By TRAVIS CLARK
With the top club in the power rankings, the Portland Timbers, getting a weekend off — the rest of the USSF second division had a chance to catch up.
The Rochester Rhinos took advantage of Portland's off week, grabbing a win against A.C. St. Louis, for the club's first win at home in New York.
On the other end of the table, none of the expansion teams have been able to distance themselves from the bottom, with Minnesota, St. Louis and Tampa Bay all looking the part early on. Between the three brand-new clubs, and fourth newcomer Crystal Palace Baltimore, they've posted a collective record of 4-14-3.
With the top eight clubs qualifying for the postseason, it remains to be seen if any of them will have what it takes to make the playoffs.
Here's a look at this week's USSF Division 2 Power Rankings:
SBI USSF DIVISION 2 POWER RANKINGS (Week 5)
1. Portland Timbers (3-0-1)
Last Match– Beat Vancouver 2-1 on Thursday, April 29.
Next Match– vs. Crystal Palace Baltimore, tonight.
Outlook: Portland got a chance to rest up with a weekend off, which bodes well with a much busier slate of two games in three days this weekend. Fortunately, both matches are at PGE Park and each features an expansion team — with Palace Baltimore up first Thursday night, before A.C. St. Louis visits Saturday evening. Mandjou Keita, on loan to an Indian club over the weekend, could feature for the first time this season in either match.
2. Rochester Rhinos (3-1-2)
Last Match– Won vs. A.C. St. Louis 2-1 on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. Crystal Palace Baltimore on Wednesday.
Outlook: After last weekend's win, Rochester now boasts the highest point total in the league — thanks in part to having played two games more than Portland and one more than Austin. The strong and steady start has to be encouraging for a club that endured such a massive turnover from last season's roster.
3. Austin Aztex (3-1-1)
Last Match– Tied 2-2 at FC Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. Crystal Palace Baltimore on Sunday
Outlook: A promising start to 2010 is well underway for Austin, and they were cruelly denied two more points last weekend, conceding a late penalty against a Tampa Bay that denied the Aztex a win and a chance to spoil the Rowdies' home opener. Early indications are that Austin has learned the hard lessons from a tough expansion campaign last season and are poised to be close to the top of the table for most of the season.
4. Vancouver Whitecaps (2-1-2)
Last Match– Tied 0-0 vs. Crystal Palace Baltimore on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. Montreal Impact on Saturday
Outlook: Story of Vancouver's this season so far has been a stout defense accompanied by a rather toothless attack. The problems continued over last weekend as the Whitecaps were held at home by new side Crystal Palace Baltimore. A point against a club that hadn't earned one all season isn't good enough for a club aiming for a deep playoff run as they prepare for the jump to the next level.
5. Puerto Rico Islanders (2-1)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 at Montreal on Saturday, May 1.
Next Match– vs. Carolina on Wednesday, May 26.
Outlook: There are still two weeks until Puerto Rico step on the field again in USSF D-2 play, but the club got to celebrate a championship over the weekend. The Islanders claimed the Caribbean Football Union's Club Championship, finishing atop a group of three other clubs in the tournaments final round. Nicholas Addlery's two goals in three games paced the winners, who now wait a couple more weeks before hosting Carolina.
6. Montreal Impact (2-1-1)
Last Match– Won 2-1 vs. NSC Minnesota on Saturday.
Next Match– at Vancouver on Saturday
Outlook: Like their Canadian counterparts, goal-scoring has been a problem for Montreal. Four goals in four games isn't overwhelming, and the scoring has been timely enough to put Montreal in decent standing points-wise. A weekend clash at Vancouver will be a big test to see if Roberto Brown can chip in to solve the goal-scoring problems.
7. Carolina Railhawks (1-1-2)
Last Match– Tied at Miami FC 1-1 on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. FC Tampa Bay on Friday
Outlook: Carolina is one of six clubs in the USSF D-2 to have only played four games at this early point in the season. Keeping that in mind, five points from those matches aren't a bad thing. Like many other clubs, a lack of goal-scoring options threatens to derail Carolina's plans of USSF D-2 domination. Etienne Barbara has yet to recapture the form that saw him score a brace in the season opener, but as long as the rigid and compact defense keeps performing, Carolina will be a team to watch out for.
8. Miami FC (0-0-4)
Last Match– Tied vs. Carolina 1-1 on Saturday.
Next Match– at NSC Minnesota on Saturday
Outlook: The good news for Miami? The club remains undefeated. The bad news? They've now tied four straight games, all at home, and head to the road for the first time this season. Only three goals in four games is a disappointing return, something that needs to be corrected. A trip up north presents a chance to do that with a winnable game for the Blues, who will look to get the better of expansion NSC Minnesota.
Last Match– Tied vs. Austin 2-2 on Saturday.
Next Match– at Carolina Railhawks on Friday
Outlook: A late penalty kick bailed out Tampa Bay in what was an otherwise promising home opener last weekend against Austin Aztex. With a solid crowd on hand, Tampa Bay showed signs of improvement, but remain — like the other clubs — an expansion team very much a work in progress. Jeremy Christie's departure for the World Cup with New Zealand will be a morale booster, but simultaneously leave a hole in the lineup.
10. NSC Minnesota Stars (2-5)
Last Match– Lost 2-1 at Montreal on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. Miami on Saturday
Outlook: A season that started in an ideal fashion has quickly made a turn for the worse. Up 1-0 late against Montreal, a second road win was there for the taking — but for a Rocco Placentino quick-hit brace in the game's dying minutes, Minnesota would have come away from Saputo Stadium with all three points. Instead, it's a third consecutive loss, a trend that can be reversed against Miami FC this coming weekend.
11. A.C. St. Louis (1-5)
Last Match– Lost 2-1 at Rochester on Saturday.
Next Match– at Portland on Saturday
Outlook: Another game, another loss for St. Louis. The win against Crystal Palace Baltimore was nice, but after losing five of their first six matches this season, there isn't much to be optimistic about. Add to that the three goals scored versus 10 indicated this will be a long season. Steve Ralston nears his St. Louis debut, though with another match played on turf this weekend, it might be another week of waiting for the former Revolution star.
12. Crystal Palace Baltimore (0-3-1)
Last Match– Tied 0-0 at Vancouver on Saturday.
Next Match– at Portland tonight.
Outlook: The first point of the season came on the road, and it couldn't have come at a better time for Crystal Palace Baltimore. A massive week of travel awaits — first the Portland game on Thursday, because a trip down to Austin to play the Aztex on Sunday, before finishing up the stretch in New York with a third match in seven days against Rochester.