By TRAVIS CLARK
The two best defenses in the USSF Second Division are face off this weekend.
Both the Carolina Railhawks and Vancouver Whitecaps have conceded a league-best 13 goals this season, and much is at stake when the two meet at the WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
Vancouver will be boosted by a mid-week win over Montreal on Wednesday, while the Railhawks are coming off a loss to Rochester on Tuesday. Carolina is nine points behind Vancouver in the NASL Conference, though the Railhawks have played four fewer games than their Canadian counterparts. A win for the hosts would help cut the deficit, though offensive chances will be few and far between.
Here's a look at the rest of this weekend's D2 action:
Montreal Impact vs. Crystal Palace Baltimore, 7:00 p.m.
Can Crystal Palace Baltimore provide the antidote for Montreal's woes? July has been a bad month for the Impact, posting a 2-4 record this month. A trip to the SoccerPlex in Maryland could fix that, but it'll require goals, something that has eluded the Impact in 2010. Evan Bush, who has had a solid year in goal for Baltimore, will look to keep Montreal at bay long enough to prevent the visitors from taking revenge for an earlier loss Palace inflicted up at Saputo Stadium this month.
Portland Timbers vs. FC Tampa Bay Rowdies, 7:30 p.m.
A four-game road swing is coming down the stretch as Portland visits Tampa Bay. The Rowdies are fresh off a win against Miami, and look to take the scalp of the Timbers and start building a winning streak. For Portland, it's been a broken record this season — a solid defense, and a lot of Ryan Pore goals. Outside of that, it's hit or miss.
Miami FC vs. Austin Aztex, 8:30 p.m.
Table-toppers Austin play host to bottom-feeding Miami at House Park, and with a week of rest the Aztex will be raring to get back out there and score early and often. Jamie Watson, Maxwell Griffin and Eddie Johnson are always a threat to score, and will be a handful for Caleb Patterson in the Miami goal.
NSC Minnesota Stars vs. A.C. St. Louis, 5:00 p.m.
Two expansion teams, and two different stories in 2010. Minnesota has managed a tight budget, kept expenses in check and put together a decent run of results. A.C. St. Louis has jettisoned a number of higher-paid players and until only recently has been poor on the field. However, Mike Ambersley discovered his scoring touch this week, putting three past Portland and will look to continue that against Minnesota.