By TRAVIS CLARK
Portland fans have to wait one more year to join Major League Soccer, but they showed over the weekend that they are ready to be one of the strongest fan groups in MLS.
A sellout crowd of 15,418 packed into PGE Park to witness Portland's final second-division home opener, a 1-0 win over the Rochester Rhinos. In a match marred by an unsightly turf field — with dirt from the baseball diamond visible in one corner — Portland struggled to get going in the game's first half against a tough, organized Rhinos defense.
The hosts got the breakthrough in the 85th minute, when the Rhinos handled the ball in the box. Ryan Pore stepped up and smashed the penalty home to send the raucous crowd into a euphoric celebration. In spite of the early struggles, Portland improved as the game went on and looked much better by the game's final whistle
Here's a look at the rest of this weekend's action from the USSF Division 2:
A.C. ST. LOUIS DROPS HOME OPENER
The story in St. Louis off the pitch was a positive one — a sellout crowd of 5,695 fans showed up for A.C. St. Louis' debut match — but on it, the story was the same as last week, with the expansion club losing 2-1 against an fast improving Austin Aztex side. Eddie Johnson opened his scoring account for Austin, before St. Louis equalized through Anthony O'Garro. Austin went ahead for good in the game's 56th minute, when Leonard Griffin's shot caught Alec Dufty off guard, and the goalkeeper couldn't keep it out of the net.
MINNESOTA UPSETS CAROLINA FOR FIRST WIN
NSC Minnesota took advantage of a moment of poor defending and a profligate Carolina side to grab a surprising 1-0 road win. Man of the match was Minnesota 'keeper Joe Warren, who kept the Railhawks at bay with a few sharp saves. Carolina couldn't best the 35-year-old backup, starting in place of the injured Louis Crayton. The game's lone goal came off a goalmouth scramble when Carolina failed to clear a Minnesota corner. After pinballing around in the box, the ball fell kindly to Minnesota defender Daniel Wasson, who buried a shot past Eric Reed.
Warren again proved equal to a late Matt Bobo header, the 'keeper at a full stretch to palm away the defender's effort, as Minnesota held on the for the win.
TAMPA BAY WINS BATTLE OF THE NEWCOMERS
Second division soccer welcomed two new teams over the weekend — FC Tampa Bay Rowdies and Crystal Palace Baltimore — with the Florida side emerging 1-0 winners at UMBC Stadium. Tampa Bay's Aaron King scored the game's only goal as the Rowdies notched a first win in the club's first game of the season. Baltimore's Matthew Mbuta missed a few scoring chances, striking the post in the first half of the game, as Baltimore had no answer for King's tally.
VANCOUVER MISSES PENALTY, SETTLES FOR DRAW IN MIAMI
Vancouver's struggles on the road in 2009 continued into the new year — but the 'Caps only had themselves to blame, drawing 0-0 against Miami. Blues goalie Caleb Patterson-Sewell saved a 56th minute penalty off the boot of Whitecaps forward Marlon James to preserve the shutout. Fortunately for the visitors, Miami couldn't breakthrough offensively, unable to beat Whitecaps goalie Jay Nolly. Christian Gomez was kept in check, and Edward Santeliz and Abe Thompson each missing scoring chances of their own.
What did you think of this week's action? Impressed with Portland's turnout? Which players stood out for you?
Share your thoughts below.