By TRAVIS CLARK
There's a possibility the NSC Minnesota Stars might not get to play next season. This past weekend, they set out to make sure this year lasts as long as it possibly can.
A vital 3-0 road win against AC St. Louis drew the Stars one step closer to a playoff berth, and combined with a Tampa Bay loss at Rochester, handed Minnesota the advantage in the race for the final spot in the D-2 postseason.
Simone Bracalello had a brace for the Stars, who scored all three goals before halftime. Former MLS midfielder Ely Allen added a third. Minnesota opened up a three point gap on the Rowdies for the final playoff spot, with Tampa Bay holding a game in hand.
Here's a look at the rest of this weekend's USSF D-2 action:
ROCHESTER SEIZES TOP SPOT
Week-in and week-out the Rochester Rhinos continue to get the job done in the second division. They did it again this weekend, beating Tampa Bay 3-0 and leaping over the Austin Aztex for first place overall in USSF D-2. The Rhinos suffocating defense stifled the Rowdies' attack, and goals from Jonathan Greenfield, Isaac Kissi and Tyler Rosenlund were more than enough for Rochester. The only negative on the evening for the Rhinos was the loss of starting goalie Neal Kitson in the second half due to injury.
AUSTIN FALLS IN PUERTO RICO AGAIN
Half of Austin's four losses in 2010 have come in Puerto Rico after losing 3-1 Saturday evening. The Aztex took a rare lead in Bayamon on an 18th-minute Jamie Watson penalty kick, and took the lead to halftime. But the hosts came roaring back in the second half, taking advantage of slack defending by Austin to score three unanswered, and open the door for the Rhinos.
PORTLAND TIES IN CAROLINA
Steve Cronin was the star man for the Timbers, securing a shutout on the road as Portland drew 0-0 with the Carolina Railhawks. Cronin's five saves on Carolina's 16 shots kept honors even, leaving the Railhawks still on the cusp of clinching a playoff spot.
MIAMI DROPS MONTREAL
Two former MLS players finally came through for Miami FC. Christian Gomez and Abe Thompson both scored as the Blues scored a rare 2-1 victory over the visiting Montreal Impact. Playoffs may be just out of reach for Miami, sitting eight points behind eighth-place Minnesota, but the surprise win gives Miami FC something to build on to finish out the final four games of the year. Montreal, meanwhile, still needs to maintain their standing in order to secure a playoff spot of their own.
VANCOUVER PILES ON BALTIMORE'S WOES
The Whitecaps became the fourth D-2 squad to secure a playoff spot with a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace Baltimore, leaving the hosts in a state of despair. Saturday's loss was their fifth in a row, during which Baltimore has been outscored by a rather astonishing 16-0. Greg Janicki, Randy Edwini-Bonsu, and Terry Dunfield all scored for the Whitecaps.