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USSF D2 Weekend: Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty Part 1

As the USSF D2 season winds down, there is a full slate of games this weekend.  On Friday, Miami FC plays Rochester at Marina Auto Stadium.  Saturday, Crystal Palace Baltimore hosts Carolina while fellow expansion teams NSC Minnesota host Vancouver and AC St. Louis are home against the Austin Aztex.  Portland battles Puerto Rico in Bayamon in a match between two veteran USL teams.  On Sunday, FC Tampa Bay play an afternoon match against the Montreal Impact at Saputo Stadium.

Miami FC are in an absolute must-win situation tonight.  They need to win all four of their last games to surpass NSC Minnesota, who hold the eighth and final USSF D2 playoff spot.  Highly unlikely, but the Blue showed that they have character by defeating the streaking Montreal Impact last week at Lockhart Stadium.  Their defense has to continue to improve.  Unfortunately for Miami FC, that task is tougher considering their opponent.

The Rochester Rhinos clinched their fifteenth consecutive playoff spot weeks ago, and are battling the Austin Aztex to hold onto the USL Conference title.  Rochester has perhaps the most balanced team in D2, with two fine goalkeepers, Neil Kitson and Scott Vallow, a solid defense and midfield, and scoring from Isaac Kissi, Anthony Hamilton and Ryan Heins.  Six other Rhinos have scored two or more goals this season.  Rochester has won seven of their last eight games, and have beaten Miami FC once this season — the two teams tied in their other match.

In Blaine, Minnesota, the NSC Minnesota Stars will be looking to solidify their hold on the final playoff position as they host the first-place Vancouver Whitecaps.  After suffering three consecutive shutout losses, the Stars have rebounded under Coach Manny Lagos with two shutout wins over AC St. Louis and the Carolina RailHawks.  Tonight is the final regular season home match for NSC Minnesota, and they play their final game next Friday against FC Tampa Bay in what may be a huge playoff showdown.

The Whitecaps have only lost four times this year in a season where their roster has changed over frequently as they build a team to compete in MLS in 2011.  Finishing has been their problem, athough they erupted for three goals in their last match against CP Baltimore.  Buoyed by goalkeeper Jay Nolly, the ‘Caps have played outstanding defense all season.  They have already clinched a playoff spot, and hold a six point lead over the second place Carolina RailHawks for the NASL Conference lead.  They will be a tough team for NSC Minnesota to get  three points against Saturday.

Another expansion team, AC St. Louis, faces one of the elite teams in USSF D2, the Austin Aztex, at AB Soccer Park Saturday evening.  AC St. Louis scored a big win over FC Miami two weeks ago, but seemed to lose their mojo as they were shut out by NSC Minnesota.  The Aztex have beaten AC St. Louis in both previous meetings.  AC St. Louis needs a result badly to keep pace with the Stars. and will be looking to veterans Mike Ambersley and Luke Kreamalmeyer to lead them to victory.

The Austin Aztex have been the best team in USSF D2 for most of this season.  They have slipped a little lately, but still are only one point behind D2 point leaders Rochester.  The team welcomed back defender Jay Needham in their Thursday night draw against FC Tampa Bay, while midfielder Tsuyoshi Yoshitake made his Austin debut after being loaned from CP Baltimore.  Coach Adrian Heath has a wealth of attacking options, and AC St. Louis will be hard-pressed to gain three points Saturday.

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