Three teams vying for first Championship Game

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TAMPA, FL – The history of the USL First Division playoffs have proven the old adage that defense wins championships. Looking at the backgrounds of the two semifinal series, it appears that saying will once again come into play as Atlanta, Portland and Puerto Rico look to reach their first championship game as the 2005 champion Sounders look to claim their fourth title.

In another rather unique situation, only one of the four semifinalists is from last year’s six-team playoff field. The Puerto Rico Islanders, who were knocked out of the playoffs at home last year by Charleston 3-2 on aggregate, are the only 2006 playoff team to advance out of the Quarterfinals this year.

Seattle, the 2005 USL First Division champions, were beaten out of the final playoff spot in 2006 by one point by the Islanders and Atlanta was three points back.  Portland, who recorded the best turnaround in league history to finish second this year, was tied for last place in 2006.

Seattle will attempt to avenge last year’s playoff snub by Puerto Rico in the semifinals while Atlanta and Portland battle one another for their first trip to the final in a pair of series that were highlighted by 1-0 aggregate season series results on the year.

1-Seattle Sounders v 6-Puerto Rico Islanders

Leg One: 9/21 @ Puerto Rico 5 p.m. (Pacific) – Leg Two: 9/23 @ Seattle at 5 p.m.

In the third game of the season for both sides, Puerto Rico played the visiting Sounders to a scoreless draw at home with the lone goal of the season series coming in Seattle as the hosts took a 1-0 win August 4. Greg Howes set up Roger Levesque in the 40th minute as Seattle picked up the win in one of only six games that Islander back-up goalkeeper Michael Behonick played on the season. Starting netminder Josh Saunders, however, knows the Sounders much better having played the previous four seasons for rival Portland.

Puerto Rico comes into the cross-continental series off one of the most impressive USL-1 playoff series victories of all-time, rallying from a 3-2 deficit to defeat a traditionally stout defensive team in Montreal 5-3 on aggregate. The regular season champion Sounders took care of business in their cross-country series against the eighth-seeded Carolina RailHawks, dispatching the expansion side 2-0 and 1-0 in their series.

2-Portland Timbers v 4-Atlanta Silverbacks

Leg One: 9/21 @ Atlanta 4:55 p.m. (Pacific) – Leg Two: 9/23 @ Portland 5 p.m.

While Seattle and Puerto Rico’s matches were spread out on the year, Atlanta and Portland squared off in back-to-back weeks with Portland winning 1-0 in Atlanta July 21 on a goal from Chris Bagley in the 65th minute. The Timbers, losing goalkeeper Josh Wicks to injury in the game, fell 2-0 in Charleston the following night, but returned home and played the Silverbacks to a scoreless draw July 26.

The two clubs come into the series having knocked off the finalists from the 2006 championship game. Portland rallied from a 1-0 deficit with a 3-0 victory at home to down the defending champion Vancouver Whitecaps. Atlanta held onto their one goal advantage, pushing their 2-1 first leg lead to 3-1 in Rochester with the second leg finishing 1-1 for a 3-2 aggregate score series victory.

Playoff Broadcasts

The second leg of the Atlanta-Portland series will be broadcast live on Fox Soccer Channel at 8:00 pm ET Sunday. The three other semifinal matches will be available on The USL First Division Championship is Saturday, September 29 at a site to be determined and will be broadcast on Fox Soccer Channel.