By TRAVIS CLARK
The race for postseason play in the USSF Second Division is winding down, with the last spot likely coming down to one of three expansion teams.
Eight of the 12 teams will qualify for the playoffs in a particular fashion — the top team in each conference (USL/NASL) will be seeded first and second respectively, and from there, the next six highest point totals will qualify and be seeded three through eight, regardless of conference.
At this stage, four teams — Vancouver, Austin, Portland and Rochester — are locks for the playoffs, having passed the 40-point mark. Safe bets include Carolina, Montreal and Puerto Rico.
That leaves the expansion trio of NSC Minnesota, Tampa Bay Rowdies and A.C. St. Louis tussling for the eighth and final playoff spot, barring a collapse from one or two of the teams that lie above them in the standings.
None of the three have put together a consistent season to this point — each has picked up decent results in pockets of the season, but nothing sustained. A.C. St. Louis snapped a five-game winless streak with a 3-1 over Miami FC on September 5 to reignite flagging hopes, but has to take on Austin twice before the season ends.
Neither Minnesota or Tampa Bay have been much better, as the Rowdies have just won once in their last 16 games, while Minnesota has gone winless in their last eight. Whatever team manages to snag that last spot is likely headed for a first round exit.
Holding the advantage right now are the Rowdies, sitting on equal points with Minnesota and holding a game in hand. A meeting between those two on September 24 could be the deciding factor — it's Minnesota's final game of the year and could settle the outcome.
Outside of the race for the last spot, the two-horse race between Rochester and Austin favors the Texan club. The Aztex have two games in hand on the Rhinos, and a favorable schedule that includes two games against St. Louis, while holding a one-point lead.
The future of second division soccer certainly isn't known, but September is the last full month of action, and the second season begins now for those teams hoping for a playoff spot.
Which teams will make it to the D-2 playoffs? Can St. Louis make a rather unlikely run?
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