The USSF D2 regular season draws to a close this weekend. Tonight, AC St. Louis hosts the Rochester Rhinos, who are looking for a win to claim the USL Conference top spot. Similarly, the Vancouver Whitecaps will host Portland Saturday night, with the hopes of regaining the NASL Conference title that Carolina grabbed Friday with their win over the Austin Aztex. The Puerto Rico Islanders, coming off their huge win over Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions League Wednesday, travel to Miami to face the suddenly hot Miami FC Blues. And on Sunday, the regular season closes out as the Montreal Impact host the Austin Aztex in an afternoon contest. Three of the four final matches have playoff implications for the seedings of the eight teams.
Rochester Rhinos at AC St. Louis
The Rochester Rhinos come to AB Soccer Park for their 7:10 pm CT match with a 15-8-6 record, second best in USSF D2 only to their USL Conference rivals, Austin, who are two points ahead. Despite their outstanding season, the Rhinos need a win tonight and an Austin loss in Montreal tomorrow to gain the USL Conference title and the number one playoff seed. With a loss or a draw against AC St. Louis, the Rhinos will be seeded third.
Rochester only played three league games in September, and lost twice against the resurgent Miami FC club after beating FC Tampa Bay. The Rhinos had pulled off a six-game winning streak earlier to challenge the Aztex for the lead, but both of the USL Conference title contenders have been slumping as of late. Rochester Coach Bob Lilley will count on Isaac Kissi and Anthony Hamilton to lead the attack, and rely on his strong backline anchored by Troy Roberts to get three points tonight. The Rhinos won their only meeting with the St. Louisans at Auto Marina Stadium back on May 8, 2-1, under perhaps the windiest playing conditions I have ever seen.
AC St. Louis plays for pride as they wrap up their inaugural season. Coach Dale Schilly will be looking to get the club an eighth win — currently they are tied with Miami FC and FC Tampa Bay with seven. The young AC St. Louis squad is pretty banged up going into the finale, as midfielder Gauchinho has an injured ankle and has been unable to practice, captain Jack Traynor has a strained quadriceps, defender Zach Bauer re-injured his left foot and leading scorer Mike Ambersley has a sore shoulder. The team has struggled but showed enough to encourage fans, and a win over a top USSF D2 club would be a positive ending to the season for the expansion club.
Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps
It’s appropriate that the two Pacific Northwest rivals finish their final season in D2 facing each other. The Swangard Stadium battle will feature the ‘Caps, looking to regain the NASL Conference title, against a Portland team that is flying into the playoffs. A Timbers win tonight would cap a season in which they overcame some indifferent play to demonstrate a strong defense and a renewed attack as the season closes. This will be the 65th meeting between the two clubs, going back to the original NASL in 1975.
Coach Teitur Thordarson’s Vancouver club has had a successful final D2 season based on the league’s top defense, allowing only 20 goals going into the season’s finale. The attack has been much more inconsistent, and roster turnover has certainly affected the attack. The team is buoyed by the news that defenders Nelson Akwari and Mouloud Akloul are healthy for tonight’s game. Akloul has missed almost the entire season. Young Ghanian Gershon Koffie is unavailable due to suspension as the ‘Caps play their final game at Swangard Stadium. their 24th, before joining MLS in 2011.
Portland have been quite successful against the Whitecaps in 2010, winning twice and gaining a draw in their three previous 2010 meetings, including their first win at Swangard since 2004. Keyed by midfielder Ryan Pore’s league-leading 15 goals and the 9 goals contributed by rookie forward Bright Dike, the Timbers have found a great balance of attacking ability and sound defense. Veteran goalkeeper Steve Cronin has had a very solid season, and Gavin Wilkinson’s club look ready for an exciting playoff run.
Puerto Rico Islanders at Miami FC
The Puerto Rico Islanders come into tonight’s match with a 9-11-9 record and have the eighth-place playoff berth. The Islanders have missed injured Jamaican international forward Nicholas Addlery and his six goals in recent weeks, but responded with a dramatic 3-2 comeback win over Toluca in CCL action at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium Wednesday, with defender David Horst scoring twice. After the Islander’s big win over Austin on August 11th, Colin Clarke’s club has dropped their last two league matches against Portland and Carolina to dip under the .500 mark in USSF D2 play. But the Islanders are a strong tournament club, and anyone overlooking them come playoff time next week may deeply regret it.
Miami FC will look to finish the season by extending their four-game winning streak. Led by veteran forward Abe Thompson, the Blues have turned their season around. (Thompson was named the September USSF D2 Player of the Month). Goalkeeper Matt Glaeser has been starting during the win streak, and Thompson and fellow MLS veteran Christian Gomez have combined well with the young talent on the Miami FC roster. Coach Daryl Shore has turned the team around, and although the turnaround occured too late to gain a playoff berth, another win would build even more fan enthusiasm for the coming season.
Austin Aztex at Montreal Impact
Even with a Rochester win Saturday in St. Louis, Austin can capture the USL Conference title with a win in Montreal. The schedule hasn’t been kind to the Aztex, as they just played in Carolina Friday night, but then again the schedule has been difficult for all the teams in the league. The high-flying Aztex have been grounded lately, gaining only four points in their last four matches. Team leading scorer Eddie Johnson missed Friday’s tilt in Carolina, and though the Aztex played very well at times, they couldn’t get consistent pressure on the Carolina goal.
Montreal are peaking at just the right time. Having won five of their last six matches, the Impact have raised their season mark to 11-11-7, and would go over the .500 mark with a victory Sunday at Saputo Stadium. Matt Jordan has been steady in goal since his return from injury, and Ali Gerba has been sizzling, scoring 9 times in the 12 games he’s played since joining the club in mid-season. Marc Dos Santos’ club is another which will be very dangerous in the playoffs, as they seek to repeat their 2009 USL-1 playoff championship.
Filed under: AC St. Louis, Austin Aztex, Miami FC, Portland Timbers, Puerto Rico Islanders, Rochester Rhinos, USSF Division 2 News, Vancouver Whitecaps | Tagged: Abe Thompson, Ali Gerba, Eddie Johnson, Ryan Pore |