On Wednesday evening, Crystal Palace Baltimore host the USL Conference leading Rochester Rhinos, while the Carolina RailHawks look to get back to winning ways at home against Miami FC. Thursday night, the NASL Conference first-place Vancouver Whitecaps visit FC Tampa Bay at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
This week’s Crystal Palace Baltimore home game will be played at the Ridley Athletic Complex at Loyola University Maryland, as apparently there are still delays with the Paul Angelo Russo Stadium site, and the Baltimore club has to scramble for a home field. Despite all the adversity, CP Baltimore came up with a huge home win last week over Carolina, and are hanging on in the search for a playoff spot with a 6-10-6 record.
The expansion Baltimore team has held its own against Rochester, as each team has one once and drawn in the three previous games. Gary Brooks and Tsuyoshi Yoshitake have stepped up to pick up the slack left by the departure of CP Baltimore leading scorer Randi Patterson to Austin, but the team still is last in goals scored and ranks poorly in other offensive categories. Evan Bush has had an impressive year in goal for the Baltimore team, though, and he will and the backline will need to be consistent if CP Baltimore has any chance of making the playoffs.
Rochester has been consistent this season, getting results regularly and only enduring one losing streak of two games. Their win over Montreal this last weekend put them atop the USL Conference at 12-5-6, and Wednesday’s result will show whether or not the Rhinos truly want to stay there. The Rhinos have won four games in a row, and are led in scoring by Isaac Kissi with five goals, while Anthony Hamilton and Ryan Heins have knocked in four apiece. A big game for both teams, as Bob Lilley’s Rhinos need a victory with second-place Austin only a point behind and having three games in hand.
The Carolina RailHawks hope to get back on course when they host Miami FC at WakeMed Stadium. Martin Rennie’s RailHawks are only 1-3-1 in their last five matches, although they are holding onto second place in the NASL Conference with a three point advantage over Montreal and two games in hand over the Impact. The team has only scored six goals in its last seven games. Newcomer Allan Russell, a veteran of Scottish football, has been unable to open his USSF D2 account in five games so far, although he has gotten an assist. Etienne Barbara, the Maltese striker, has been stuck on five goals for awhile, although Josh Gardner has knocked in five while Sallieu Bundu has contributed four goals in 2010. Goalkeeper Eric Reed and the RailHawks rough and tumble backline have performed well overall, only allowing 19 goals in 20 games.
Miami FC have been building up the team’s talent base as new coach Daryl Shore tries to get the last-place Blues into the playoffs. New acquisition Aaron Hohlbein, on loan from the Kansas City Wizards, has stepped in and helped to improve USSF D2’s worse defense. Chivas USA loanees Chukwudi Chijindu and Gerson Mayen have already made the starting lineup, and along with another newcomer, Brazilian Danilo Martins, add to Miami FC’s arsenal of attackers which include Paulo Araujo Jr, Christian Gomez, Brian Shriver and Abe Thompson. I see no reason why this team can’t get into the playoffs, considering the talent on the squad, but they really face an uphill fight. Changing a few of their eleven draws this season into victories would put them closer to the last playoff spot, but unfortunately the past cannot be changed for Blues’ fans. Wednesday’s match against the RailHawks is a must-win for Miami FC.
On Thursday night, another big match pits FC Tampa Bay against Vancouver. Both teams have been acquiring talent lately, with FC Tampa Bay adding veteran Maykel Gailindo on loan from Chivas USA, who already has netted for the Rowdies. FC Tampa Bay sit in last place in the USL Conference with 26 points, but that still puts them ahead of NASL Conference teams Montreal, Crystal Palace Baltimore, AC St. Louis and Miami FC in the playoff hunt. Aaron King and Aaron Wheeler are the leading goal scorers for Paul Dalglish’s side, while Daryl Sattler has been the regular in goal for the team. The Rowdies are 1-1-3 in their last five matches.
The Vancouver Whitecaps lead the NASL Conference with 38 points, the third best overall point total in USSF D2 behind Rochester and Austin. Teitur Thordarson’s MLS bound club has only been beaten three times this season, but have been drawn eleven times, tied with Miami FC for most in the league. Vancouver’s revolving door roster in 2010 has seen them say goodbye to Marlon James, Justin Moose, Ricardo Sanchez and Jonny Steele while new additions Swiss striker Ridge Mobolu and Costa Rican striker Jonathan McDonald look to get more playing time upfront. The Whitecaps have also added Swiss SuperLeague players Davide Chiumiento and Alain Rochat, along with midfielders Terry Dunfield and Kyle Porter, Alexandre Morfaw and Omar Salgado as the team prepares to join MLS next season. (I also saw that former Wake Forest University and Everton reserve player Cody Arnoux has signed with Vancouver). Captain Martin Nash, defenders Nelson Akwari, Greg Janicki, Zurab Tsiskaridze, Wes Knight and Luca Bellisomo, forward Cornelius Stewart and goalkeeper Jay Nolly have been mainstays for the team. Meanwhile, young Phillippe Davies and Blake Wagner have gotten more playing time and are out to prove that they are MLS ready.
The Whitecaps have adapted to all the changes fairly well, considering the challenge of introducing so many new players into the club this late into the season. “We have to welcome all the new guys into the team because if we don’t, things won’t go the right way for the rest of the season,” said Nash. “We’ve got to get them in, gel as a team, and get everyone pulling in the same direction.” Testimony to how well the team handles the latest roster changes will be seen Thursday evening in Tampa, in a game that the Rowdies need three points.