By TRAVIS CLARK
Two mid-week clashes set up the third week of action in the USSF Division 2. Portland hosted A.C. St. Louis last evening, getting a goal under 20 seconds from Ryan Pore as the Timbers cruised to a 3-0 win.
Wednesday evening, Puerto Rico finally made their 2010 debut, enjoying a successful 3-1 win against expansion Minnesota.
All four teams involved during the week face a quick turnaround and see action this weekend in what will be an early test of depth for each club. Here's a look at this weekend's match-ups:
A.C. St. Louis at Vancouver Whitecaps, 7:00pm
Claude Anelka's side stays up in the Northwest to finish a two-game road trip. The expansion side hasn't had an easy schedule, and it's looking like St. Louis won't grab a point in April. If it's any encouragement, the Vancouver offense has yet to click in the two prior games, giving the visitors a slim chance at coming away with something from this one.
Puerto Rico at Crystal Palace Baltimore, 7:00pm
After a successful home opener, Puerto Rico travel to Maryland and get to welcome Crystal Palace Baltimore to the second division. In a 1-0 opening loss to Tampa Bay, Baltimore got a first taste of life in a new league, unable to find a consistent attacking threat outside of Matthew Mbuta. Although Puerto Rico could be a bit fatigued from their Wednesday night match, they should have the right amount of depth to win a second game in a row.
FC Tampa Bay Rowdies at NSC Minnesota Stars, 8:00pm
Two expansion teams go head-to-head on Saturday, but Minnesota comes in with the slight advantage — already having played three games this season to Tampa Bay's one. That, and it's the home opener as soccer returns to Minnesota for another year. These two are considered the fore-runners of the new clubs, and whichever one establishes some kind of consistency early on is the favorite to make the playoffs. A second win for Tampa Bay — which isn't out of the question for Paul Dalglish to achieve — would be a huge step in that direction.
Portland Timbers at Montreal Impact, 2:00pm
Montreal's home opener features a Portland side on short rest, as the Timbers make the journey to Montreal for Sunday's game. The Impact will only be playing their second game of the season, and will hope to erase the memories of the opening day loss to Austin over two weeks ago. Of all the clubs in the second division, Portland probably has the deepest roster to cope with a short turnaround, and will give the defending champions trouble at Saputo Stadium.
Rochester Rhinos at Austin Aztex, 7:00pm
The USSF was unkind to Rochester when drawing up the schedule — all four of their April games are to be played on the road. As the third of four matches approaches, another point against fast-starting Austin would certainly be an ideal result for the still transitioning Rhinos. In Texas, the Aztex have been an early surprise to the season, first with an upset over Montreal before winning against A.C. St. Louis. A win Sunday would give them a perfect, nine-point April performance and extend their lead at the top of the table.