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Preview: Crystal Palace Baltimore – Miami FC and Rochester-Portland Battle on Wednesday

In midweek USSF D2 action, Crystal Palace Baltimore host Miami FC in a 2:00 pm EDT Wednesday afternoon battle of two teams desperately needing points.  On Wednesday evening,  the Portland Timbers visit Bob Lilley’s Rochester Rhinos at Marina Auto Stadium.

Wednesday afternoon features the second match between CP Baltimore and Miami FC.  In their previous meeting at Lockhart Stadium, the Blues of Miami were able to come back from a 3-1 deficit to earn a draw.  Both teams have struggled and occupy the bottom two spots in the NASL Conference, although Crystal Palace Baltimore is tied with AC St. Louis at 20 points on the season, while Miami FC have accumulated 15.  Both teams, though, have a game in hand over AC St. Louis.  Crystal Palace Baltimore are last in goals scored in USSF D2, while Miami FC have surrendered the most goals.

With no team yet eliminated from the USSF D2 playoff picture, this is a huge contest for both teams.  Miami FC have been an enigmatic team this season, because although they feature such skilled offensive players as Paulo Araujo Jr, Christian Gomez, Abe Thompson and young Brian Shriver, the team is in the lower half of the league in team scoring, middling in shots taken and poor in gaining corner kicks.  Similarly, Caleb Patterson is a respected and experienced goalkeeper, but Miami FC have allowed the most goals in USSF D2.  New coach Daryl Shore will be looking to improve the finishing and definitely has to improve the Blues’ defense for the team to make a playoff run.  I’ve only seen Miami FC play a few times, but when I’ve seen them in action and look at their roster, I’ve wondered why this team has won only two games in league play.  Hopefully for Miami FC fans Coach Shore can get the team playing consistently, and get wins instead of draws.

Crystal Palace Baltimore, under Coach Jim Cherneski, started slowly out of the gate before gaining a big road win over Portland back in May, and picked up other big wins against Rochester and the Timbers at home that month.  They are coming off a 1-1 draw against Montreal, and will be playing their last home game at Championship Stadium before moving to Paul Angelo Russo Stadium on the campus of Calvert Hall College High School for the remainder of their 2010 home games.  Cherneski will be without forward Randi Patterson, who was recently dealt to the Austin Aztex and led CP Baltimore with four goals, and will have to rely on Mathew Mbuta, Gary Brooks, Andrew Marshall and Tsuyoshi Yoshitake, each with 2 goals on the season, for offensive punch.  Goalkeeper Evan Bush has started 17 of the team’s 19 games so far in 2010, and has had a solid season.

Wednesday evening, the USL Conference second-place Rochester Rhinos will look to narrow the gap between them and first place Austin, while extending their lead over the third place Timbers.  The Rhinos are led in goals by Anthony Hamilton and Isaac Kissi, who’ve each netted four times, with midfielder Ryan Heins chipping in three.  Scott Vallow and Neil Kitson have split the goalkeeping duties for Bob Lilley.  Rochester come home after winning two of three games on the road.

The Timbers finish off a four game road trip in Rochester before returning to Portland to face the NSC Minnesota Stars on August 11.   The Timbers have gone 1-1-1 on this road trip so far, beating the Whitecaps before suffering a disappointing loss in St. Louis and drawing against FC Tampa Bay on Saturday.    Ryan Pore continues to lead USSF D2 in scoring with 11 goals for Gavin Wilkinson’s team, and Steve Cronin has been solid in goal for the Timbers, although their defense allowed five goals in their last two contests.  This has been a difficult season for Portland, and Vancouver.   As Austin Aztex Coach Adrian Heath mentioned in an interview on the Chantico’s Army podcast, “In the Mixer,” the two teams have had to not only compete in USSF D2, but also prepare for their debuts in MLS next year.  Scouting and evaluating players to upgrade next year’s squads and building season ticket sales for 2011  has had to diminish each organizations’ ability to focus on the 2010 season.  Adding in the factors of the lengthy travel involved in USSF D2  and the extra incentive the other D2 teams have to beat each of the MLS bound teams may have led to a greater degree of inconsistency for both teams in 2010.  Still, Vancouver leads the NASL Conference and Portland is still in easy striking distance of the USL Conference second place spot, so much credit has to be given to Wilkinson and Vancouver Coach Teitur Thordarson for the coaching jobs they have done in 2010.

Both USSF D2 games Wednesday are crucial for all four teams involved.  Fans can follow the action with online streaming of the games available on the teams’ websites.

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