By TRAVIS CLARK
The regular season of the USSF Division 2 League is nearing an end, and the battle for postseason positioning will come down to the final day.
A tussle at the top of the table continued over last weekend, as both Austin and Rochester lost, leaving the Rhinos with a slim one point lead for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Aztex have a game in hand, and will have last say. Current No. 2 Vancouver is no safer, looking to hold off the Carolina Railhawks who trail the Whitecaps by three points.
At the bottom, Crystal Palace Baltimore looks likely to finish the season as league's worst, dropping another game over the weekend to the Railhawks.
Here's a look at this week's power rankings:
1. Rochester Rhinos (15-7-6)
Last Match– Lost 2-1 vs. Miami FC on September 17.
Next Match– at Miami on September 25.
Outlook: The Rhinos won't have to wait long for revenge, traveling to Florida to face Miami this weekend. Uncharacteristic to lose at home, especially to one of the league's worst.
2. Austin Aztex (14-5-8)
Last Match– Lost 2-1 at A.C. St. Louis on September 18.
Next Match– vs. A.C. St. Louis on September 25.
Outlook: A rematch with St. Louis this weekend will possibly be an opportunity to put to rest any more hopes of the playoffs for the expansion club, while boosting Austin's chance of the top spot.
3. Portland Timbers (12-7-9)
Last Match– Won 1-0 at Puerto Rico on September 18.
Next Match– at Crystal Palace Baltimore on September 25.
4. Vancouver Whitecaps (10-4-14)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 at Minnesota on September 18.
Next Match– vs. Montreal on September 24.
Outlook: Getting blanked in Minnesota is a reminder that while Vancouver's defense is the best in the league, they need to score goals to win in the playoffs. The inter-league Canadian rivalry will get one last chance in the spotlight before going on hiatus for a season.
5. Carolina Railhawks (11-9-8)
Last Match– Won 4-2 at Crystal Palace Baltimore on September 18.
Next Match– vs. Puerto Rico on September 25.
Outlook: With just three points separating the Railhawks from a possible No. 2 seed in the playoffs, Carolina has plenty left to play for, aside from just staying healthy, in their two remaining home games.
6. Montreal Impact (10-11-7)
Last Match– Won 3-0 vs. Tampa Bay on September 19.
Next Match– at Vancouver on September 24.
Outlook: Nine goals from 11 games in D-2 has Ali Gerba looking at home once again in an Impact uniform. Montreal isn't completely out of the woods yet, needing at least a point from their remaining two games to officially be in the playoffs.
7. Puerto Rico Islanders (9-10-9)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 vs. Portland on September 18.
Next Match– at Carolina on September 25.
Outlook: Win and they're in. Simple enough for the Islanders.
8. NSC Minnesota Stars (10-12-7)
Last Match– Won 1-0 vs. Carolina Railhawks on September 15.
Next Match– at Tampa Bay on September 24.
Outlook: Minnesota's last game of the season takes them to Florida, against the rivals that couldn't keep up in Tampa. A three-game win streak has taken the Stars from playoff outsiders to jockeying for a seed.
9. A.C. St. Louis (7-12-8)
Last Match– Won 2-1 vs. Austin Aztex on September 18.
Next Match– at Miami FC on September 22.
Outlook: Youngster Luis Gil came to the rescue, keeping flickering playoff hopes going for at least another game. Lose or tie, and St. Louis is out.
10. Miami FC (5-11-11)
Last Match– Won 2-1 at Rochester on September 17.
Next Match– vs. A.C. St. Louis on September 22.
Outlook: Miami can only assume the role of spoiler, even with a late season surge. A two game winning streak — especially an away win over Rochester — should give the Blues some pride. That, and a chance to best in-state rival Tampa Bay are reasons to keep winning.
Last Match– Lost 3-0 at Rochester Rhinos on September 11.
Next Match– vs. Austin on Thursday, September 16.
Outlook: Going winless in the last 10 games of the season isn't a formula for playoff success — and lo and behold, the Rowdies are out. The stats are grim: over the last four months, Tampa could only manage to grab three points once over 19 games.
12. Crystal Palace Baltimore (6-16-6)
Last Match– Lost 4-2 vs. Carolina on September 18.
Next Match– vs. Portland on September 25.
Outlook: At least Baltimore scored in their latest loss, snapping a five-game goalless streak, but extending a losing streak to six games. Their future isn't certain at the moment, and they'll hope for some redemption as the season comes mercifully to an end.