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Highlanders and Chill bring Canadian content to PDL final four

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Entering Sunday’s round of PDL playoff matches, four of the remaining eight teams came from Canada.

At the end of the day, two of the Canadian sides remained standing. The Thunder Bay Chill and the Victoria Highlanders will carry Canadian soccer hopes into the PDL’s final four championship weekend.

The Chill routed defending PDL champion Forest City London 3-0 in Thunder Bay Sunday to take the Central Conference title. The Chill not only had home field advantage in its favour; the Chill side had fresher legs. The PDL playoff format isn’t ideal — with the Sunday conference final following the semifinals played on Saturday, giving the teams absolutely zero chance to recharge their engines between do-or-die matches. And, on Saturday, FC London needed extra time and kicks to win its semifinal while the Chill got its semifinal wrapped up in regulation.

London came out the stronger side, but as the first half went on, the home side showed it had the better legs. Spaniard Sergio Campano Franco chipped the keeper in the 33rd minute to give the home side the lead. Nine minutes later, Paul Dillon found the net to make it 2-0.

With the visitors frantically pushing forward in the second half to try and bite into the deficit, Thunder Bay’s Sunny Omoregie put the final nail in the champs’ coffin.

In Ventura County, Calif. the Victoria Highlanders took the Western Conference title with a 1-0 victory over the Portland Timbers U-23 side. Brett Levis, the University of Saskatchewan phenomenon who scored the extra-time winner that knocked out Ventura County on Saturday, scored the first-half marker that stood up as the deciding goal.

On tired legs, the Highlanders were pressed late in the game, but Portland’s U-23s failed to direct their attempts on goal. The Highlanders, who won the Northwest Division regular season title, sealed the deal.

The Ottawa Fury, though, won’t be joining the party. Carl Haworth punctuated a phenomenal campaign with his 18th goal of the season. But the Canadian forward’s goal was simply a consolation in a 3-1 loss in the Eastern Conference final to the Ocean City Nor’easters.

The hosts in New Jersey ran rampant in the first half, taking a 3-0 lead into the break on goals from Dwayne Reid, Frank Tweneboa and Max Tassano.

Haworth’s goal got the Fury back to 3-1, but his fantastic season came to an end. Now, the challenge is to find a way to get Haworth competitive minutes throughout the rest of the year so he can be ready to take part in the Fury’s first NASL season in 2014.

Ottawa native Adrian LeRoy, cut by FC Edmonton after the NASL spring season, made his 2013 Fury debut in the Eastern Conference final. In the second half of the match, a rabbit ran onto the field. Despite the very Edmonton-like good omen, the Fury couldn’t make any further dents in the Ocean City advantage — and Leroy himself was down for several minutes with a head injury.

“This defeat is so much harder to take because we had the squad, coaches and backing to go so much further,” tweeted Fury defender Shaun Foster after the match.

Thunder Bay and Victoria will join Ocean City and Austin in the final four weekend. The season-ending tournament will be held in one of the four cities. Austin, which won the Southern Conference on Saturday, has submitted its bid to host the tourney. Other finalists may bid, as well.

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