the season and defeated them twice more in the postseason. They were the only losses the Rampage suffered.

Jackson’s fate was probably the more shocking though. The defense was third-best in the league with 17 goals allowed, but the eye-opening figure was the tally of 104 goals, which was an amazing 42 more than the total of the next-best Spokane Shadow, who were led by PDL Rookie of the Year and future US international Brian Ching. In comparison to today, the dominant Timbers U23s led the league this year with six goals allowed and 53 scored.

“When we were in the Final it was hard to believe that we weren't going to win the game,” said Eason. “We had scored over 100 goals and conceded very few, so to think there was a team better than us, it was a stretch of the imagination.”

“I can mostly remember that I was out due to a hurt quad that I aggravated in the semifinal, so I was pretty bummed I wasn't involved,” continued Eason. “We played the San Gabriel Valley Highlanders, who I was not very familiar with, but had heard they were older and very talented.”

“Come to find out they were. They had many foreign players that were very talented on the ball and they made it difficult for us to gain possession, which we were known for. Our strength was in the final third and we had no good opportunities due to their experience in the back. It was very hard to break them down and we became very frustrated. This is where our youth showed. We had become accustom to scoring at will and that day we did not. Players lost their confidence quick and the mental aspect of the game became greater. We didn't handle adversity well and the end result was a second-place finish.”

In the 12 years since the Chargers’ shocking loss, the league has inevitably changed. Primary among the alterations is the league’s U23 rules that were adopted in 2000.

“The league has changed in many ways since 1999, and it is very difficult to pull off the perfect season. The reason it is so difficult is because of the parity in the league,” said Eason. “All the teams have gotten much stronger and it has become more difficult to get three points each game. This is the reason that there are many draws in each conference.”

“Also, when I played, there were more consistent teams in the league. Each team had its 25 players that remained on the team until the very last game,” Eason said, referring to the fact that overage players did not have collegiate obligations that created conflicts. “Now it seems that many more players are coming and going more often. Mississippi Brilla has also seen these kinds of changes throughout the year. We started with 28 players this year and we have seen 12 players leave and pursue other things. We have also added six players. So you can see the difficulties in forming a team when there are many changes. It’s hard to develop team chemistry and rhythm when the team is constantly changing.”

“Many kids end up leaving before the league final to go back to school or they leave early to get a week’s rest before university preseason starts,” added Eason. “You can look at every team and it would be far-fetched to say that every player that started the season is ending the season. I just think, again, the consistency plays a huge factor.”

Those difficulties have arguably contributed to remarkable trends that have seen the eight unbeaten teams since Jackson (all from 2002-09) fail to even reach the league semifinals and the league’s regular season champion making an early exit from the playoffs. The Central Coast Roadrunners of 1996 were the last team to win both titles with the 1998 Chargers, 2000 Michigan Bucks and 2001 Calgary Storm the only regular season champions to even reach the championship game. And since 2001, only the Orange County Blue Star of 2005 was able to advance to the final four.

While Magee had his experience in Minnesota available to call upon this season for the U23s run of perfection, the Timbers also had a more recent experience to refer to that has a more timely and obvious geographic relevance.

“I never talked to head coach Jim Rilatt or any of the players about it,” he said of 1994. “But we compared the current season a bit to the run of the first team last year.”

The Timbers set a USL professional club record with 24 consecutive league games without a loss last season in the USL First Division, garnering headlines around the country and capturing a lot of attention and praise. But in the end, the present proved too much like the past for Magee, an assistant coach for the first team.

“Despite what we accomplished, it was a bitter feeling considering we didn’t win the championship,” said Magee. “Discussion with the team about the streak and what happened was mostly done by Jim, but we discussed it in our coaches meeting, which included [first team coach and general manager] Gavin Wilkinson.”

“I think they realize, and have to recognize, that this, what they accomplished in the regular season means nothing at this point,” Magee added. “It is a whole new season. They are gonna be judged on how they navigate the next four games and not the last 16. The challenge now for them is to take that confidence into this game.”

But confidence itself can be a tricky thing according to Eason.

“We have seen time and time again top-seeded teams struggling,” said Eason. “I think it goes back to how we felt when we were in it. Sometimes being confident can hurt you if you don't know how to handle it. I think many top-seeded teams always have their head in the clouds without their feet on the ground.”

While looking back upon the past can be difficult, often times the memories can also be pleasant.

“That was unbelievable team with Manny - and his brother Gerard, - Pierre, and Tony Pesznecker,” said Magee. We played against Milwaukee featuring McBride and Sanneh, who we beat four times. Then we lost to a very good Greensboro Dynamo team in Greensboro. We were a very well-balanced team, well put together by [head coach and USL Hall of Famer] Buzz Lagos. It was as good a team that I have played for, and that was an amateur team. It was a great group and I remember that team fondly.”

“I think the similarities more come from very nice balance,” Magee added about how the Timbers U23 squad compares to the 1994 Thunder. “There are a couple players back with leadership like Tracy Hassan, Jordan Crasilneck and Brent Richards. We also have some outstanding players new to the group who have really excelled. They really enjoy playing and succeeding. There is a real joy to the way that they play. I can’t say enough about the job Jim has done. I expect several players will be snapped up to pro contracts after the season and a number of those still in college will be at a later date.”

The change of the league from teams mixed with amateurs and professionals to one full of amateur sides due to changes in NCAA regulations was not the end of the evolution. The league recently adopted a PDL-Pro option that allows clubs to operate with professional rosters, albeit under the U23 rules. In a way, it brought the landscape back to one similar to what Magee experienced in 1994 as USL began to grow from one league into a system of professional and amateur leagues.

“There are actually some similarities with amateur teams playing with pro teams,” said Magee, referring to the presence of two within their own division and a third, Hollywood United Hitmen, coming up in their playoff opener hosted by the division runners-up Kitsap Pumas. “Kitsap, Vancouver and Hollywood are pro teams. And Ventura County are the defending champs. All four teams in the Western Conference are very, very good. It is gonna take a heck of a lot to get to the final four.”

“We’re likely gonna have to deal with some very strong teams we know nothing about just like we did with Thunder,” Magee depicted of the road ahead in the playoffs. “The regional aspect of the PDL means playing teams you know nothing about.”

Operating out of Clinton, a city situated in the greater metropolitan area of Jackson, Brilla are very similar to the Chargers of Eason’s past, a team that featured future MLS players Richard Mulrooney and Dominic Schell as well as Kenya internationals Boniventure Maruti and Paul Oyuga, who are currently both stars for their Norwegian second division sides Follo FK and Algard FK, respectively.

“We had a couple African players that played at the University of Mobile who led our team that year, and in the same way Brilla is led by the same influence,” said Eason. “Mike Azira and Moses Aduny are both from Lindsey Wilson College and have done a tremendous job leading this team. Moses is the leading goal scorer for Brilla who has the speed, strength and understanding to carry this team to the championship and also play at the next level. He has been a great addition. Mike Azira, who we first pegged as our defensive mid, is another player that we were very lucky to have. He is capable of playing any position on the field and has most recently had to play left back due to injury. I would have to say that Azira is one of the best players I have ever had the privilege to coach.”

“Unfortunately for us, Azira is another player that had to leave to head back to Uganda to visit family before school,” continued Eason. “This will be a huge loss for us but I think we have enough talented players to make a good run at the championship.”

“We also have a couple other players on this team very similar to those on the Jackson Chargers. Micheal Brown, who is a local from Clinton, is a player that gives you a close comparison to Richard Williams, who played with me for two years and graduated from Belhaven College.”

“We also, as a whole, compare well to the Chargers based on the make-up of our team. Many of our players, like the Chargers, are players who play for NAIA and Division II programs. Some of our best players come from small schools. Throughout the season we have had only two Division I players that have played consistently for us. We have relied on finding the best players in small schools to lead us. We have players like Lucas Paulini, Nick Rich and Anteneh Lemma from Tusculum College, Willie Hunt from Francis Marion College, David Lilly from Milligan, Ahmad Ihmeidan from Midwestern College and Nathaniel Foster from Montevallo. All of these players are responsible for our success.”

While disappointment lingers from 1994 and 1998 amidst this season’s success for Easton and Magee, the next 15 games, starting with the Conference Semifinals that begin Friday and ending with the PDL Champions August 7, could take things to another level by registering a historic moment for the PDL.

“Well there is no doubt that a championship would be great,” said Eason. “Ever since I have been here that has been the focus, and there would be nothing greater than to capture a title for this organization.”

The only problem is that in the way for perfect Portland and unbeaten Brilla are 14 other clubs who care more about raising the cup than history.

By The Numbers

Previous Unbeaten PDL Campaigns [Team (record) Result]

1994 Minnesota Thunder (18-0) Lost in Final by shootout

1998 Jackson Chargers (16-0) Lost in Final

2002 Des Moines Menace (15-0-3) Lost in Conference Semifinal

2004 South Jersey Barons (14-0-4) Lost in Conference Final

2004 Chicago Fire (17-0-1) Lost in Conference Final

2006 Carolina Dynamo (14-0-2) Lost in Conference Semifinal

2006 Cape Cod Crusaders (14-0-2) Lost in Conference Final

2007 Hampton Roads Piranhas (14-0-2) Lost in Conference Semifinals by PKs

2009 New Orleans Jesters (5-0-11) Lost in First Round

2009 Ottawa Fury (12-0-4) Lost in Division Final

Tuesday, July 27

Pro Rankings: Action Begins Below the Border

The CONCACAF Champions League Preliminary Round is set to kick off the 2010-11 edition of the tournament Tuesday evening. Action kicked off for the current seasons over the past weekend as well in Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala. With plenty of action in the United States over the past month in league action and SuperLiga, it is time for an update of the SNA CONCACAF Pro Club Power Rankings.

SuperLiga marked the beginning of international competition for the 2010-11 CONCACAF calendar with Mexican and MLS clubs squaring off against one another. The biggest surprise through the conclusion of the group stage is the performance of New England, which swept their series that included a pair of quality sides in Morelia and Pumas. The three victories contrast the Revolution’s league play, which has seen them drop three of the last four. Similarly Houston, winless in their last seven league games, finished 2-0-1 in their group. Morelia and Puebla also advanced from their groups to the semifinals, respectively.

Defending Clausura playoff champions Toluca were unable to open the new Apertura campaign with a positive result in Mexico, falling 2-1 to Pumas, who failed to record a point in SuperLiga the previous two weeks. The regular season Clausura champions, Monterrey, also got off to a slow start with a 1-1 draw against San Luis, who recorded only three wins whilst finishing last in the Clausura.

Looking good on opening weekend of the Mexican Apertura were Pachuca, Santos Laguna and Cruz Azul. Pachuca dropped America 3-0, Santos drubbed Atlante 4-1 and Cruz Azul blanked Tecos 3-0.

Further south, another champion dropped their opener as Saprissa, Torneo de Verano season and playoff title winner, was upset in the Costa Rican Torneo de Invierno opener, falling 1-0 to San Carlos. CCL-bound Apertura champion Brujas, which dropped to the bottom of the table in the Clausura, fell in the opener 1-0.

In Guatemala, CCL-bound Xelaju started its campaign with a 2-1 victory over Penarol la Mesilla. Municpal, the defending Clausura champion were big winners, 4-0, against Universidad de San Carlos while Clausura regular season champion Comunicaciones were narrowly victorious against Heredia, 1-0.

Around the United States, two of the hottest teams in MLS are FC Dallas, unbeaten over the last seven, and the New York Red Bulls, who have one loss in their last six games. Dropping a step, a handful of clubs have performed well of late. Vancouver has one loss in the last 11 and Carolina one defeat in the last 10. Similarly, Austin has one loss in their last 14, and is unbeaten for five games as is Portland. CCL-bound Puerto Rico is beginning to find its usual form after struggling, dropping just one of seven games heading into the tournament. In the USL Second Division, Pittsburgh has climbed out of the cellar into third and Charleston is unbeaten over the last four games.

In the Caribbean, the Trinidad & Tobago professional league wrapped up the season in early July with Defence Force completing the season with a perfect 10-0-0 record, outscoring the opposition 27-8 on aggregate. The next closes club was 5-1-4 Joe Public, which led a group of five teams that finished within four points of one another. Among them were W Connection and San Juan Jabloteh.

Power Clubs set for PDL Playoff Test

Last-minute letdowns affected some of the top teams in the SNA PDL Power Rankings as defeats against quality opposition created the slip of a few clubs in the Top 10, allowing the Ottawa Fury and Michigan Bucks to move up. But the real test starts this weekend with the conference tournaments where upsets are not only commonplace, but tradition.

With Portland having locked up the top spot a week ago with a perfect record, Mississippi followed suit with a pair of victories, including one against highly-ranked Baton Rouge to also finish unbeaten to secure the second spot.

The clubs in the Top 10 remained relatively the same despite some movement. Also suffering a loss were Thunder Bay, who split a series with Rochester, and Reading, which fell to the division’s third-place Central Jersey Spartans, who have made a late run in the season to earn a spot in the rankings at 23. The trio were surpassed by Ottawa, 2-0 winners against Westchester, and Michigan, which jumped from 11 to six with a pair of victories on the road.

Also moving up this week were Rochester, courtesy of their win at Thunder Bay, and MPS Portland, who topped Long Island in a match that propelled them to the postseason.

In addition to Central Jersey making its SNA Rankings debut, the Houston Leones came out of nowhere in the Mid South to slip into the playoffs via tiebreaker with DFW. Houston won at DFW, 3-2, and notched a 2-1 win over West Texas, two playoff contenders, in the last week. They suffered just one loss in their final seven games, a defeat against division-winner Laredo, whom they also tied 2-2 during the run. Laredo, unfortunately, simultaneously suffered a setback with a loss and draw at El Paso, whose six wins have all been at home (6-1-1).

SNA PDL Power Rankings

(red for division champion, yellow for playoffs)

1 – Portland Timbers U23s (16-0-0): Idle.

2 – Mississippi Brilla (11-0-3): 7-2 win over C Florida, 1-0 win over Baton Rouge.

3 – Forest City London (10-1-5): 4-2 win against Cleveland.

4 – Kitsap Pumas (12-2-2): 6-3 win at Vancouver, 3-2 win at Tacoma.

5 – Ottawa Fury (11-2-3): 2-0 win over Westchester.

6 – Michigan Bucks (11-3-2): 3-1 win at Toronto, 3-0 win at Indiana.

7 – Baton Rouge Capitals (9-2-3): 0-1 loss at Mississippi.

8 – Thunder Bay Chill (12-2-2): 2-1 win and 2-1 loss against Rochester.

9 – Reading United AC (10-2-4): 4-2 win against New Jersey, 1-2 loss at Central Jersey.

10 – Ventura County Fusion (11-4-1): 3-0 win against LA.

The Rest of the Best: 11 Hollywood United Hitmen (10-3-3) – 12 Dayton Dutch Lions (8-3-5) – 13 Rochester Thunder (10-3-3)14 MPS Portland Phoenix (10-2-4) – 15 Real Colorado Foxes (7-3-6) – 16 Chicago Fire (9-5-2) – 17 Ironbound Express (10-3-3) – 18 Long Island Rough Riders (8-4-4) – 19 Tacoma Tide (9-4-3) – 20 Atlanta Blackhawks (6-4-4) – 21 Central Florida Kraze (6-5-3) – 22 Central Jersey Spartans (8-5-3) – 23 Laredo Heat (9-5-2)24 Houston Leones (7-5-4) – 25 Victoria Highlanders (7-6-3)

Previous List [+]

Monday, July 26

Atlantic Teams Show Power in Playoffs

With a bit of parity in the Atlantic Division, Atlanta and Charlotte usually found themselves rounding out the SNA W-League Power Rankings, but the results of the first weekend of the W-League playoffs showed that, perhaps, the division was underrated.

While Buffalo remained at the top of the rankings courtesy of a pair shutout wins over Canadian foes Toronto and Ottawa, the big movers of the week were Charlotte and Atlanta.

In the Conference Semifinals the Lady Eagles stunned the Washington Freedom Futures, coming from behind twice for a 2-2 draw (regardless of what the USL site says) before advancing in penalties. They proved their defense was no fluke as Washington had the third best offense in the league with 29 goals in 12 games. Charlotte had allowed only four goals coming into the contest. The more surprising part of the result was the newly-found offense from Charlotte, which had only 15 goals in 10 games, scoring two equalizers, including one in overtime, against a Washington defense that had given up just seven goals on the year and had only two games with two or more allowed.

Atlanta, meanwhile, faced the Northeast’s third-seeded Wildcats, but still managed to put up a result that opened eyes, 5-1. New Jersey had allowed just 16 goals for the season and three of the Wildcat losses were to division leaders Hudson Valley and Washington. The Silverbacks handed New Jersey its biggest loss of the season, posting the largest margin of victory and most goals against for the Wildcats season. They capped the conference playoffs with a 1-0 win over rival Charlotte.

SNA W-League Power Rankings

1 – Buffalo Flash (10-0-2): 3-0 win over Toronto followed by 1-0 win against Ottawa.

2 – Hudson Valley QLB (11-1-0): Idle – automatic berth to semis as regular season champ.

3 – Vancouver Whitecaps (6-0-4): Defeated Pali 2-1.

4 – Atlanta Silverbacks (7-2-1): Beat New Jersey 5-1 followed by win over Charlotte, 1-0.

5 – Ottawa Fury (8-1-3): Topped Chicago 2-0 before falling 1-0 to Buffalo.

6 – Charlotte Lady Eagles (5-3-2): 2-2 draw against Washington, 1-0 loss to Atlanta.

7 – Washington Freedom Futures (10-1-1): Eliminated by PKs after 2-2 draw against Charlotte.

8 – Chicago Red Eleven (8-2-2): Defeated by Ottawa 2-0.

9 – Toronto Lady Lynx (7-2-3): Fell 3-0 to Buffalo.

10 – Pali Blues (3-4-3): Eliminated from three-peat contention, 2-1 by Vancouver.

Previous List [+]

Super South Korea

I don’t think many expected heading into the U20 Women’s World Cup that the South Koreans would be one of the top teams, but right now they appear to be the class of the tournament. I will admit that I missed seeing the Germany quarterfinal the other day, but the fact that they are performing well is not surprising either considering they are one of the dominant European nations and are hosting the tournament.

But South Korea has been excellent. They dominated Mexico in the quarters and the only blemish on their slate thus far is the final group game, a 1-0 loss to the defending champion United States in which they rested several players having already advanced to the final eight. Mexico had looked good in the previous matches in the tournament, but just could not handle South Korea this weekend.

The sad news is that the loss to the United States meant they finished second in their group and now will meet Germany in the semifinals, arguably pitting the two best teams against one another a game early. Meanwhile, the other semifinal will feature to other clubs that posted upsets as Colombia stunned Sweden and the US, like they had ahead Ghana, failed to take advantage of controlling the match, falling to Nigeria in penalties after a 1-1 draw.

Germany appears to be the favorite, on paper, at this point being the only group-winner remaining in the final four. Thursday will be the big day as South Korea looks to knock out the last surviving European team.