NASL Fall Week 16 Preview: Carolina the Unlikely Deciding Factor

IMAGE, ROB KINNAN/CAROLINA RAILHAWKS

by JAKE NUTTING

Only three weeks of action remain in the NASL regular season and every single club has something to fight for.

The bottom scrapers are mainly in it for pride, but they are still mathematically in the playoff hunt. Even the top three that already punched their playoff ticket are still jockeying for home field advantage. The New York Cosmos (30 pts Fall, 50 pts Combined) have a tenuous grip on the number one overall seed, but they’ll sit idle this weekend as Ottawa Fury FC (38, 49) and Minnesota United FC (35, 49) look to overtake them. With only three points separating them from Ottawa, the Loons, still harbor aspirations of capturing the Fall Season title in the final weeks.

Below the top trio is a wide open race for the final postseason spot. The Carolina RailHawks (15, 29) are six points back of the qualifying spot, but they could play a huge factor in who ultimately finishes the season in that spot. Over the next 10 days the RailHawks will square off with the three teams with the best shot at securing the final spot. They’ll host FC Edmonton (25, 34) this Wednesday and then travel to Florida to take on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (23, 34) and Tampa Bay Rowdies (16, 35). All three teams are desperate for a tiny bit of breathing room on the table and the RailHawks could play a part in which one of them gets it.

Carolina RailHawks vs. FC Edmonton, Wednesday 7:30 p.m. ET

Despite losing their last two matches, Edmonton is still in a strong position to make the postseason. With only three games left on their schedule, though, the Eddies will need to end their current slide in a hurry. They’ll be forced to try to do that without regular starters Lance Laing and Sainey Nyassi as they are not expected to be back from national duty until after Wednesday’s match.

Meanwhile, the RailHawks are feeling a bit of a high for the first time in a long while after their 3-0 dismantling of Jacksonville over the weekend. Nazmi Albadawi had his second brace performance of the year and the clubs recent signings Daniel Jackson, Alex Perez, and Steven Miller all contributed greatly in their debuts.

Atlanta Silverbacks vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET

It took some late-game brilliance from Freddy Adu and Brian Shriver, but the Rowdies managed to take a slim lead in the race for the final playoff spot over the weekend. They’ll need to pull that magic on the road in Atlanta this weekend to keep that lead. The Rowdies are still winless when away from home since the opening week of the season. Many teams have struggled to beat the Silverbacks in their home park this year, but Atlanta has lost two of their last three at home during the home stretch of the Fall Season.

Tampa Bay will be without regular contributors Darnell King (red card) and Juan Guerra (yellow card accumulation) for Saturday’s bout. They will however be getting reinforcements when midfielder Richard Menjivar and NASL Young Player of the Year candidate Darwin Espinal return from international duty.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. Carolina RailHawks, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET

The RailHawks will get their second shot at a playoff contender when they travel to take on the potent Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Fort Lauderdale has scored the second most goals (31) of the Fall Season, while Carolina is tied for second most conceded (32). The home side will definitely be banking on its attack, including Golden Boot pacesetter Stefano Pinho (15), leading the way for the final postseason push. Carolina, however, is hoping that their recent defensive additions can stem the tide and keep the postseason dream alive.

Indy Eleven vs. Minnesota United FC, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET

Minnesota took care of business at home last weekend and locked up their postseason spot, but they still have higher ambitions on their minds before the regular season closes out. The Loons hold an outside shot at capturing the Fall Season title with only three games remaining. They would need to overcome a three point gap between them and Ottawa to take home the crown and guarantee at least one home game in the postseason. Minnesota’s task is, at least on paper, made a little easier this week as they travel to Indy who are winless in their last five (2D-3L). Attacking midfielder Dylan Mares has done well since returning from injury, but the club could be without the helpful pace of Dane Richards after he was forced out of last week’s match with an ankle injury.

Jacksonville Armada FC vs. FC Edmonton, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET

The Eddies will remain on the road for their second match of the week. They’ll be on Jacksonville’s home turf, where the first-year club has only lost one match all year. Lance Laing and Sainey Nyassi will be back in the fold for this one, so the odds will likely be in their favor. The Armada will also be getting back valued attacker Pascal Millien from international duty after he missed last weeks’ lackluster loss. Mechack Jerome will also be returning from international duty, but the center back will be unavailable due to his red card in the match prior to leaving for Haiti’s friendlies.

Ottawa Fury FC vs. San Antonio Scorpions, Sunday 3 p.m. ET

Ottawa lost the chance to lock up the Fall Season title early last week when they conceded an equalizer in the dying moments against the Rowdies. The league leaders must now continue to go full throttle for the final stretch of games as Minnesota nips at their heels in the Fall Standings and New York holds a one point lead in the combined standings. San Antonio is one of the league’s cellar dwellers with improbable dreams of the postseason, but they’ve still got some attacking talent that should give any team in the league pause. Omar Cummings and Billy Forbes have stalled in recent weeks, but Marvin Chavez and recent signing Kris Tyrpak have kept the team afloat recently. The Scorpions, though, will need to break down a Fury defense that has only conceded 21 goals in 27 matches this year.