By TRAVIS CLARK
The first and most likely only year of the USSF Division 2 League is coming to a close.
Not much is at stake in the final week of the season — there is a fight at the top for some of the higher seeds, and of course, a race for first in the SBI Power Rankings.
Austin checks back into first place, taking advantage of two straight Rochester losses, and the Aztex now hold the No. 1 seed in the playoff standings as well. Vancouver and Carolina are in a tussle for the NASL Conference, with the Railhawks needing a win to secure the conference and No. 2 seed.
Here's a look at this week's power rankings:
1. Austin Aztex (15-5-8)
Last Match– Won 4-2 vs. A.C. St. Louis on September 25.
Next Match– at Carolina on October 1.
Outlook: Getting back on track against St. Louis is important, and Austin closes with a chance to secure the top spot and a first round playoff series against Puerto Rico.
2. Rochester Rhinos (15-8-6)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 at Miami FC on September 25.
Next Match– at St. Louis on October 2.
Outlook: Two losses against Miami could have cost the Rhinos, and they'll hope to finish strong against St. Louis.
3. Portland Timbers (13-7-9)
Last Match– Won 3-1 at Crystal Palace Baltimore on September 25.
Next Match– at Vancouver on October 2.
Outlook: The Timbers are locked in at the fourth spot in the playoffs, and only await on who their opponent will be. Certainly Portland can be regarded as a potential champion, and will look to Ryan Pore and Bright Dike in the playoffs.
4. Carolina Railhawks (12-9-8)
Last Match– Won 2-1 vs. Puerto Rico Islanders on September 25.
Next Match– vs. Austin on October 1.
Outlook: A 3-1-1 record in September, aided with more points dropped in Vancouver, handed Carolina a chance to win the NASL Conference. The Railhawks look dangerous at exactly the right time, and the addition of Tom Heinemann looks to be a good one.
5. Vancouver Whitecaps (10-5-14)
Last Match– Lost 1-0 vs. Montreal Impact on September 24.
Next Match– vs. Portland on October 2.
Outlook: The same questions persist in Vancouver. Defense is excellent, offense is a bit too spotty to anoint the Whitecaps legitimate contenders.
6. Montreal Impact (11-11-7)
Last Match– Won 1-0 at Vancouver Whitecaps on September 24.
Next Match– vs. Austin on October 3.
Outlook: A win over their rivals secured the sixth spot in the playoff standings
7. NSC Minnesota Stars (11-12-7)
Last Match– Won 3-1 at Tampa Bay Rowdies on September 24.
Next Match– Playoffs, TBA
Outlook: Minnesota gets a weekend off and is hot at the right time. Won't be easy for whichever team wins the NASL Conference.
8. Puerto Rico Islanders (9-11-9)
Last Match– Lost 2-1 at Carolina Railhawks on September 25.
Next Match– at Miami on October 2.
Outlook: The Islanders' CONCACAF Champions League duty has certainly stretched them, and it'll be a tough opening round in the playoffs against either Austin or Rochester.
9. Miami FC (7-11-11)
Last Match– Won 1-0 vs. Rochester Rhinos on September 25.
Next Match– vs. Puerto Rico on October 2.
Outlook: The Blues have saved face under new head coach Daryl Shore with four straight wins, going 4-1 in September. While it was too late for a playoff berth, it's something to feel good about and a reason to look forward to 2011.
10. A.C. St. Louis (7-14-8)
Last Match– Lost 4-2 at Austin Aztex on September 25.
Next Match– vs. Rochester on October 2.
Outlook: Won't finish bottom of the league and can start looking forward to 2011 — or at least sorting things out for next year.
Last Match– Lost 3-1 vs. NSC Minnesota Stars on September 24.
Next Match– vs. Crystal Palace Baltimore on October 2.
Outlook: Another loss raises the winless streak to 11 straight. Finishing on a high against Baltimore is possible, but not a given with the way this season has come off the rails.
12. Crystal Palace Baltimore (6-17-6)
Last Match– Lost 3-1 vs. Portland Timbers on September 25.
Next Match– at Tampa Bay on October 2.
Outlook: Perhaps the only team to finish worse off than Tampa, Baltimore has lost seven straight. Their last win came back on August 14 against Carolina. The road might give them some better luck.