By TRAVIS CLARK
Much is at stake this weekend when the Montreal-Rochester rivalry returns to the USSF D-2 league on Friday night.
Montreal need a win, and the task couldn't be tougher with a red-hot Rochester side coming to town. The Rhinos bring a six-game winning streak to town and have assumed the league's top spot with a slim margin over the Austin Aztex.
Rochester has a chance to open the gap on Austin after the Aztex tied Portland 1-1 last night out in the Northwest. Both Austin and Portland will play again this weekend.
Here's a look at the rest of this weekend's D-2 action:
Puerto Rico Islanders vs. Carolina Railhawks, 7:00 p.m.
Life at home hasn't been kind for the Railhawks, winners of seven games on the road. The remarkable record continued during a mid-week win over Tampa Bay, and Carolina welcomes Puerto Rico in an attempt to solidify a playoff spot. The Islanders emerged from CONCACAF Champions League play this week with a win, and need to carry that form into this weekend's matchup.
A.C. St. Louis vs. FC Tampa Bay Rowdies, 6:00 p.m.
The playoff window is closing on Tampa Bay, neglecting what had been a bright start to the season. The Rowdies could only manage a Ricardo Sanchez goal against Carolina, and are currently out of a playoff spot. Finishing strong is the best St. Louis can hope for — barring a miracle run, can't make the playoffs.
Austin Aztex vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 7:00 p.m.
A possible championship preview in Vancouver? That could be the case when Austin visits Vancouver in the Northwest. Austin's defense was troubled frequently by Portland's attack, and is certainly the weaker link. This, like Thursday's meeting with Portland, is a chance for the Aztex to reinforce their credentials as a title contender.
Crystal Palace Baltimore vs. Portland Timbers, 9:00 p.m.
A season with a hint of promise has gone south for Baltimore, the latest a 5-0 loss at home versus Montreal. A 2-8-2 record at whatever venue Baltimore has used as their "home" field provides no advantage, so traveling to Portland isn't the worst matchup. Baltimore won their last trip to Portland, and can't be counted out, particularly since Portland comes into this one on shorter rest.