A-League Mariners off to best start

When the groups were formed for the A-LeagueÆs new U.S. Open Cup qualifying format, some onlookers dubbed Group 6, with Hershey, Hampton Roads and Richmond, the "Group of Death." But, with Richmond losing its dynamic duo of forwards Onandi Lowe and Gary Glasgow and Hampton Roads keeping virtually the same team that produced a 15-13 mark in 1999, the "death" reference may have been alluding to the lack of excitement expected in this groupÆs qualifiers. However, the Mariners has made two very significant roster additions, adding Major League Soccer veterans Saul Martinez and Jair. With the new players in tow, the Mariners began the season with a pair of victories over Richmond and Connecticut, but with May wins over Hershey and Charleston, Hampton Roads appears to have issued a league-wide statement. "Getting a win against a quality team like Charleston is always great, and being undefeated isnÆt too bad either," said Hampton Roads Coach Shawn McDonald. "But, we still have a long way to go." In an early-season matchup between the Atlantic Division leaders, Hampton Roads and Charleston played a cautious first half with neither team scoring and a combined total of nine shots. 1999 A-League All-Star Most Valuable Player Seamus Donnelly broke the deadlock 12 minutes into the second half when he received a pass from Canadian newcomer Jeff Clarke and beat goalkeeper Dusty Hudock from just outside the goal box. Another newcomer, forward Michael Lawrence buried the Battery with his clinching goal in the 90th minute. After Charleston defender Kevin Scott was cautioned, the ensuing free kick was cleared off the line by the Battery, but rebounded directly to Lawrence, who calmly finished from 20 yards. Although the Mariners dropped a 1-0 overtime decision to Richmond Tuesday, the club is off to its best start since joining the A-League in 1998. With 16 points from its first five games, Hampton Roads ranks as the top team in the Eastern Conference. On the heels of its marquis matchup with Charleston, the Mariners will play host to the defending A-League Champion Minnesota Thunder Saturday. Hampton Roads, Virginia may be within earshot of the teams in the East, but are the Western Conference teams listening? Seventeen and counting: By continuing its mastery over archrival Milwaukee the Minnesota Thunder extended its winning streak to 17 games, which dates back to Aug. 7, 1999, and includes six playoff victories on their run to the A-League title. Luis Labastida and Brian Winters scored to open a 2-0 lead against the Rampage and goalkeeper John Swallen allowed only a last-minute goal despite facing 14 shots from the hosts. The win was the 10th straight on the road and the 10th consecutive against Milwaukee, including a playoff victory in 1998. Minnesota takes its 4-0 record to the East Coast this weekend where it will face the Hampton Roads Mariners and the Raleigh Capital Express, who recorded a draw with Charleston last weekend. "We know that thereÆs always the possibility of losing both games when you play back-to-back, but we have a good, positive attitude right now," said Minnesota coach Buzz Lagos. "I think weÆll do really well again this weekend." The Thunder holds a lifetime regular season record of 5-6 against Eastern Conference opponents, but defeated Hampton Roads in the 1996 Select Six National Tournament and are 2-0 lifetime against Raleigh. Atlanta burns: Dallas Burn scored once in each half in a 2-0 victory over the Atlanta Silverbacks Tuesday in front of 4,200 fans at DeKalb Memorial Stadium. Oscar Pareja scored what proved to be the game-winner just seven minutes into the match, which was the fourth in a series of 14 exhibitions between Division I and Division II teams this year. "The key for us was the first half," said Atlanta coach Nuno Piteira. "We dictated the tempo and had some chances, and overall IÆm pleased with the way we played." The Silverbacks outshot the Burn, 11-5, in the first half, but could not get anything by goalkeeper Johann Noetzel, who was credited with eight saves in the match. Ecuadorian star Ariel Graziani scored an insurance goal in the 69th minute. "The game was a great experience for the players," said Piteira. "Overall, it was a great night for soccer." Through the first four exhibitions, MLS has been perfect. Next up, the Tennessee Rhythm play host to the Colorado Rapids on May 24. Hershey on the Internet: The Hershey Wildcats, PASPORTSTALK.COM and PA.NET announced an agreement to broadcast all Wildcats games on the Internet, beginning with SaturdayÆs matchup with Richmond at Hersheypark. "We are excited to provide professional soccer fans an opportunity to listen to Wildcats games live anywhere throughout Central Pennsylvania and around the world," said Hershey GM Todd Smith. "The Wildcats have taken advantage of the growing popularity of broadcasting live sports events on the Internet," said pasportstalk.com owner Scott Bradbury. "Soccer fans are the beneficiaries." Soccer fans can listen to all Wildcats games by logging onto www.pasportstalk.com. Sweeney retires: Casey Sweeney, who was a member of the Milwaukee Rampage team that won the A-League Championship in 1997, announced his retirement. "I had made up my mind that this would be my last season, but I just felt it was time to step aside now and let a younger player step up," said Sweeney, who was playing for Indiana. "I still love all the guys on the team and will support them from the other side now. I just want to move my life in another direction off the field at this point." Since joining the Blast prior to the 1999 season, Sweeney appeared in 31 games and compiled nine points on two goals and an assist. In an effort to replace the speedy midfielder, the Blast re-signed midfielder Loren Crawford, who is second all-time in appearances for the club with 59, and forward Matt Caution, who spent the Æ99 season with Cincinnati. On deck: With three weekends of U.S. Open Cup qualifying games remaining and all nine A-League spots still open, this weekÆs games could prove vital to those teams hoping for a spot in the prestigious tournament. Many of the weekendÆs matchups will determine who goes, who stays home and who stays alive. The Mariners had a chance to become the first A-League team to gain entry into the competition, but fell to Richmond, 1-0, in overtime. The defending champion Rochester Raging Rhinos, already at 1-0, can win Group 7 with victories over Connecticut and Boston. The Tennessee Rhythm, who hold the edge over Cincinnati in Group 4, close out their two-game series with the Riverhawks Sunday. Orange County and Seattle also have an opportunity to win their respective groups. Tuesday, May 16, 2000 54 -- Hampton Roads 0 @ Richmond 1 (OT) Exh -- Dallas Burn (MLS) 2 @ Atlanta 0 Wednesday, May 17, 2000 55 -- Vancouver @ Orange County 10:05 Friday, May 19, 2000 56 -- Minnesota @ Raleigh 7:00 57 -- Rochester @ Connecticut 7:30 58 -- Milwaukee @ Indiana 8:35 59 -- El Paso @ Orange County 10:00 60 -- Vancouver @ Bay Area 10:30 61 -- Seattle @ San Diego 10:35 Saturday, May 20, 2000 68 -- Milwaukee @ Cincinnati 7:30 64 -- Tennessee @ Atlanta 7:30 65 -- Raleigh @ Charleston 7:30 66 -- Long Island @ Pittsburgh 7:35 67 -- Richmond @ Hershey 7:35 62 -- Minnesota @ Hampton Roads 8:00 Sunday, May 21, 2000 63 -- Tennessee @ Cincinnati 5:00 70 -- Rochester @ Boston 6:00 71 -- Montreal @ Toronto 7:45 72 -- Seattle @ Bay Area 8:00 73 -- El Paso @ San Diego 9:00 All times listed are Eastern On the move: Eddie Rodriguez returned to the Raleigh Capital Express, the club that traded him to Charleston a year ago. He made his first appearance of the 2000 season in a Raleigh uniform Friday and scored the equalizer in a 3-3 draw with the Battery. à The Connecticut Wolves signed forward Mike Saunders. The native of Jamaica is the clubÆs all-time leading goal scorer with 57 strikes from 1994-97. Saunders has been to the A-League Championship game three straight years, finally winning a championship last season as a member of the Minnesota Thunder à The Pittsburgh Riverhounds signed midfielder Jeremy Ballenger à The Orange County Waves announced the addition of three players late last week: Midfielders Daniel Barber and Michael Robles and forward Colby Jackson à The San Diego Flash named current Vice President and General Manager Sam Kaloustian as the new Chief Operating Officer à The Tennessee Rhythm released midfielder Glenn Benjamin and re-signed goalkeeper Gary Germaine, who made 10 appearances for the club last season. Notable: The Rochester Raging Rhinos set a team record for shots in a match when they launched 32 at Boston goalkeeper Russell Payne à Orange County's Jackson scored his first A-League goal against Connecticut à The Hershey Wildcats, 11-3 at home in 1999, won their first home-opener in their four-year history, defeating Boston, 3-1 à The Tennessee Rhythm has used three goalkeepers in their four matches this season à The San Diego Flash notched another five-point win against Connecticut. In their three-year history, the Flash are now 23-0 when scoring three or more goals à The Indiana BlastÆs 4-0 loss to Minnesota was the worst home loss in the teamÆs four-year history. Off the field: ?The Rochester Raging Rhinos handed out 10,000 magnetic schedules to fans at their match against Boston à The Bay Area Seals are holding a "Name the Seal" contest and offering dinner with the Seal and a mystery SealsÆ player to the fan who comes up with the winning name à When the San Diego Flash scores a goal at Douglas Stadium, all fans in attendance receive a buy-one-get-one-free coupon for dinner at Acapulco Mexican Restaurants à Several mascots from the Central Indiana area will take part in "Mascot Mania" at FridayÆs Indiana Blast game against Milwaukee à "Souled Out" will perform a pre-game concert before the Connecticut Wolves' game with Rochester Friday à Saturday is Military Appreciation Night at the Charleston BatteryÆs game against Raleigh at Blackbaud Stadium. The first 200 Girl Scouts will receive an "Official Battery Sports pin," while the Care Alliances Health Services halftime show will feature the North Charleston Police K-9 Unit à Local singing sensation Juliet will perform a concert prior to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds game against Long Island Saturday. In honor of MotherÆs Day, the Riverhounds gave away more than 40 prizes, ranging from a full day spa package, maid service, four-hour limousine service, restaurant gift certificates, personal training sessions to floral arrangements, at their home victory against Atlanta Saturday à The Atlanta Silverbacks announced the team will travel to Gainesville, Ga. to play the International Gainesville All-Stars as part of the Hispanic Developmental program, which was introduced earlier this year. The game will take place at Tadmore Park in Gainesville Sunday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Admission is $4 and includes a clinic for children ages 6-14.
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