By TRAVIS CLARK
Early on in the USSF D-2 season, newcomers FC Tampa Bay Rowdies are flying high, particularly when measured against fellow expansion teams A.C. St. Louis and NSC Minnesota. Three wins in a row have shot the Rowdies towards the top of the D-2 table, just two points behind the Austin Aztex.
This weekend, the Rowdies face a huge test with a trip all the way to the other corner of the country to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps (Sunday, 7:00pm). Aaron Wheeler and Long Tan will be hard pressed to crack the league's top defensive club, and the Rowdies will have to shut down Vancouver's Martin Nash and Jonny Steele.
A win on the road — that would be good for Tampa Bay's fourth in a row — would send a message to the rest of the league that the Rowdies are here to stay.
Here's a look at the rest of the D-2 action this weekend:
NSC Minnesota Stars at Rochester Rhinos, 7:30pm
Rochester plays host for the second of three straight games in upstate New York, hoping to ride the home crowd to a winning streak. They got off to a proper start last weekend against Vancouver, and with NSC Minnesota coming to town, a second win in a row isn't out of the question. A strong game from Anthony Hamilton would see three more points go the Rhinos way.
Puerto Rico Islanders at Austin Aztex, 8:30pm
While not much is made of the NASL-USL problems in season, the matchup of these two clubs is a rarity — two USL clubs going up against each other. Puerto Rico heads to Texas hoping to slow down the goal-scoring duo of Jamie Watson and Eddie Johnson, who have combined for an impressive 11 goals on the year — the two have score more goals than eight other D-2 clubs. The Islanders are hoping to win and climb up the D-2 table.
Miami FC at Montreal Impact, 2:00pm
Two underachieving clubs meet north of the border, as Miami FC looks to snap a losing streak, and Montreal simply hoping to score a few coals. The Impact's scoring woes — five goals from seven games — are good for worst in the league, with the club's respectable record a result of a solid defense. Miami's sluggish start is surely not what they'd hoped for when Christian Gomez was brought in, but he has chipped in three assists.
Carolina Railhawks at Portland Timbers, 9:00pm
Everything that went well for Portland in April, the opposite happened in may. Undefeated in the season's first month, the Timbers then went all May without winning a league match (0-3-1). With May in the rear view mirror, a visiting Carolina team will be a tough nut to crack at PGE Park. Ryan Pore has cooled a bit, and no one has stepped up to fill that goal-scoring void — though thanks to his hot start, he remains at the top of the scoring charts.