By TRAVIS CLARK
A group of three teams have separated themselves from the pack in D-2 — Austin, Rochester and Vancouver are tops in the league in points and look assured of a playoff spot.
The surging Rhinos might be the hottest of the bunch at the moment, overtaking Austin in the standings with a fifth straight win Wednesday night. However, due to the Aztex having four games in hand, Rochester remains mired in the second positions of the D-2 power rankings.
The Rhinos surge continued Wednesday night in Maryland, as they beat Crystal Palace Baltimore by a 2-0 score, to extend their lead to four points in the standings. In other action, Carolina came from behind against Miami to win 2-1 at home.
Here's a look at this week's power rankings:
1. Austin Aztex (12-3-5)
Last Match– Lost 2-0 at Puerto Rico Islanders on August 14.
Next Match– vs. Carolina on Sunday, August 22.
Outlook: A trip to Puerto Rico ended Austin's unbeaten streak, but with four games in hand on Rochester, there's still plenty of time to reclaim top spot.
2. Rochester Rhinos (12-5-6)
Last Match– Won 2-0 at Crystal Palace Baltimore on August 18
Next Match– vs. Miami FC on Saturday, August 21.
Outlook: Winners of five straight, Rochester is one Aztex slip away from claiming the top spot in D2. Rhinos go for six in a row against Miami at home.
3. Vancouver Whitecaps (9-3-11)
Last Match– Won 1-0 at NSC Minnesota on August 14.
Next Match– at Tampa Bay on Thursday, August 19.
Outlook: The 1-0 decisions continued over last weekend. Vancouver has been making a number of new signings over the past few week — will they have an impact this year?
4. Portland Timbers (8-7-7)
Last Match– Won 1-0 at A.C. St. Louis on August 14.
Next Match– at NSC Minnesota on Saturday, August 21.
Outlook: Portland is better than their record suggests, but need to close out games more consistency if it hopes to succeed in one final division two season.
5. Carolina Railhawks (8-6-7)
Last Match– Won 2-1 vs. Miami FC on August 18.
Next Match– at Austin on Sunday, August 22.
Outlook: After a mid-week win over Miami, a difficult trip to Austin awaits. Carolina's improvement continues, and they'll be one to watch in the postseason.
6. Puerto Rico Islanders (7-7-7)
Last Match– Won 2-0 vs. Austin Aztex on August 14.
Next Match– at A.C. St. Louis on Friday, August 20.
Outlook: The win over Austin was massive, and taking advantage of home cooking is a must for the Islanders. A trip to St. Louis this weekend presents a winnable game on the road.
Last Match– Tied 3-3 at Miami FC on August 14.
Next Match– vs. Vancouver on Thursday, August 19.
Outlook: Tampa Bay still can't find the three points they need on a regular basis. The late goals that have plagued them all year could undermine their postseason chances.
8. NSC Minnesota Stars (7-10-7)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps on August 14.
Next Match– vs. Portland on Saturday, August 21.
Outlook: Despite Minnesota's recent struggles, the Stars currently sit in the top eight for a playoff spot. With so few games remaining however, every match grows in importance, particular this one at home against Portland.
9. Montreal Impact (6-10-7)
Last Match– Lost 2-1 at Rochester Rhinos on August 14.
Next Match– at Baltimore on Saturday, August 21.
Outlook: It's been a poor season in Montreal, and if the playoffs were to begin today, then the future MLS side would miss out.
10. A.C. St. Louis (5-11-6)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 vs. Portland Timbers on August 14.
Next Match– vs. Puerto Rico on Friday, August 20.
Outlook: St. Louis still holds an outside chance at a playoff spot, but need to win games at home if they hope to reach that goal. Friday night's meeting against the Islanders is massive.
11. Crystal Palace Baltimore (6-11-6)
Last Match– Lost 2-0 vs. Rochester Rhinos on August 18.
Next Match– vs. Montreal on Saturday, August 21.
Outlook: Each loss pulls Palace Baltimore further and further away from the playoffs. Things continue to look pretty grim, both on and off the field.
12. Miami FC (3-9-11)
Last Match– Lost 2-1 at Carolina Railhawks on August 18.
Next Match– at Rochester on Saturday, August 21.
Outlook: The Blues are mired in another poor season, and can't seem to get off the bottom of the standings. A win in Carolina was there for the taking, but once again, Miami couldn't finish things off.