By TRAVIS CLARK
The top two teams in the SBI USSF D-2 Power Rankings met last week, and managed to put on a show that equaled the hype.
A back-and-forth meeting at PGE Park between Vancouver and Portland was an exciting and physical battle, and on the strength of Ryan Pore's two goals, the Timbers walked away victorious and to maintain the top spot in the latest power rankings.
Newcomers A.C. St. Louis dug themselves off the bottom after beating fellow basement-dwellers Crystal Palace Baltimore to earn the new franchise's first-ever win. Austin made a jump as well after winning out in Minnesota.
Here's a look at this week's USSF Division 2 Power Rankings:
SBI USSF DIVISION 2 POWER RANKINGS (Week 4)
1. Portland Timbers (3-0-1)
Last Match– Beat Vancouver 2-1 on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. Crystal Palace Baltimore on Thursday, May 13.
Outlook: After last week's win against the Whitecaps, Portland gets to take a weekend off to rest and recover. Although with the tear Ryan Pore is on, that may not be a good thing. Timbers fans can only hope he sticks around when they make the jump to MLS next year.
2. Vancouver Whitecaps (2-1-1)
Last Match– Lost 2-1 at Portland last Thursday.
Next Match– vs. Crystal Palace Baltimore on Saturday, May 8.
Outlook: Whitecaps will be disappointed at the nature of Portland's winner — Pore scored via a remarkable header shortly after the Timbers were reduced to ten men — but get a break with Baltimore coming to town. It's a chance to bounce back with a league win against an opponent yet to post a win this season.
3. Rochester Rhinos (2-1-2)
Last Match– Tied vs. Carolina 1-1 on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. A.C. St. Louis on Saturday, May 8.
Outlook: Rochester's home opener had a familiar feel, as the club failed yet again to miss out on an opening win in front of a decent crowd. A.C. St. Louis visits this weekend, giving the Rhinos another shot at that first victory at home.
4. Austin Aztex (3-1)
Last Match– Beat NSC Minnesota 2-1 on Saturday.
Next Match– at FC Tampa Bay on Saturday, May 8.
Outlook: The strong start continues, as Austin bounced back nicely from their home loss against Rochester. Eddie Johnson provided a goal once again, and his production and consistency will be crucial to the Aztex maintaining form throughout a long campaign. With two wins on the road already, Austin looks for a third this weekend against expansion Tampa Bay.
5. Puerto Rico Islanders (2-1)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 at Montreal on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. Carolina on Wednesday, May 26.
Outlook: Thanks to Puerto Rico's participation in the final round of the Carribbean Football Union's Club Championship, the Islanders get to enjoy a long respite from league competition. Their quest to qualify for a CONCACAF Champions League qualifying spot began Wednesday night with a win against Bayamon FC, another Puerto Rican-based team.
6. Carolina Railhawks (1-1-1)
Last Match– Tied at Rochester 1-1 on Saturday.
Next Match– at Miami on Saturday, May 8.
Outlook: A fortuitous penalty call allowed Carolina to escape Rochester with a point against the Rhinos. The offensive struggles continued however, with the Railhawks unable to create and convert chances. With a strong defense, it is up to the offense to start clicking and turn Carolina into a stronger contender.
7. Montreal Impact (1-1-1)
Last Match– Won 1-0 vs. Puerto Rico on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. NSC Minnesota on Saturday, May 8.
Outlook: The distraction of the Nutrilite Championship could prove to make the weekend fixture a bit more difficult. Montreal's improvement continues, and they'll hope to string together two wins in a row. Their depth will certainly be tested by this short week, however, plus the traveling time to Vancouver.
8. Miami FC (0-0-3)
Last Match– Tied vs. Tampa Bay 1-1 on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. Carolina on Saturday, May 8.
Outlook: The news for Miami last weekend was both good and bad. Christian Gomez got off the mark against inter-state rival Tampa Bay, while Caleb Patterson-Sewell held stoutly after Gomez earned himself a red card. Conceding a late equalizer for a third tie in a row dampens those feelings, not to mention how close Miami came to that elusive first win. Carolina visits for a fourth straight home match, and it'd be a disappointment if Miami can't come away with at least win from that early stretch.
Last Match– Tied at Miami 1-1 on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. Austin on Saturday, May 8.
Outlook: Four points from three road games is a good foundation for new club Tampa Bay. Still very much in the adjustment stages, they have to be a bit disappointed not winning in Miami after playing almost the entire second half with a man advantage. Still, a point on the road is a good result, and Austin comes to town as Tampa Bay hosts their first game of the season on Saturday.
10. NSC Minnesota Stars (2-4)
Last Match– Lost 2-1 vs. Austin on Saturday.
Next Match– at Montreal on Saturday, May 8.
Outlook: Minnesota hit a bit of a slump over the past week, dropping two games at home in what appeared to be fairly winnable matches. The Stars take to the road with a difficult away trip to Montreal this weekend. Affording slight hope to Minnesota is the Impact's busy week, as they have to cope with the trip to Vancouver Wednesday night.
11. A.C. St. Louis (1-4)
Last Match– Won 1-0 vs. Crystal Palace Baltimore on Saturday.
Next Match– at Rochester on Saturday, May 8.
Outlook: Things are looking better for St. Louis — Steve Ralston's return nears, the club's first win of the season came over the weekend, and 27-year-old Brazilian midfielder Gauchinho officialy joined the club. Formerly playing in Denmark, his arrival is expected to give a stagnant offense a much-needed boost (St. Louis has just two goals in five games).
12. Crystal Palace Baltimore (0-3)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 at A.C. St. Louis on Saturday.
Next Match– at Vancouver on Saturday, May 8.
Outlook: A loss at St. Louis was the third in a row for struggling Baltimore. The road ahead isn't any easier, with a Northwest swing on the schedule — first Vancouver on Saturday, then Portland the following Thursday. It'd be a shock — and a great result — to see Palace come away with any points from the trip.