By Jeff Kassouf
In a series of events that would make all haters of the Major League Soccer playoff system happy, Sunday’s USL-1 Championship game will pit the top two regular-season teams against each other.
The Puerto Rico Islanders finished first in the league on 54 points, one point ahead of the Vancouver Whitecaps, and will look to win their first championship in their short history. The Islanders would also become just the fourth team in 18 years to win the Commissioner’s Cup, signifying the regular-season champion, and the USL-1 title.
The Islanders have come a long way since beginning as an expansion franchise in 2004, when the team went winless in its first 13 games. Now, they find themselves one win a away from winning a championship and etching their names into a history book that shows the successful Vancouver franchise winning their first championship in 2006.
Puerto Rico has been on fire lately, not only in USL-1, but in the CONCACAF Champions League. The Islanders sit atop Group D in the region’s championship event, competing with and even defeating much more well-known teams from Mexico and the United States.
Christian Arrieta and Jonathan Steele lead the way for the Islanders with 16 pts. and 15 pts., respectively, in the regular season. Steele is a nominee for league MVP, and Arrieta is up for Defender of the Year – yes, the team’s leading goal scorer is a defender, a testament to their attacking style of soccer.
Vancouver will rely heavily on what is mainly a one-man show. Eduardo Sebrango led the Whitecaps with 27 pts., but no other teammate even cracked the double digits in points.
One thing that will certainly be in the Whitecap’s favor is the home-field advantage. Not only will the game be played in Vancouver, but it will be the Islander’s third game in a week after a side of mostly reserves lost to Santos Laguna in Mexico on Wednesday night during Champions League Play.
Regardless of the result, the game should be wide open and entertaining. The attractive, attacking style of the Puerto Rico Islanders may help them gain a lead early on, but will also leave them susceptible to counter-attacks through Vancouver’s Sebrango.
Prediction: Puerto Rico’s attack will prove too much for Vancouver and they will score first. Arrieta will push forward for the Islanders, but the Colin Clarke-coached side should be disciplined enough to know where Sebrango is at all times. This will put a burden on other Vancouver players to step-up, and Puerto Rico will mostly likely face a barrage of Vancouver attacks trying to defend their lead late in the game.
Prediction: Puerto Rico 3 – 2 Vancouver
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org