By TRAVIS CLARK
With the eight playoff teams in USSF D-2 now set, determining those first round matches is the only thing left to resolve.
Vancouver and Montreal will get one more chance to face off (Friday, 10:30 p.m.) before the Canadian rivalry takes a year off in 2011 as the Whitecaps make the transition to MLS — that is, unless the two sides meet up in the postseason.
Implications still linger for both sides in this one, at least when it comes to the seeding. If the Whitecaps win, they'll clinch the NASL Conference and a No. 2 seed if the Railhawks lose to Puerto Rico. Their Canadian counterparts are chasing at least the No. 6 spot in the playoffs, and will look again to Ali Gerba in the attack.
Here's a look at the rest of this weekend's USSF D-2 action:
NSC Minnesota Stars vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, 7:30 p.m.
The Rowdies never found a way to get things going in the second half of the season, and a matchup that was supposed to determine a playoff spot is a chance for Minnesota to rest some players in their final game of the year and try to avoid the No. 8 seed. Tampa Bay parted ways with manager Paul Dalglish on Thursday, and only has pride left to play for at this point.
Rochester Rhinos vs. Miami FC, 4 p.m.
A home-and-home series between Miami and Rochester has revenge on the mind for the visitors. The Blues shocked Rochester last weekend, and is on the hunt for a fourth straight win in what has become a late season renaissance for the once-struggling club. Of course, it's too late to have a chance at playoff soccer, but they'll be out to spoil Rochester's hopes at landing the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
Portland Timbers vs. Crystal Palace Baltimore, 5p.m.
The Timbers four-game road swing touches down in Baltimore, and one team prepares for the playoffs and a jump to MLS, while the other must be eager for this season to be over. Of the eight playoff teams, the Timbers appear to have the least room to move — they'll either finish fourth or fifth, and with three points against a woeful Crystal Palace Baltimore, will lock the No. 4 spot up for themselves.
Puerto Rico Islanders vs. Carolina Railhawks, 7 p.m.
For a team that's been unusually poor at home, Carolina can't be too thrilled about closing the season with two games at WakeMed Soccer Park. Of course, hosting Puerto Rico brings a tired opponent to town, and a chance to give Gregory Richardson, Etienne Barbara and the offense a chance to click. The Railhawks might find themselves making the jump from fifth to second place if Vancouver isn't careful.
A.C. St. Louis vs. Austin Aztex, 8:30 p.m.
It's been a season of success for Austin, and despite a weak September, the Aztex are still in position for a top of the table finish. Recent wobbles aside, the offense is as formidable as ever, and will be tough to beat in the playoffs. However, concerns at the back are magnified by Yohance Marshall's recall to the Los Angeles Galaxy, and if he stays there for the remainder of the year, it could spell trouble. St. Louis nicked a late winner last weekend, leaving the Aztex with an eye for revenge heading into this one.
Vancouver and Montreal will not be taking a season off from each other WILL meet again next season. Twice if the Nutrilite Canadian Championship continues with the current format.
Technically, the Timbers can still win the USL conference.
Of course that would require that St. Louis beats both Rochester and Austin. LOL.