NASL Spring Week 5 Preview: Cosmos Brooklyn Debut, Atlanta Faces Potent Strikers, Flyover Cup, More

IMAGE, FORT LAUDERDALE STRIKERS

by JAKE NUTTING
NASL Beat Writer

Week five of the NASL Spring season finds two teams debuting new venues.

The first place New York Cosmos are playing their first league match in the five boroughs at MCU Park in Brooklyn. While the Cosmos Brooklyn appearance at the baseball park is a one-off, Jacksonville will be making their first appearance in their primary home venue, Community First park — another baseball facility.

The marquee match up of the weekend is the Silverbacks traveling down to Fort Lauderdale. The South Florida side boast one of the most flashy offenses in the league and Atlanta has quietly assembled an unlikely stout defense. Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta are tied on six points in the Spring title race with Indy Eleven, who will sit out the week on a bye.

New York Cosmos vs. Ottawa Fury FC, Saturday 7 p.m.

The Cosmos are making their Brooklyn debut at Coney Island’s MCU Park and they’re hoping that the new surroundings come with some finishing. While the back line and April’s NASL Player of the Month, keeper Jimmy Maurer, have only allowed one goal in four matches, the Cosmos attack has only managed to score multiple goals in a game once this year. In last week’s scoreless draw with Atlanta, Gio Savarese benched Mads Stokkelien in favor of Lucky Mkosana with little to show for it.

The Ottawa defense could be the perfect opponent for the Cosmos to start scoring in earnest. Since their massive 1-0 win at home against Minnesota United on April 18th, the Fury have conceded nine goals in three losing efforts, twice to Edmonton in the Canadian Championship and once to Fort Lauderdale in NASL action.

Carolina Railhawks vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, Saturday 7:30 p.m.

Carolina has a chance to regroup at home after a lackluster draw at Indy, a match that saw both forward Simone Bracalello and centerback Futty Danso exit in the first half with injuries. Unfortunately for Carolina, they have the overloaded Tampa Bay Rowdies roster coming to town, fresh off an emboldening comeback victory over Jacksonville.

Thomas Rongen has a decision to make regarding how he will configure his lineup after a halftime switch from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 swung the Jacksonville game in his favor. Midfielder Martín Núñez was a catalyst for the comeback in his first start in the midfield, but it remains to be seen if Rongen has been convinced to give him the full time job.

Tampa Bay’s starting keeper Kamil Contofalsky is likely out 4-6 weeks with an injury sustained at the start of stoppage time of the Armada match, so Matt Pickens will get his first start of the season. Pickens gave a lights out performance in seven minutes of stoppage time to secure the victory. 2014 was a rough year for the experienced MLS veteran, with Tampa Bay equaling Atlanta for most goals conceded in the NASL. With a new back line in front of him and Carolina’s best forward option, Nacho Novo, questionable for the match, things are lined up well for the keeper.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. Atlanta Silverbacks, Saturday 7:30 p.m.

The Silverbacks back line has been one of the pleasant surprises of the 2015 season. Head Coach Gary Smith has assembled a defense that can rival any other in the league. Center back duo Raushawn Mckenzie and Simon Mensing have come together in relatively short time to form a strong partnership. Fresh off keeping the Cosmos scoreless, though, the Silverbacks must face one of the better NASL attacking sides.

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers have netted seven goals this season, most recently dropping three on an overwhelmed Ottawa squad. Forwards Dani Sanchez and Jose Angulo worked well together in that victory. The Strikers also boast a speedy and technically gifted midfield with Victor ‘PC’ Giro and Marlon Freitas.

The Strikers will look to stretch the normally compact Atlanta back line with a lot of overlapping runs. If the Silverbacks can maintain their shape, then they might be able to keep their unbeaten streak going.

Third string keeper Lionel Brown will likely get his first start of the season, with both Joe Nasco and David Meves sidelined with injuries. Brown made key saves off the bench against the Fury and is in his fourth season with the club, but has only made a handful of appearances in competitive matches. Atlanta will look to put him under pressure early and often.

Jacksonville Armada FC vs. San Antonio Scorpions, Saturday 7:30 p.m.

 After two straight losses to intrastate competition, the Armada are ready to try their luck against out-of-state competition. They get the chance at home in their first league match in their primary venue of the season, Community First Park.

Jacksonville has acquitted themselves well early on in matches with their quick and technical passing style, but have succumbed to second half defensive lapses. Their losses to Tampa Bay and Fort Lauderdale resulted from conceding late second half goals.

The Armada’s leading scorers, Jemal Johnson and Marcos Flores, should be licking their chops to face a Scorpions back line that has given up seven goals in only three matches. That shaky performance has left the Scorpions with only one point in the Spring race and Head Coach Alen Marcina searching for reinforcements. Nigerian striker, Bright Dike has been brought in on loan from the Portland Timbers to help in the attack. But more importantly, last year’s captain, defender Adrian Cann, is finally fit to return to duty after his injury in the playoffs. Marcina also made a trade to bring in 6’4″ center back Brad Rusin to solidify the back line.

FC Edmonton vs. Minnesota United FC, Sunday 3 p.m.

The Eddies are getting back into the fray of NASL regular season action after sitting out last week. They weren’t completely inactive during their break, though. They defeated Ottawa 6-2 on aggregate in the two-legged preliminary round of the Canadian Championship. That success in the Canadian competition means they play host to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday May 6th. It will be interesting to see how Head Coach Colin Miller approaches this edition of the ‘Flyover Cup’ with Minnesota with so little time between matches.

Wingers Lance Lang and Sainey Nyassi have been the engines in the resurgent attack. Edmonton prefers to play the play forward through their flanks to allow Lang and Nyassi to provide their quality service into the box for oncoming attackers.

Minnesota’s attack experienced a small resurgence of its own last week against San Antonio. Despite the disappointment of a draw off a stoppage time penalty, the Loons had three key attackers contribute in keys ways while on the field at the same time. Miguel Ibarra provided a perfect assist on former NASL Golden Boot winner Pablo Campos’ goal and last year’s Golden Boot winner Christian Ramirez got his first tally of the 2015 campaign. These are all encouraging signs for Minnesota fans, but their team will have a tough test against the normally well organized and physical Eddies defense.