By TRAVIS CLARK
Mid-week USSF Division 2 provided a rather surprising result in the Midwest, shaking up this week's version of the power rankings.
Struggling A.C. St. Louis beat Portland Wednesday evening rather emphatically, winning 3-0 behind a Mike Ambersley hat trick. Other mid-week action saw Rochester defeat Carolina 1-0 on Tuesday, while the Vancouver Whitecaps squeaked past Montreal by a 1-0 score.
Austin keeps hold of the top spot, two points ahead of Vancouver and the Rochester Rhinos, but with three games in hand. St. Louis had one of its best weeks of the season — winning two games in a row to jump up a couple of spots.
Here's a look at this week's power rankings:
1. Austin Aztex (10-2-5)
Last Match– Won 2-0 vs. A.C. St. Louis on July 17.
Next Match– vs. Miami FC on Saturday, July 31.
Outlook: Austin had a week off and still owns a commanding lead at the top of the table. Two more games at home give the Aztex a chance to open up the distance between them and Rochester.
2. Rochester Rhinos (9-5-6)
Last Match– Won 1-0 at Carolina Railhawks on July 27.
Next Match– vs. Portland on Wednesday, August 4.
Outlook: A win at Carolina ended a hectic stretch of three games in six days — and to come away with six points from that is impressive. Rochester only scored twice, but proved their defensive capabilities by keeping a clean sheet and winning twice.
3. Vancouver Whitecaps (8-3-9)
Last Match– Won 1-0 vs. Montreal Impact on July 28.
Next Match– at Carolina on Saturday, July 31.
Outlook: A win over Canadian rival Montreal Wednesday evening was by a typical score of 1-0, but kept Vancouver ahead of Carolina in the conference standings. Having short rest will be a challenge, one that Vancouver is equipped to overcome.
4. Portland Timbers (7-6-5)
Last Match– Lost 3-0 at A.C. St. Louis on July 28.
Next Match– at FC Tampa Bay on Saturday, July 31.
Outlook: Road trips can be difficult for USSF D2 sides, and this one took a turn south against St. Louis. Another expansion side, Tampa Bay, is a chance to end the road swing on a high note.
5. Carolina Railhawks (6-4-6)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 vs. Rochester Rhinos on July 27.
Next Match– vs. Vancouver Saturday, July 31.
Outlook: Carolina could only find the back of their own net against Rochester. The top two defenses go at each other when the Whitecaps visit. A win would pull the Railhawks closer to the top of the NASL Conference — they've played four less games than the Whitecaps.
6. Montreal Impact (6-8-5)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 vs. Vancouver on July 28.
Next Match– at Crystal Palace on Saturday, July 31.
Outlook: A Wednesday night home defeat must have been tough to take, particularly against Vancouver. Baltimore offers a chance to bounce back on short rest and steady the Impact's standing.
7. NSC Minnesota Stars (7-9-5)
Last Match– Tied 1-1 at Vancouver on July 25.
Next Match– at A.C. St. Louis on Sunday, August 1.
Outlook: Minnesota needs to win this one against A.C. St. Louis to preserve their spot in the playoffs. They've played 21 games — most in the league — and can't afford any let hiccups.
Last Match– Won 2-0 vs. Miami FC on July 25.
Next Match– vs. Rochester on Thursday, July 22.
Outlook: A win against Coastal Cup rivals was just what Tampa Bay needed. Can newcomer Jonny Steele transition quickly and cure Tampa's offensive woes?
9. Puerto Rico Islanders (6-7-5)
Last Match– vs. Rochester Rhinos on July 24.
Next Match– vs. Miami FC on Saturday, August 7.
Outlook: Puerto Rico will look to its emphatic win against Los Angeles to boost what has been a season of struggle in league play. However, the Islanders remain within striking distance of a playoff spot and can't be counted out.
10. A.C. St. Louis (5-10-4)
Last Match– Won 3-0 vs. Portland Timbers on July 28.
Next Match– vs. NSC Minnesota on Sunday, August 1.
Outlook: A great week for A.C. St. Louis saw the club win two games in the span of five days. If Mike Ambersley could replicate the scoring form that he shows against Portland when playing all other teams, St. Louis would be in better shape.
11. Crystal Palace Baltimore (5-9-4)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 vs. A.C. St. Louis on July 24.
Next Match– vs. Montreal on Saturday, July 31.
Outlook: Losing to St. Louis at home was a huge blow, and Montreal coming to town is an important one. Baltimore lies in striking distance of the playoffs, but needs to come up with some wins during this home stand.
12. Miami FC (2-7-9)
Last Match– Lost 2-0 at FC Tampa Bay Rowdies on Sunday, July 25.
Next Match– at Austin on Saturday, July 31.
Outlook: A bad season continues to get worse as Miami just can't seem to find a win. A trip to league-leading Austin won't help turn things around.