NASL Final Week Recap: Pair of Comebacks Finalize The Championship Field

IMAGE, FORT LAUDERDALE STRIKERS

by JAKE NUTTING

Two teams were hoping to pull off comebacks in the standings in the final weekend of regular season action. It took until the very last match of the weekend on Sunday to decide it, but both sides were successful in their efforts.

Fall Season Champions Ottawa Fury FC chose to rest a handful of starters for their finale against Atlanta and were forced to settle for a lackluster draw. Smelling blood in the water, the New York Cosmos devoured the visiting Tampa Bay Rowdies and overcame a goal differential deficit to surpass Ottawa for the top spot in the combined standings.

The Cosmos now hold home field advantage should they move on to the Soccer Bowl.

The dismal showing for the Rowdies in their final match left the Fort Lauderdale Strikers with a strong chance at moving into the final playoff spot on Sunday. A point was all the Strikers needed out of their match with Jacksonville, and their conservative approach demonstrated that, but they ended up with a full three points anyway thanks to a winner in the final five minutes.

The semifinal round of The Championship is now set:

New York Cosmos (1) hosts Fort  Lauderdale Strikers on Saturday, November 7 at 2 p.m. ET.

Ottawa Fury FC (2) hosts Minnesota United FC (3) on Sunday, November 8 at 3 p.m. ET


Atlanta Silverbacks 1-1 Ottawa Fury FC

Ottawa’s decision to rest a handful of starters, including star keeper Romuald Peiser and leading scorer Tom Heinemann, was put into question before Saturday’s early match even reached the fifth minute mark. A handball just outside the box in the fourth  gifted set piece striker Junior Burgos with the perfect window to lift a shot over the wall and into the back of the net. The Silverbacks kept the momentum in their favor for the rest of the opening half, but could find another quality finish to put the match away.

The Fury used the halftime break to regroup and came out with a higher energy level that opened up more space for them going forward. Genuine chances on net were still hard to come by, but the visitors still managed to convert one of their few opportunities when Aly Alberto Hassan followed up the rebound from his own initial shot to beat the keeper. Atlanta’s two terrific opportunities to grab a winner in the final moments were thwarted by keeper Marcel DeBellis and the post.

New York Cosmos 2-0 Tampa Bay Rowdies

Plenty was at stake for both sides in Saturday’s battle at Shuart Stadium, but it was the Cosmos who looked like the more eager side and dominated the Rowdies for the full 90 minutes on their way to clinching the top spot in the combined standings.

Ottawa’s draw earlier in the day meant that New York had to win by at least two goals to take the top seed and that is exactly what they did thanks to a terrific performance on both sides of the ball. The only aspect lacking for the Cosmos in the first half was their finishing after a handful of excellent chances were squandered by poor finishes or stellar saves from keeper Matt Pickens. The floodgates finally opened up in the second half, though, and the Cosmos achieved exactly what they needed in a three-minute stretch. Raul kicked things off in the 54th minute with a savvy one-time strike to the far post and Sebastian Guenzatti buried the clincher shortly after when a sequence left him in a one-on-one with Pickens.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers 1-0 Jacksonville Armada

Needing only a point from their Sunday afternoon bout, the Strikers went into Jacksonville with an decidedly conservative game plan. The normally attack-heavy visitors elected to stay compact and keep players behind the ball to avoid falling behind. The Armada enjoyed some positive play going forward with their possession, but the final product was lacking for them in the final match of their inaugural season. Fort Lauderdale’s defensive strategy kept them level throughout the match and their patience in the attack was finally rewarded with a delivery into the box by Stefano Pinho. Midfielder Marlon Freitas muscled his defender off to win the ball and blast a shot past the keeper to punch his club’s playoff ticket.

Minnesota United FC 2-2 San Antonio Scorpions

The Loons were left frustrated at the halftime break as their positive play amounted to plenty of decent looks on net, but no goals to show for it. San Antonio used the confidence of stymieing one of the most potent attacks to develop their own momentum in the attacking third. The visitors struck first when Billy Forbes slotted a teasing cross into the penalty area for Giuseppe Gentile. Sensing the impending one-on-one, keeper Sammy Ndjock rushed off his line, but couldn’t reach the ball before Gentile guided it around him and finished the easy tap in.

Minnesota jumped back onto level terms in the 70th minute when forward Pablo Campos was clipped inside the penalty area. Campos stepped to the spot and converted the penalty himself. The Scorpions, though, continued to cause havoc for the home side and regained the lead in the 85th minute through a penalty conversion of their own by Rafael Castillo. However, a win was not in the cards for the Scorpions as Minnesota was able to rescue a point with a stoppage time set piece volley from Kevin Venegas.

Carolina RailHawks 3-1 Indy Eleven

With the ink on his new multi-year contract still fresh, Carolina’s sensational Tiyi Shipalane put on a show for the home supporters and the club’s new owner, Steve Malik. Shipalane set up veteran striker Nacho Novo for his club-leading 11th goal of the year in the 9th minute with an impeccable delivery. It was Shipalane’s 9th assist of the year, which levels him with Tampa Bay’s Georgi Hristov for most in the league. The winger was not done, however, and doubled the lead himself in the 16th minute by collecting a long ball and brushing by a defender before slotting a shot past the keeper. The shell shocked Indy Eleven managed to pull one back in the 24th minute when a powerful shot bounced off the cross bar and fell to Marvin Ceballos for a rebound goal. Carolina comfortably coasted to victory, though, and Alex Perez ensured the victory in the 86th minute through a well-executed header.