By TRAVIS CLARK
The second-year Austin Aztex are continuing to prove they are no fluke in the USSF second division. Despite blowing a late lead against Tampa Bay last night in a 3-3 draw, the Aztex have only lost once all season, back on April 25 against Rochester.
That, coupled with two other mid-week results — Portland losing 1-0 to Montreal at home, and Crystal Palace Baltimore nabbing a 1-0 win on the road against Rochester — Austin jumped to the top spot in this week's edition of the Power Rankings.
Baltimore climbs out of the basement on the strength of last night's win, plus a victory against Portland last week.
Here's a look at this week's USSF Division 2 Power Rankings:
SBI USSF DIVISION 2 POWER RANKINGS (Week 6)
1. Austin Aztex (4-1-2)
Last Match– Tied 3-3 vs. FC Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
Next Match– at Miami on Wednesday, May 26.
Outlook: Things are looking bright for Austin — Eddie Johnson and Jamie Watson are forming quite the prolific scoring duo, as the team leads the USSF D-2 in goals scored with 14. Tightening up the defense is an issue that coach Adrian Heath needs to address at some point — Austin has conceded 10 goals, and blown two late leads, both against Tampa Bay.
2. Portland Timbers (3-2-2)
Last Match– Lost vs. Montreal Impact 1-0 on Wednesday.
Next Match– at Crystal Palace Baltimore on Saturday, May 22.
Outlook: An early and unexpected dip in form drags the Timbers off the top spot as a loss to Montreal stretches the club's winless streak to three games. Ryan Pore, shouldering the scoring load early on this season, can't do it alone, as Portland has scored only one goal in that three-game stretch. More needs to come from the recently returned Mandjou Keita to pick Portland up from this sketchy run of form.
3. Rochester Rhinos (3-2-2)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 vs. Crystal Palace Baltimore on Wednesday.
Next Match– at Vancouver on Saturday, May 22.
Outlook: After a weekend to rest, losing a mid-week match against a team like Crystal Palace Baltimore is a huge letdown. Two weeks prior, the Rhinos had easily handled A.C. St. Louis, but couldn't find the net on Wednesday evening. Rochester heads on the road, after a 1-1-1 run at home — and not yet quite where they want to be.
4. Montreal Impact (3-1-2)
Last Match– Won 1-0 at Portland Timbers on Wednesday.
Next Match– vs. Carolina on Sunday, May 30.
Outlook: The goals may not be coming in abundance, but thanks to timely scoring and tough defending, Montreal is getting the results right. Coming away winners against Portland at PGE Park is Montreal's most notable accomplish to date, and sending the players into a ten-day layoff to wrap up the Canadian Championship (Montreal is already eliminated), host Firoentina, before resuming league action against Carolina at the end of May.
5. Vancouver Whitecaps (2-1-3)
Last Match– Tied 0-0 vs. Montreal Impact on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. Rochester on Saturday, May 22.
Outlook: The mis-firing offensive troubles leaked into last night's draw against Toronto FC in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, and Vancouver will hope to end what is now a three-game streak without scoring a goal across all competitions. The acquisition of Jonny Steele has yet to prove the attacking dividends, as he has battled injury problems all season.
6. 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: The still-dormant Puerto Rico Islanders learned that the Los Angeles Galaxy would be opponents in the CONCACAF Champions League play-in round — other than that, there's not a lot else to report about the Islanders who return to action in a week.
Last Match– Tied vs. Austin 3-3 on Wednesday.
Next Match– at A.C. St. Louis on Saturday, May 22.
Outlook: Tampa Bay got another late result against the Austin Aztex Wednesday evening thanks to a Gordon Kljestan free kick, and the club continues to be the cream of the USSF D-2 expansion crop. They'll get a chance to prove that directly on the weekend with a trip to St. Louis, a game Tampa Bay is quite capable of winning — especially if they truly intend to make the playoffs.
8. Carolina Railhawks (1-2-2)
Last Match– Lost 2-1 vs. FC Tampa Bay on Friday.
Next Match– at Puerto Rico Islanders on Wednesday, May 26.
Outlook: Carolina's offense continues to struggle and let them down. Three goals in the last four games says it all, and the Railhawks haven't score from open play since the first game of the season on April 10. Defensively, the club has been solid, but needs to develop a more efficient attacking edge to climb back up the table.
9. Miami FC (0-0-5)
Last Match– Tied at Minnesota 1-1 on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. NSC Minnesota on Saturday, May 22.
Outlook: Five draws in five games demonstrates what has been good and bad for Miami this season. The Blues haven't conceded more than one goal in a game so far, yet they also haven't scored more than one. Caleb Patterson-Sewell has been a great pickup in goal, but the likes of Abe Thompson and Christian Gomez remain a work in progress to get the offensive clicking on all cylinders. Both have showed flashes, though without anything consistent, Miami will continue to struggle to win.
10. Crystal Palace Baltimore (2-4-1)
Last Match– Won 1-0 at Rochester on Wednesday.
Next Match– vs. Portland on Saturday, May 22.
Outlook: After three straight losses, things are looking up for Crystal Palace Baltimore, who won a second game within the course of a week, while wrapping up five straight games on the road. Baltimore goes in search of a first win at home as Portland comes to town in search of revenge.
11. NSC Minnesota Stars (2-5-1)
Last Match– Drew 1-1 vs. Miami on Saturday.
Next Match– at Miami on Saturday, May 22.
Outlook: The second of two consecutive matches against Miami FC takes place this weekend, and the trip to South Florida a definite challenge to overcome. Minnesota has yet to see the best from its Liberian duo of Johnny Menyongar and Melvin Tarley have both started slowly in terms of offensive production. Joe Warren, taking over for the injured Louis Crayton, has been a steady hand in goal, stopping a penalty kick in three straight games. However, a four game winless streak detracts from the positives.
12. A.C. St. Louis (1-5-1)
Last Match– Drew 1-1 at Portland on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. FC Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday, May 22.
Outlook: There was finally some positives last weekend for A.C. St. Louis — thanks to a late goal from Mike Ambersley, the club grabbed a point in St. Louis. Steve Ralston's return could come this weekend, as the club plays on natural grass. It's a development that could dramatically change St. Louis' fortune — or at least the club hopes.