By TRAVIS CLARK
Only one month of the USSF D-2 regular season remains, and it's last call for the bottom feeders to pull off a last-minute miracle.
Crystal Palace Baltimore is one of those teams. Four points outside the last playoff spot, a trip to Carolina awaits this weekend, and a win for Baltimore is paramount (7:30p.m., Friday). Given the frustrating tendency of the Railhawks to lose games at home, now would be a good time for Baltimore to conjure up a strong performance.
Etienne Barbara has had a solid season since joining Carolina prior to the start of the year, scoring seven goals. He'll need to play a big role if the Railhawks hope to manage a rare home win.
Here's a look at the rest of this weekend's action:
NSC Minnesota Stars vs. Austin Aztex, 8:30 p.m.
This is a massive tilt for the Stars. Minnesota is tied for the last playoff spot with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and will be hard pressed to defeat the high-flying Aztex in Texas. Austin's prolific offense — they've scored 43 goals in 23 games — will put the Stars to the test. Eddie Johnson looks for a late push to match Ryan Pore for the league lead, and Jamie Watson has returned after a brief injury.
Puerto Rico Islanders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 1:00 p.m.
Things are good for the Whitecaps — thanks to a strong defense, the soon-to-be MLS side has a solid lead at the top of the NASL Conference. Teitur Thordarson was named the coach for next season, and as the preparations for next year continue, the push for a title is ongoing. The Islanders make the long trip to the Northwest, playing their second game in four days. Barring a late collapse, Puerto Rico should manage a postseason spot, thanks in part to David Foley and Nicholas Addlery's knack for goal scoring.
Miami FC vs. A.C. St. Louis, 7:00 p.m.
The Blues take a trip to the Midwest, where they take on St. Louis in a battle of two teams on the outside looking in to the playoff picture. In theory, there is a chance for both teams to qualify for postseason action, but in reality, unless something drastic happens, neither of these teams will make it. St. Louis must get a performance from Mike Ambersley and Luke Kreamalmeyer to have a shot at three points from this one — and with a win, keep those faint hopes alive for another week.