Best of USL-1 2007
The continued constant realignment and tinkering with USL makes it difficult to keep track of USL-1 especially when so many former USL-1 teams are in USL-2 and expansion teams come and go as the California Victory did this season. In the upcoming seasons USL-1 is likely to expand to and may simply put teams where the MLS does not.
USL teams had a great run the US Open Cup but as had been the case since the Rochester Rhinos won the competition in 1999 behind the great play of Yari Allnutt a US International in his time they fell short in the later stages of the events when the few remaining MLS clubs began to take the event seriously.
Seattle won the title behind the great play of Sebastian Le Toux whose move from FC Lorient to FC Dallas hit a snag when his try out with the Hoops yielded a player unprepared for MLS. So Le Toux plied his trade in USL-1 with the Seattle Sounders the same club which developed Herculez Gomez, Brian Ching and Maykel Galindo in the recent past.
Many fans in Vancouver and Portland were unhappy that their well supported and highly successful USL clubs were left out of MLS expansion in favor of Seattle. A common theme among all three USL clubs in the Northwest is that they have adopted the nicknames and thus the lineage and fan bases of the former NASL clubs in the same market. That would be smart marketing for anyone, but MLS seems resitint to any connection to the NASL.
Over in Montreal the Impact got ready for its move to the fabulous new Stade Saputo with another solid year for Nick De Santis team. Charles Gbenke was the leader of this team that once again made the playoffs. Down in the Carolinas Stephen Armstrong as his Charleston Battery were terrible but the Carolina Rail Hawks led by former UNC and Colorado Rapids midfielder Chris Carrieri snuck into the playoffs. Puerto Rico and Atlanta were solid as always. Minnesota was a disappointment while Miami FC made a late managerial change sticking Zinho, a great Brazilian from the 1994 World Champions squad in charge of the club.
All of this leads us back to the club that from my perspective is the signature USL club, the backbone of the league. The Rochester Raging Rhinos may be in a small market of little interest to MLS, but no doubt exists this club has a stronger grassroots presence and local market penetration than just about any soccer club north of Monterrey. May the Rhinos continue to lead the way demonstrating to all of American soccer how to corner a market and keep the success going for year and year.