By TRAVIS CLARK
With a 4-2 loss Wednesday night to Miami FC, the dim USSF D-2 playoff aspirations of first-year club A.C. St. Louis were finally extinguished.
Abe Thompson proved to be too much for the St. Louis defense to handle in Miami, netting a hat trick and seeing Miami to their third straight win of the season, eliminating any remaining hope of postseason action for the visitors.
Miami's win was good news for three other clubs in USSF D-2 — Minnesota, Puerto Rico and Montreal all clinched playoff berths with the result, rounding out the eight-team playoff field that is scheduled to begin during the second weekend in October.
While those eight teams can rest easy with their playoff future now secure, there remains plenty to play for in terms of seeding. The D-2 playoff format gives the top two seeds of each conference the No. 1 and No. 2 overall seeds, with the following six seeded out accordingly.
Battles remain at both ends of the table, with front-running Austin nipping at the heels of top seed Rochester — the Rhinos clinging to a one-point advantage, and the Aztex dropping to the third seed despite having more points than second place Vancouver.
The Whitecaps aren't safe either. They lead the Carolina Railhawks by three points in the NASL Conference, and with the current layout of the standings, a slip up could move Vancouver from second all the way down to the fifth seed.
A fourth seed for Portland is fairly safe — they have a four point buffer over Carolina, and have no realistic chance of catching either Austin or Rochester at the top of the USL Conference.
Down at the bottom, it's a question of where the last three teams that qualified for the playoffs will fit into the standings. Montreal and Puerto Rico each have two games in hand, while the NSC Stars have just a lone meeting against Tampa Bay remaining. Ali Gerba's high-scoring streak favors the Impact in this race for sixth place, while it seems likely that the Stars finish eighth and face the top seed in the opening round of the playoffs.
What do you think of the playoff race? Who is going to win in the D-2 playoffs?
Share your thoughts below.