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Preview of Wednesday USSF D2 Action

As the USSF D2 season moves into its final third, and teams are jockeying to be among the eight that will compete in the playoffs in October, four games are on slate for this Wednesday night.  The Carolina RailHawks host the Rochester Rhinos, Crystal Palace Baltimore visits Saputo Stadium for a contest with the Montreal Impact, the Puerto Rico Islanders host FC Tampa Bay and the Portland Timbers return to PGE Park for a matchup with the NSC Minnesota Stars.

Rochester travels to WakeMed Stadium for Wednesday’s matchup with the RailHawks sitting in second place of the USL Conference at 10-5-6.  The Rhinos are coming off a two game winning streak that includes a win over Carolina, so the Coach Martin Rennie and his RailHawks team will be gunning for revenge.  A Coach Rennie stated, ““We let ourselves down when we played Rochester the last time at home.  That was the catalyst for us improving our performance and we’ve done well the last two games. We are looking to continue our attacking form while defending as well. There is a good rivalry between these two teams so fans can expect a good, hard-fought game.”   Carolina’s Etienne Barbara, who is tied for the team’s goal scoring lead at five with Josh Gardner, will have to sit out the game because of a red card suspension.  Forward Sallieu Bundu has contributed four goals on the season, and midfielders Amir Lowery, Floyd Franks and defender Mark Schulte have featured in every RailHawks game.  Eric Reed has started 16 of the RailHawks 18 games and is having a very good season. 

For Rochester, Isaac Kissi and Anthony Hamilton have provided four goals apiece to lead the team.  Kissi, a 23 year-old from Ghana, is beginning to blossom in his first year as a pro, and the former University of Dayton player is getting more time on the field as the season goes on.  Coach Bob Lilley has an excellent goalie  tandem in young Neil Kitson and veteran Scott Vallow, who have split the goalkeeping duties for the team.  The Rhinos have been fairly consistent throughout the season, continuing to pick up points and this should be an interesting contest between two of the better teams in USSF D2.

The Montreal Impact host the struggling Crystal Palace Baltimore team at Saputo Stadium.   I imagine that many of the Saputo Stadium faithful are disappointed with the Impact’s inconsistency that has led to a 6-9-6 record and a poor showing this spring in the Canadian Nutrilite Championship,  A big win over the boys from Baltimore would help morale.  The Impact are coming off a 2-0 loss to Carolina, and have had trouble with CP Baltimore in two previous games, losing at home and drawing in Baltimore.  As noted yesterday on the NASL Fanatic, the Impact have acquired 21 year-old French defender Richard Pelletier for the remainder of this season and the 2011 season.  Recently acquired forward Ali Gerba has played four games now for the Impact, but has yet to open his scoring account.  Midfielder Tony Donatelli has provided most of the scoring punch for Montreal this season, leading the team with six goals.

Scoring goals has been Crystal Palace Baltimore’s biggest onfield problem.  The team is last in USSF D2 in shots taken and are below average in producing corner kicks.  With team scoring leader Randi Patterson dealt to Austin,  much of the scoring burden will fall on Gary Brooks, who has been moved back to his favored center forward position.  Defensively, Jim Cherneski’s team have been somewhat more solid, as Evan Bush has stood tall in goal.  Crystal Palace Baltimore is a point behind AC St. Louis in the NASL Conference standings, and a point above Miami FC. 

The Puerto Rico Islanders welcome FC Tampa Bay to Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium on Wednesday evening.  The Islanders are coming off a 1-1 weekend draw with Miami FC over the weekend, but also have had the distinct honor of representing USSF D2 well by eliminating the LA Galaxy by an aggregate 5-3 score in the preliminary rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League.   Colin Clarke’s team has been so-so in USSF D2 this season, but their play against LA Galaxy and their Champions League performances in the past show the potential of this squad.  Veteran Bill Gaudette has returned to the goalkeeping post, and David Foley leads the team with six league goals, while Nic Addlery has accounted for four and Josh Hansen has chipped in three.  Richard Martinez and Marco Velez have been reliable on the backline, and midfielder Sandy Gbandi has featured in every contest.

Expansion club FC Tampa Bay went through a rough two month patch before snapping out of it with a win over Miami FC and a draw with Portland, before dropping a 4-2 contest to Austin on the road Saturday.  Still, losing to Austin is no disgrace, and Paul Daglish’s team seek to build on the form they carried earlier in the season.  Aaron King leads the team with six goals while Aaron Wheeler has chipped in four.  Colorado Rapids’ loanee Andre Akpan has featured in five games now upfront for the Rowdies, but has been unable to find his scoring touch in USSF D2.  Midfielders Long Tan, Takuya Yamada and Pascal Millen, along with defender Julian Valentin and forward King have appeared in all 20 Rowdies games, and Daryl Sattler has been the regular in goal.  As I am writing this, I have just become aware that the Rowdies have also added Chivas USA forward Maykel Galindo on loan for the rest of the season to boost their offense.  Nice.

Finally, the last USSF D2 game to be played on Wednesday night will be a match between the Portland Timbers and NSC Minnesota.  The Timbers finally return home to friendly PGE Park after a four game road trip that saw the team go 1-2-1.  The Timbers are at the .500 mark with a 7-7-6 record, and are led by Ryan Pore with a league-leading 11 goals and veteran Steve Cronin in goal.  Pore and Cronin are the only Timbers to have played all the team’s games, as Coach Gavin Wilkinson evaluates his roster to see which players are ready for MLS in 2011.  Young forward Bright Dike seems to be an up and coming talent, but has only tallied twice in fourteen games.  The Timbers recently acquired Dutch forward Ibad Muhamadu from FC Dordrecht of the Eerste Divisie (2nd division in the Netherlands), and perhaps he will be ready for game action on Wednesday.

NSC Minnesota are at 7-9-6 and are coming off a ten-day break since last making a comeback to draw AC St. Louis at AB Soccer Park.  Manny Lagos’ team has shown the character to not give up and come back to gain results, particularily in three games against their Mississippi rivals.  The team is on a five game unbeaten streak, although the last four games of that streak have been draws.  Brian Cvilikas leads the team with five goals.  Veteran goalkeeper Joe Warren has started most of the Stars game, and at one point had a streak of saving three penalty kicks in three consecutive matches.  There is a possibility that goalkeeper Louis Crayton, out since the first game and Vorgen Less, injured in preseason, may return to duty before the season ends, but if so it neither look likely to return until the last game or two.  Midfielder Two-Boys Gumede will miss the Portland match and be out for a couple of weeks with a strained calf.

Wednesday’s night action will begin to seperate the post-season contenders from the pretenders.  Saturday all twelve USSF D2 teams will be in action, as Crystal Palace Baltimore hosts Carolina, Rochester is home against Montreal, Miami FC hosts FC Tampa Bay in another Florida derby, Portland visits AC St. Louis, NSC Minnesota is home against Vancouver and Austin travels to Puerto Rico.

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