By TRAVIS CLARK
With the summer winding to a close, the margin for error is growing smaller and smaller for teams on the peripheral of the postseason picture.
Minnesota and Tampa Bay each were in dire need of a win over the weekend, but neither could deliver the goods against Portland and Vancouver respectively. The two expansion sides will likely vie for the eighth and final postseason spot at season's end.
Austin and Rochester continue to be the class of the league, with 2011 MLS entrants Vancouver hoping to have a say in the matter once the postseason rolls around. The Aztex and Rhinos did become the first two sides to officially clinch a postseason spot over the weekend.
Here's a look at this week's power rankings:
1. Austin Aztex (13-3-5)
Last Match– Won 3-2 vs. Carolina Railhawks on August 22.
Next Match– at Portland on Thursday, August 26.
Outlook: Austin's offense continued to put on a show against a stout Carolina defense on the way to clinching a playoff spot. Jamie Watson will likely be available for this week's trip to Portland. Questions about their defense will be raised heading into the postseason.
2. Rochester Rhinos (14-5-6)
Last Match– Won 3-1 vs. Miami FC on August 21.
Next Match– at Montreal on Friday, August 27.
Outlook: Austin is barely holding off Rochester at the moment, winners of six straight and seven of their last eight, will hope to carry their hot form into the postseason.
3. Vancouver Whitecaps (9-3-12)
Last Match– Tied 1-1 at FC Tampa Bay on August 19.
Next Match– vs. Austin on Sunday, August 29.
Outlook: A point on the road is never a bad result, and a trip to Tampa is a long one. The Whitecaps' excellent defense will be sternly tested against Austin.
4. Portland Timbers (9-7-7)
Last Match– Won 1-0 at NSC Minnesota on August 21.
Next Match– vs. Austin on Thursday, August 26.
Outlook: Bright Dike continues to show promise as a compliment to Ryan Pore and a possible striker for next year.
5. Carolina Railhawks (8-7-7)
Last Match– Lost 3-2 at Austin Aztex on August 22.
Next Match– at Tampa Bay on Wednesday, August 25.
Outlook: Carolina almost came away with a point against powerful Austin, but despite the loss are in good shape for the playoffs. They can't be considered championship contenders unless their offense improves — Etienne Barbara in particular.
6. Puerto Rico Islanders (7-7-8)
Last Match– Tied 1-1 at A.C. St. Louis on August 20.
Next Match– at Carolina on Saturday, August 28.
Outlook: Nicholas Addlery's goal-scoring continues to be consistent for the Islanders, but their depth will be tested by the CONCACAF Champions League group stages.
7. Montreal Impact (7-10-7)
Last Match– Won 5-0 at Crystal Palace Baltimore on August 21.
Next Match– vs. Rochester on Friday, August 27.
Outlook: Canadian Ali Gerba was the star as Montreal crushed Baltimore on the road. That development might be the shot in the arm the team needs to make a playoff run.
Last Match– Tied 1-1 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps on Thursday, August 19.
Next Match– vs. Carolina on Wednesday, August 25.
Outlook: It looks likely that the last postseason spot could go to either Tampa Bay or Minnesota. New acquisition Jonny Steele hasn't been anything spectacular, and will need to be a crucial component down the stretch. Further aiding Tampa's cause is having two games in hand on the Stars.
9. NSC Minnesota Stars (7-11-7)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 vs. Portland Timbers on August 21.
Next Match– at Austin on Saturday, September 4.
Outlook: It certainly has been a respectable season for Minnesota considering the circumstances. But respectable might not be good enough to make the playoffs, and the last two games at home might be the nail in the coffin. Their last win came back on July 10 as well — not the recipe for success.
10. A.C. St. Louis (5-11-7)
Last Match– Tied 1-1 vs. Puerto Rico Islanders on August 20.
Next Match– at Tampa Bay on Sunday, August 29.
Outlook: For all the off-the-field problems that St. Louis has endured, to be this close to the postseason is somewhat remarkable. Tying against Puerto Rico at home isn't going to get the job done, however.
11. Crystal Palace Baltimore (6-12-6)
Last Match– Lost 5-0 vs. Montreal Impact on August 21.
Next Match– at Portland on Sunday, August 29.
Outlook: Baltimore isn't entirely out of the playoff picture, but a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Montreal isn't going to do anything positive.
12. Miami FC (3-10-11)
Last Match– Lost 3-1 at Rochester Rhinos on August 21.
Next Match– at St. Louis on Sunday, September 5.
Outlook: Miami hit double digits in ties and losses over the weekend, and look like a lock to miss out on the playoffs.