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USSF D2 Weekend Roundup: Aztex and Rhinos Rolling

Saturday in USSF D2 action, AC St. Louis held the NASL Conference leading Vancouver Whitecaps to a scoreless draw in Dale Schilly’s debut as the new AC St. Louis coach.  The NSC Minnesota Stars got a big road win over Crystal Palace Baltimore 3-1, while the Rochester Rhinos blanked the Puerto Rico Islanders at Marina Auto Stadium 3-0.  The Montreal Impact drew 2-2 with the Carolina RailHawks at WakeMed Stadium and the Austin Aztex show no sign of relinquishing their USL Conference lead, downing Miami FC 2-1 at Lockhart Stadium.  Sunday night, the visiting FC Tampa Bay Rowdies allowed the Portland Timbers to leapfrog them into fourth place in the USL Conference with a 1-0 Timbers’ win at PGE Park.

Late last week, AC St. Louis fired Coach Claude Anelka and replaced him with long-time area youth coach Dale Schilly and his assistants Blake Decker, John Vanbuskirk and Tim Leonard.  With veterans Steve Ralston, Manu Kante and Christian Nzinga gone, the young AC St. Louis team is now even younger, but their play was enthusiastic Saturday night despite the heat and drenching humidity.  Vancouver goalkeeper Jay Nolly kept the youngsters from a full three points with another outstanding performance as he denied Mike Ambersley and Gauchinho from netting.  Vancouver played the last 25 minutes down a man, as Cornelius Stewart was sent off after his second yellow card.   AC St. Louis goalkeeper Alec Dufty kept his fourth clean sheet in a row (including two in US Open Cup play) as the second-year pro continues to grow in confidence.  Vancouver retains its hold on the first place position in the NASL conference with a 5-2-6 record, while AC St. Louis stands at 2-7-2.  AC St. Louis plays the LA Galaxy Tuesday night in the third round of US Open Cup play.  Congratulations to Coach Schilly on getting a point in his professional coaching debut.

NSC Minnesota gained three points in the standings in front of 2,300 fans in Baltimore.  The Stars’ Warren Ukah opened the game up with a goal in the 17th minute, and the Stars took a 1-0 lead into the second half.  Crystal Palace Baltimore’s Tsuyoshi Yoshitake leveled the score five minutes after intermission with an outstanding free kick from 25 yards out that beat Stars’ keeper Joe Warren.  The Stars came back, though, as sub Brian Cvilikas netted for the third time in 2010, as he looped a ball past Baltimore’ goalkeeper Evan Bush and defender Val Texeira.  Coach Manny Lagos’ Stars got their insurance goal in the 81st minute, as a Daniel Wasson corner kick deflected off Andres Arango for a score.  NSC Minnesota ups their season record to 6-8-2 while Crystal Palace Baltimore fall to 3-7-3.  The teams meet again on July 4th in Minnesota.

The surging Rochester Rhinos extended their unbeaten steak to seven games with an emphatic 3-0 home victory over the Puerto Rico Islanders in front of a crowd of over 7,000 Rhino supporters.  Ryan Heins fired up the Rhinos with a goal in the 7th minute, and Anthony Hamilton added to the lead with a 59th minute goal past the Islanders’ veteran keeper Bill Gaudette.  Former MISL Rookie of the Year (with the Baltimore Blast) midfielder  Max Ferdinand added icing to the cake at the end of the game with his first goal of the season.  Bob Lilley’s Rochester team goes to 6-3-4, while the Caribbean Football Union Champion Islanders fall to a disappointing  4-6-1 record.   The Rhinos take on the Columbus Crew Tuesday in US Open Cup action.

The Montreal Impact rebounded from a two goal deficit in Cary, North Carolina Saturday to salvage a point against the RailHawks.  After 60 minutes of scoreless play, Sallieu Bundu headed a goal in from a David Hayes free kick and in the 73rd minute the RailHawks took a two goal lead over the Impact from a Floyd Franks penalty kick.  Two minutes later, though, Montreal recorded the 600th goal in regular season franchise history as sub Simon Gatti headed past the RailHawks’ Eric Reed.  In stoppage time, Montreal’s Tony Donatelli robbed the RailHawks of the three points with a clutch goal.  Donatelli added after the game that ”  I think we played very well tonight. We controlled the rhythm of the game and we had the majority of the possession. We showed a lot of character coming from behind to earn a point against a division rival.”  Donatelli leads the Impact in scoring with 8 points.  Montreal now is 4-3-5 while the RailHawks are unbeaten in their last six league games and have a 3-2-6 record.

The Austin Aztex continue to lead USSF D2 in total points as they downed Miami FC on the road 2-1.   The Aztex’ English scoring threat, Eddie Johnson, got them on the board just before half as he settled the ball and shot past a diving Caleb Patterson for a 1-0 lead.  Former Hertha Berlin player Bryan Arguez almost leveled in the 51st minute for Miami, before Miami FC’s instant offense, in the form of Brazilian Paulo Araujo Jr, came into the game in the 64th minute for the Blues.  Araujo Jr. forced Aztex’ keeper Miguel Gallardo into two outstanding saves at the 70th and 78th minute marks before beating Gallardo from the edge of the box in the 86th minute to tie the game.  The Aztex regained the lead, and took the win, a minute later as an Euzebio Neto penalty in the box gave Eddie Johnson an opportunity for a penalty kick, which he converted.  The Aztex are dominating USSF D2 with a 9-2-4 record and have scored 27 goals on the season, 50% more than Rochester’s 18 goals, which is second in the league.  Miami FC fall to 2-4-7, and they travel to Houston for a Tuesday Open Cup date with the Dynamo.  The Aztex meet up with Chivas USA in Fullerton, California Tuesday night in their Open Cup matchup. 

The Portland Timbers took a big three points against FC Tampa Bay Sunday evening.  After a scoreless first half, FC Tampa Bay’s Kwame Adjeman-Pamboe rattled the Timber’s framework with a rocket from his left foot in the 54th minute.  Minutes later,  Portland’s Bright Dike looked to be fouled in the box by Rowdies’ keeper Darryl Sattler, but the play was judged to be offside and no penalty kick was given.  In the 74th minute, though, Dike struck paydirt as an attempted FC Tampa Bay clearance bounced off teammate George Josten to Dike, who clinically netted past Sattler.  The Rowdies are an impressive squad, though, and they came back to challenge, but Timber Steve Cronin was solid in goal and held off a Yendry Diaz header in the 79th minute.  The Timbers, who have had problems dropping points this season due to last-minute goals, were able to hold the Rowdies off during four minutes of stoppage time for their second win in a row before their big US Open Cup date with the Seattle Sounders Wednesday night at PGE Park.  The Rowdies, who have struggled lately for points after a very bright run of play, drop a point in the standings behind the Timbers with a 5-5-3 mark, while Portland stands at 5-5-4. 

Commentary

This is my first year following Division 2 soccer in North America and I don’t claim to be an expert, but after a third of the regular season, I am impressed by the quality of play and coaching.  This is a very physical league, but there are certainly quality players with technical skill and some outstanding goalkeeping.  I find myself really enjoying watching the games as I learn the teams and players, and generally the quality of competition has been good.  I appreciate having the games live streamed, although I hope for the day when D2 is on national TV again.  Tuesday and Wednesday should be exciting for the American D2 teams in US Open Cup competition, and I’m looking for some wins against the MLS clubs.  The Portland/Seattle clash at PGE Park should draw a big crowd, and I really think that Austin can give Chivas USA all they can handle.  The Rhinos should be able to battle well against the Crew, and Miami FC certainly has the talent to give the Houston Dynamo a tough contest.  Speaking to the young AC St. Louis players Saturday, they are totally excited about playing the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center, and having not allowed a goal in four consecutive games, I think they have a chance to gain respect and confidence against a very strong Galaxy club.  I’ve followed the last rounds of the US Open Cup on Josh Hakala’s the cup.us site with his live blog of the games with commentary from fans around the country.   The USSF really needs to get behind the Open Cup, with more promotion, marketing and exporsure…..it has a lengthy tradition and is fun and exciting.  Americans are thought of as soccer newbies, but the US Open Cup has been around since 1914.  Enjoy.   http://thecup.us/

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