By TRAVIS CLARK
Two of the top teams in USSF Division 2 squared off Sunday evening, as the Austin Aztex concluded a swing to the Northwest to take on Vancouver. An entertaining 2-2 draw showed how little their was between two the league's finest.
The host Whitecaps have to feel the worse off after this one, failing to hold on to two separate leads — going ahead through Cornelius Stewart's 14th minute strike, then again thanks to new signing Ridge Mobulu in the 52nd minute. But lax defending on a set piece gave Eddie Johnson a chance to tie the game in the 80th minute, and Austin a second road point in the span of four days.
Austin's tie narrows the margin with Rochester for top spot in the league, now just two points off the Rhinos' pace with three games in hand. Vancouver still has control of the NASL Conference, with a six-point cushion over the Railhawks.
Here's a look at the rest of this weekend's USSF D-2 action:
DIKE STARS AS PORTLAND DOMINATE BALTIMORE
Rookie forward Bright Dike continues to emerge as a foil to Ryan Pore in the Portland attack, scoring twice en route to a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace Baltimore at PGE Park. It was Pore who opened the scoring, netting his 14th goal of the season in the first half, before Dike iced the game with goals on each side of halftime. The win is another positive step forward for Portland, giving themselves a bit of room over Carolina in fourth place. Baltimore, meanwhile, seems to have hit a wall offensively, getting shutout for the fifth time in six games.
MONTREAL SNAPS ROCHESTER WIN STREAK
Every winning streak sees an end at some point, and Rochester's trip to Montreal this weekend signaled the end of the Rhinos' six-game run. The Impact's 2-0 win was lead by Toronto FC castoff Ali Gerba, who netted a brace against one of the league's best sides — this just one game after scoring a hat trick. Gerba's ascension for Montreal seems to be atypical of the career behind him, one that has seen him play for 11 teams, including two previous stints with the Impact. Could he help them make the playoffs? Early indications are positive.
ST. LOUIS TIES IN TAMPA
The Rowdies got a point, but they had to have hoped for more heading into their 2-2 draw against A.C. St. Louis. A poor first half saw Tampa ship in two goals — the first an own goal by Rob Valentino, and just under 15 minutes later Mike Ambersley doubled St. Louis' lead. Jonny Steele pulled one back for the Rowdies before the half, and it was a Yendry Diaz stoppage time goal that snatched a point for Tampa Bay. The result keeps them level on points for the eighth and final playoff spot with idle NSC Minnesota.
RAILHAWKS COME UP SHORT AT HOME AGAIN
Carolina's coach needs to tell his team to treat every game like a road game. After winning their seventh road game of the season last week, the Railhawks failed to deliver the goods in front of a home crowd once again, losing 3-2 to the Puerto Rico Islanders. Nicholas Addlery's goal for the Islanders proved to be the difference, as Daniel Paladini netted a brace in a losing effort. It was a missed chance for Carolina to close the gap on Vancouver in the race for top spot in the NASL Conference, while the win injects more hope into Puerto Rico's playoff aspirations.