By TRAVIS CLARK
Two weeks into the second division season and only eleven of the 12 teams in the USSF Division 2 League have already played at least one game. Puerto Rico will round out the numbers when they host NSC Minnesota Wednesday evening.
Austin and Portland have enjoyed the best start to the one-year league, with the Aztex the early surprise to this season. Austin's miserable performance last year in their expansion year is looking more and more like a distant memory.
Here's a look at this week's USSF Division 2 Power Rankings:
SBI USSF DIVISION 2 POWER RANKINGS (Week 2)
1. Portland Timbers (1-0)
Last Match– Beat Rochester Rhinos 1-0 on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. St. Louis on Thursday, April 22, at Montreal Sunday, April 22.
Outlook: Portland escaped with a somewhat fortuitous 1-0 win against Rochester in their home opener, though looked much better by the game's end. Finishing has to improve as the season goes on, but for now, it's enough for Portland to start at the top.
2. Austin Aztex (2-0)
Last Match– Beat A.C. St. Louis 2-1 on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. Rochester on Sunday, April 25.
Outlook: Two wins from two is a great start for an Austin team that struggled badly last year. The win against Montreal is more impressive than last week's win against A.C. St. Louis, but the Aztex are showing promise early on. Eddie Johnson got off the mark against St. Louis, and remains an important part to the season's hopes.
3. Vancouver Whitecaps (1-0-1)
Last Match– Tied at Miami 0-0 on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. St. Louis on Saturday, April 24.
Outlook: Vancouver missed a chance to win a second game in a row, missing a penalty kick en route to tying Miami last weekend. Marcus Haber's two month loan will be a boost to the offense, and they'll look to take advantage of a tired St. Louis side Saturday night.
4. Carolina Railhawks (1-1)
Last Match– Lost to NSC Minnesota 1-0 on Saturday.
Next Match– at Rochester, Saturday May 1.
Outlook: A 1-0 loss against an expansion team isn't the ideal result for a club that considers themselves a contender, but the hot hand of Minnesota 'keeper Joe Warren made up the difference. As long as Carolina can produce consistently on offense, they'll be able to live up to those expectations.
5. Montreal Impact (0-1)
Last Match– Lost at Austin 2-0 on April 11.
Next Match– vs. Portland on Sunday, April 25.
Outlook: After dropping the season opener on the road, Montreal hosts Portland, getting a Timbers side playing a second game in three days. Seeing that it's the home opener at Saputo Stadium, Montreal won't want to disappoint their fans and grab a first win of the season.
6. NSC Minnesota Stars (1-1)
Last Match– Won at Carolina 1-0 on Saturday.
Next Match– at Puerto Rico Wednesday, April 21, vs. Tampa Bay Saturday, April 24.
Outlook: A first win for Minnesota came at the unlikely arena of WakeMed Soccer Park, defeating a resolute Carolina side thanks to some solid goalkeeping from Joe Warren. It's going to be a tough week for Minnesota, traveling to Puerto Rico before returning to Minnesota and hosting Tampa Bay.
7. Miami FC (0-0-2)
Last Match– Tied vs. Vancouver 0-0.
Next Match– vs. Tampa Bay, May 1.
Outlook: In two draws from two home matches, Miami has just scored one goal, a production rate the technical staff can't be happy with after the acquisition of Christian Gomez prior to the start of the season. Miami has a week break to sort out their scoring problems before hosting Tampy Bay the first weekend in May.
8. Puerto Rico Islanders (0-0)
Last Match– DNP
Next Match– vs. Minnesota April 21, at Baltimore Saturday April 24.
Outlook: Puerto Rico starts this low simply because they have yet to play. Cristian Arrieta's departure to Philadelphia leaves a gaping hole in the starting lineup, though two winnable games this week could have the Islanders off to a fast start.
Last Match– Won at Crystal Palace Baltimore 1-0 on Friday.
Next Match– at NSC Minnesota on Saturday, April 24.
Outlook: Manager Paul Dalglish has to be happy after Tampa Bay won their first-ever match last Friday. It's a long season, and while the Rowdies have an interesting collection of players put together, these first few weeks will be very important in determining their expansion success.
10. Rochester Rhinos (0-1-1)
Last Match– Lost at Portland 1-0 on Saturday.
Next Match– at Austin on Sunday, April 25.
Outlook: A team that has played better than their record suggests, the Rhinos are still settling after an offseason of chance — only three players carrying over to this year. Four straight games on the road to open the season haven't been much help either.
11. A.C. St. Louis (0-2)
Last Match– Lost 2-1 vs. Austin on Saturday.
Next Match– at Portland Thursday, April 22, at Vancouver Saturday, April 24.
Outlook: A winless St. Louis has also faced a tough opening schedule this year, a trend that continues this week with two back-to-back away games against Vancouver and Portland. It'd be a surprise to see St. Louis come away with at least a point from these next two, as they await the comeback of Steve Ralston.
12. Crystal Palace Baltimore (0-1)
Last Match– Lost vs. FC Tampa Bay 1-0 on Friday.
Next Match– vs. Puerto Rico on Saturday, April 24.
Outlook: A loss to fellow new team Tampa Bay wasn't the ideal start for Baltimore's new stint in the second division. A tired Puerto Rico coming to town creates the possibility of an opening win this weekend — but it's far from guaranteed.