By TRAVIS CLARK
The NSC Minnesota Stars became the first club to finish their USSF D-2 schedule, going out in style with a 3-1 win over FC Tampa Bay on the road.
And while the result wasn't enough for the Stars to climb above the seventh spot in the overall playoff standings, the strong finish means that Minnesota will avoid the eighth seed, and a matchup with either Rochester or Austin. Instead, the Stars will get either Carolina or Vancouver, depending on which side wins the NASL Conference.
Minnesota scored three times in the first half, and were too much for the Rowdies to handle. Lucas Rodriguez, Simone Bracalello and Kentaro Takada each scored for the Stars, who are riding high at the right time of the season.
Here's a look at the rest of the action from last weekend's D-2 action:
AUSTIN RECLAIMS FIRST PLACE
An earlier loss by Rochester opened the door for Austin to jump back into the top spot in the USSF D-2 — and the Aztex duly obliged. The suddenly struggling offense was back in gear, scoring four times in a 4-2 win over A.C. St. Louis. Maxwell Griffin, Randi Patterson, Michael Callahan and Kieron Bernard shared the goals as Austin closed in on the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs.
MIAMI WINS AGAIN
While they won't take part in the 2010 USSF D-2 playoffs, Miami FC has left an impact on the playoff seedings. The Blues won their fourth straight game — finding success too late — a 1-0 win over Rochester that knocked the Rhinos off the top spot in the second division. Christian Gomez scored a late winner for Miami, defeating Rochester for the second time in three games.
MONTREAL EDGES VANCOUVER
The playoffs are beckoning for both Montreal and Vancouver, but the Whitecaps have reasons to be concerned after losing 1-0 to Montreal at home. It was a former Whitecap, striker Eduardo Sebrango, who punished his old club, securing a valuable three points and a six seed in the playoffs.
PORTLAND SENDS BALTIMORE TO SEVENTH STRAIGHT LOSS
A brace by rookie Bright Dike paced the Portland Timbers, running away 3-1 winners and sending Crystal Palace Baltimore to a seventh straight defeat on the season. Dike opened the scoring just three minutes in, before doubling the lead right before the half. Baltimore pulled a goal back with a Gary Brooks penalty, but George Josten added insurance with under five minutes to go.
CAROLINA BESTS PUERTO RICO
Vancouver's loss against Montreal, opened the door of opportunity for the Railhawks to steal the second seed and a conference title. Carolina obliged with a 2-1 win over visiting Puerto Rico, consigned the Islanders to the No. 8 spot and a daunting task in the postseason. Loanee Tom Heinemann scored again, his third in five games — his late addition providing a real boost.