Friday, October 8

Coming Up Around CONCACAF: USSF-D2 Playoffs Continue

Although there is another international break at hand throughout FIFA, action around CONCACAF remains nearly in full swing as playoffs continue in USSF Division-2, the regular season winds down in Major League Soccer and parity reigns supreme in numerous Central American leagues.

The USSF-D2 postseason continues with the second legs of the quarterfinal series, three concluding on Saturday with future MLS clubs Vancouver and Portland finishing up with the fourth on Sunday. Meanwhile, the races of interest in the top flight are at the top of the league table with the composition of the playoff field nearly set mathematically. The marquee match is Saturday when two clubs vying for conference titles, New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake meet in the Big Apple.

In Mexico, the lone remaining unbeaten in CONCACAF, Monterrey, wraps up the action on Sunday on the road versus America, but the marquee contest features Champions League sides squaring off as Primera Group C leader Cruz Azul travels to play Group B leader Toluca earlier in the day.

In Costa Rica Saturday, Group B leaders square off when second-place Herediano, trailing by five points, hosts leader Alajuelense with a chance to make up more than half the deficit.

In El Salvador, most of the Primera Division has the week off with only two make-up matches on the docket, one featuring Alianza, one of three co-leaders, playing host to mid-table Vista Hermosa, which sits only six points back in a league where the top five clubs are only separated by three points.

Another league featuring a lot of parity is the Liga Nacional in Honduras where the top eight clubs are separated by only four points. Nearly every contest will play a role in determining the league leader come Monday. Real Espana, which leads by a single point, plays host to eighth-place Vida.

In Panama, where the top five clubs are in a five-point span of one another, league-leading Sporting San Miguelito plays host to fourth-place Tauro and third-place Chorrillo travels to play CCL side Arabe Unido, which is fifth.

Guatemala is observing the international break.

Bad News for Top Seeds in USSF-D2 Playoffs

It is not unusual for home field advantage to net a lead for lower seeds in a two-leg series, but the news coming out of the first two days of quarterfinal action in the USSF Division-2 postseason is not good news for three higher seeds who find themselves trailing by two goals on a rare start in the history of the second tier playoffs.

On Wednesday, the Montreal Impact (seeded 6) posted a 2-0 victory over visiting Austin Aztex (3) and the two Thursday matches also saw the home clubs Puerto Rico Islanders (8) and Vancouver Whitecaps (5) register identical 2-0 wins over the Rochester Rhinos (1) and Portland Timbers (4). NASL Conference winners Carolina RailHawks were the only club not to find themselves in the two-goal deficit, playing to a scoreless stalemate on the road against the NSC Minnesota Stars.

At first glance, the results seem fairly common and expected, but overall they ended up being historical. The outcomes marked the first time in league history that all of the visiting teams in an aggregate score series were shutout in the equivalent of the quarterfinal round of the playoffs. Since the aggregate score format was adopted in 2000, each of the previous 10 years saw at least one traveling team find the back of the net in the first leg.

The scoreless draw between Carolina and Minnesota was only the fifth occurrence in the equivalent series over the course of 11 years and 38 matches. The most recent two results in 2005 and 2003 saw the visiting clubs win the series on penalties after a draw in the second leg. In 2002, the home club won the second game by a single goal with two series scoreless after the initial leg.

But the historic nature of shutouts means little to Rochester, Austin and Portland heading into the weekend. The more important figure is the record of 14-0-3, the series results for the clubs leading by two goals after the first leg of an aggregate score series in the playoffs, regardless of which round. While clubs leading by two goals have lost six second-leg matches out of 17 series (8-3-6 in the second game, including series overtime) all-time since 2000, only three have seen the series turn in favor of the host club of the second leg.

Thursday, October 7

TSB Pro Power Rankings: Monterrey Lone Unbeaten

It has been a busy couple of weeks with a Tropical Depression disrupting play in Central America while the region’s top clubs squared off in two rounds of CONCACAF Champions League group play, the USSF Division-2 regular season came to an end and the US Open Cup crowned a champion.

A slip-up by Cruz Azul opened the door for Monterrey, the lone remaining unbeaten club in CONCACAF after Alajuelense’s loss, to move to the top spot in The Soccer Barn Pro Club Power Rankings with MLS clubs Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas right behind in the next two spots. The Mexican club is also unbeaten in the CCL. Previously fourth, Toluca dropped to 10 with a rough couple weeks that saw them fall twice on the road in the CCL and away in league play against CCL club Santos Laguna.

Olimpia of Honduras was one of the victors against Toluca, using the 2-1 win against the Mexicans along with another CCL win and a 2-0 victory over domestic league leader Necaxa to jump from 38 to 14.

Although playoffs are not in New England’s future, the club made strides in the rankings courtesy of draws against two of the league’s top teams, Dallas and CCL side Columbus, and a narrow loss to another CCL club, RSL. Previously winless Mexican club Atlas also made a similar jump from 46 to 35 by picking up its first win against Puebla and then posting a draw against Chivas Guadalajara.

Right behind Atlas are the Montreal Impact, who climbed up from 51 with a pair of shutout wins against conference title contenders Vancouver and Austin that spoiled the bids by both sides to claim top seeds in the postseason. Although Miami missed the postseason, the Blues finished the season well with a victory over regular season champion Rochester and a draw against CCL club Puerto Rico to help them move from 86 to 70.

Wednesday, October 6

USSF Division-2 Playoff Preview

Many more eyes will be on the USSF Division-2 playoffs this year with expansion coming to Major League Soccer over the next two years with Portland and Vancouver moving on after this season and Montreal the following year. In addition to those clubs bringing current players with them, the act of expansion will increase the number of roster spaces available, making players throughout the second tier a valuable resource that must thoroughly be researched.

Beyond that, there is intrigue in this particular playoff as the Portland Timbers are entering the playoffs still without a professional league championship to its credit through its previous NASL days and with its current second division franchise. With Montreal winning the title last year and Vancouver the season before, they both join the Seattle Sounders as expansion clubs that have won a second division title within three years of their debut in the top flight. The Timbers have three weeks to eliminate themselves as the exception in that rare statistic.

The playoffs look to be as exciting as usual with most of the top seeds entering the postseason with comparatively poorer runs of form in contrast to the lower seeds, who are among the hottest in the league right now. Last year, Montreal won the championship as the number five seed in the playoffs.

Tuesday, October 5

Central America Round-Up: No More Unbeatens

The last unbeaten club in Central America is no more as Costa Rica’s Alajuelense suffered its first loss of the campaign, falling at home to mid-table San Carlos, leaving Mexico’s Monterrey as the only remaining unbeaten club in current league play throughout CONCACAF.

The loss by Alajuelense was the only upset in Costa Rica while there was upheaval in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama this week. New leaders moved to the top of the table in each of the leagues with the exclusion of Guatemala, where the parity only increased with the mid-table clubs getting more positive results in comparison to those at the top.

Monday, October 4

North America Round-Up: Rhinos Back on Top

For the first time since 2002, the Rochester Rhinos, one of the most successful second division clubs in North American history, claimed a league championship, capturing the regular season title with a victory in St Louis along with a little help from a longtime rival. It marked the end of an eventful week as USSF Division-2 wrapped up the regular season. Just days earlier, the playoff-bound Puerto Rico Islanders also registered another monumental victory in the CONCACAF Champions League, coming back from a two-goal deficit against Mexican club Toluca to post a stunning 3-2 victory. The two clubs will clash in the Quarterfinals as the postseason opens this week during the two-week break in CCL play.

Similarly, Major League Soccer the focus on the action is turning toward the top of the conference tables as the margin in the race for the playoffs is becoming increasingly staunch for those outside the zone. But with the playoffs several weeks away, the CCL was a large focus for a Real Salt Lake and Columbus, which is also primed for the US Open Cup Championship against the Sounders in Seattle Tuesday night.

South of the border, form held for the league leaders in the Mexican Primera.