NASL Championship Preview: Scorpions host Strikers

Fort Lauderdale Strikers

The Soccer Bowl is set to change hands this Saturday night as the San Antonio Scorpions host the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at Toyota Park in the NASL Championship Final.

Both teams earned their way to the Final the hard way.  The Scorpions needed extra time — and a touch of luck — to defeat the reigning Soccer Bowl champion New York Cosmos.  Up north, the Strikers shocked everyone with an impossible overtime penalty kick victory against the Spring and Combined table champion Minnesota United.

“It is a surreal feeling to be here,” Scorpions defender Julius James said. “Not many people in their careers have the opportunity to be in such an amazing situation.”

“No one expected us to be in the Finals except the club’s players and staff and our loyal fans,” Strikers coach Gunter Kronsteiner adds.  “Our players deserve a lot of credit for this accomplishment.  We have tremendous respect for San Antonio, and we know it will be difficult to play against them on their home field.  We are having a great week of practice and are excited for the challenge.

“We’re looking forward to performing on the big stage and giving our best effort for the Championship game.”

The Strikers and Scorpions have met three times this season, but that offers little indication as to the outcome of this match.  The teams have split their series evenly at 1-1-1.

“Ft. Lauderdale is a very good team,” Scorpions forward Cesar Elizondo said.  “They play good soccer. But I think it will depend on what we let them do, and what the pace of the game is we set on the field.  Also, we’re playing at home. So since they are not going to be in their place, we have to make them feel it.”

Under Kronsteiner, the Strikers have found success, albeit with a smaller salary structure than their Championship foes.  While the Scorpions invested heavily in new and relatively expensive talent to fortify their side for 2014, the Strikers have taken a more modest approach.

Nevertheless, they do have talent to challenge an imposing Scorpions defense.  Darnell King in the midfield and Haitian striker Fafà Picault are the heart beat of the Strikers’ strategy, scoring a combined 14 goals for the club this season.  The Scorpions, led by the aforementioned James and wily veteran Greg Janicki, will look to stifle their counterattack at home and rely on the atmosphere to create a twelfth man scenario.  Captain Adrian Cann will be out for San Antonio after falling to injury against the Cosmos.

For the Strikers, Kronsteiner will not be allowed to manage the final after picking up a suspension in the previous match.  Another storyline to follow will be that of Walter Restrepo; the central figure in a now-infamous trade between these organizations that saw the Scorpions take on the playmaker in exchange for hotel accommodations.

The Scorpions are heavily favored for the win, and with good reason.  Home field advantage, a healthy payroll, experience players and consistent performances throughout 2014 give them the clear inside track on taking the Soccer Bowl.  For the Strikers, it will be all about the counterattack and feeding Picault in dangerous areas.

The match will air on ESPN3, NASLLive and One World Sports on Saturday night at 8:30 PM.