By TRAVIS CLARK
The Austin Aztex refuse to lose. Austin is the hottest thing in the USSF D-2 League, dealing Miami FC its first loss of the season last night, running away as 3-1 winners, maintaining a six-game unbeaten streak.
Puerto Rico Islanders were also back in action last night after a lengthy break, losing 2-1 at home to the Carolina Railhawks. A late Daniel Palidini winner saved Gregory Richardson's blushes after the forward missed a penalty earlier in the match.
A Portland slump has allowed Vancouver and Montreal to displace the Timbers in the chase for the top spot.
Here's a look at this week's USSF Division 2 Power Rankings:
SBI USSF DIVISION 2 POWER RANKINGS (Week 7)
1. Austin Aztex (5-1-2)
Last Match– Won 3-1 at Miami FC on Wednesday.
Next Match– at Crystal Palace Baltimore on Saturday, May 29.
Outlook: Austin continued to march through the league without losing, drawing against Tampa Bay last weekend before handing Miami FC a maiden defeat last night. Eddie Johnson and Jamie Watson are finding their scoring groove, and Austin's 17 goals is best in the league.
2. Montreal Impact (3-1-2)
Last Match– Won 1-0 at Portland Timbers on Wednesday, May 19.
Next Match– vs. Carolina on Sunday, May 30.
Outlook: The Nutrilite Canadian Championship is winding down, a good sign for Montreal. Montreal's league form has lifted of late, and with the distraction of a cup competition a thing of the past, this is a menacing team to watch — provided that they can score.
3. Vancouver Whitecaps (3-1-3)
Last Match– Tied 0-0 vs. Montreal Impact on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. Rochester on Saturday, May 22.
Outlook: The Whitecaps appear to be the real deal when they can score. Defensively, allowing two goals in seven games is an astounding figure. Once the attack starts to gel — if it ever does — Vancouver will remain at the top of the heap.
4. Portland Timbers (3-3-2)
Last Match– Lost at Crystal Palace Baltimore on Saturday, May 22.
Next Match– vs. Carolina on Sunday, June 6.
Outlook: Portland gets a break from league play for a friendly with Boca Juniors on Saturday night — big news for a second-division team. It will give Gavin Wilkinson a chance to regroup and rethink how he can change things around to stop this slide. Portland didn't win a game in May (0-3-1) after starting the season undefeated.
5. Rochester Rhinos (3-3-2)
Last Match– Lost 2-0 at Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, May 29.
Outlook: Is there cause for alarm in New York? The re-tooled offense hasn't scored in two games, and the defensive-minded Whitecaps come in for a visit. Revenge will be on the docket after the Whitecaps handed Rochester a 2-0 defeat last weekend.
Last Match– Won 3-0 at A.C. St. Louis on Saturday.
Next Match– vs. NSC Minnesota on Thursday, May 27.
Outlook: The Rowdies proved their status as the cream of the expansion group with a convincing win over St. Louis last weekend. They should be able to cope with Jeremy Christie's World Cup absence, but he'll be sorely missed over this busy three-day period.
7. Carolina Railhawks (2-2-2)
Last Match– Won 2-1 at Puerto Rico Islanders on Wednesday.
Next Match– at Montreal on Sunday, May 30.
Outlook: Carolina's win in Puerto Rico couldn't have come at a better time. The club was reeling a bit after a few disappointing results. It was also the first win for Carolina since the very first game of the season on April 10, a nice boost.
8. Puerto Rico Islanders (2-2)
Last Match– Lost 2-1 vs. Carolina on Wednesday.
Next Match– at FC Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday, May 29.
Outlook: After a lengthy layoff, Puerto Rico dropped its first game in D-2 play since the beginning of May. A combination of rust and a bad performance dictated the outcome, though Bill Gaudette's penalty stop almost allowed the Islanders to escape with a point.
9. Crystal Palace Baltimore (3-4-1)
Last Match– Won 2-1 vs. Portland on Saturday, May 22.
Next Match– vs. Austin Aztex on Saturday, May 29.
Outlook: Crystal Palace Baltimore has been grinding out wins, but it's going to take a sustained run to push themselves up the power rankings. A big test against Austin awaits this weekend.
10. Miami FC (1-1-5)
Last Match– Lost 3-1 vs. Austin Aztex on Wednesday.
Next Match– at Puerto Rico on Wednesday, June 2.
Outlook: Miami finally suffered its first lost last night, as the defense came unglued. Paulo Araujo's goal scoring is a bright spot, and it won't be long before the Blues turn it up a notch.
11. NSC Minnesota Stars (2-6-1)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 at Miami on Saturday.
Next Match– at FC Tampa Bay Rowdies on Thursday, May 27.
Outlook: A heavy stretch of two games in three days — one at home, one on the road — will test the Stars' depth. Injuries have become an issue, not to mention a failure to close out matches in the later stages.
12. A.C. St. Louis (1-6-1)
Last Match– Lost 3-0 vs. FC Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday.
Next Match– at NSC Minnesota on Saturday, May 29.
Outlook: As if their performance on the pitch wasn't bad enough, financial problems have cropped up in St. Louis that threatens the club's future. Steve Ralston finally debuted last weekend, though it'll take more than one player to turn this thing around.