NASL Spring Week 4 Recap: Cosmos on top, backup keepers keep Rowdies, Strikers in hunt

IMAGE, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES

by JAKE NUTTING
NASL Beat Writer

After only four weeks of NASL action, there isn’t much space for anyone on the table.

New York wasted an opportunity to further its Spring season lead by playing Atlanta to a scoreless draw. The only teams to win on the weekend, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa Bay, did wonders for their Spring hopes. The Rowdies now sit alone in second place with seven points, only one point behind New York. The Strikers win puts them in third with six points, equal to Indy and Atlanta. With three matches in the books, Minnesota is off to a disappointing two point start.

Tampa Bay Rowdies 3-2 Jacksonville Armada FC

If the Rowdies and Armada keep playing thrilling matches as the one on Saturday, then this match up could quickly develop into one of the best rivalries in the NASL. A group of 50 or so Jacksonville supporters made the five hour trip down south to cheer on their club in the first competitive match between the two teams.

Their loyalty was rewarded early on. After Jacksonville conceded an early penalty to Maicon Santos in the 12th minute, the team earned their own penalty two minutes later. Captain Marcos Flores had his attempt blocked by keeper Kamil Contofalsky, but the deflection right back at Flores’ feet for the easy finish.

The rest of the half was similar to the Rowdies and Cosmos match the previous week. Jacksonville convincingly controlled the midfield and the Rowdies could not possess the ball. Jacksonville took the lead in the 32nd minute when a fluke deflection off a Rowdies defender gifted Jemal Johnson a wide open look on goal.

After the poor first half, Rowdies Head Coach Thomas Rongen shifted from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 to remedy to the situation. The adjustment paid off, in the 59th minute. Martin Nunez curled in a shot from just outside the box to equalize, and in the 77th minute, Santos grabbed his second of the night to cap off some beautiful build up play.

Jacksonville surged back and looked to have the home side on their heels as Contofalsky exited with an injury. MLS veteran keeper Matt Pickens wasn’t shaken at all coming in cold and made a handful of crucial saves in seven minutes of stoppage time.

Indy Eleven 1-1 Carolina Railhawks

After nabbing a victory on the road in the last minutes last week, Indy Eleven had their first home win stolen away in the final stretch this weekend. Indy grabbed the 1-0 lead the ninth minute when a low cross from Don Smart took a fortuitous deflection off sliding defender Daniel Scott for the own goal.

Indy managed to hold onto the lead over an injury plagued Carolina until the 84th minute. Second half substitute Ty Shiplane delivered an excellent ball to an unmarked Blake Wagner on the far post. Wagner finished the chance with a strike into the top corner, his second straight goal. Indy’s inability to create meaningful scoring chances for is still an issue for the club in its sophomore season.

Going forward, the Railhawks have major injury concerns. Forward Nacho Novo didn’t make the trip because a groin injury and his replacement, Simone Bracallelo, was forced to exit after only 40 minutes of play with a hamstring injury. Reinforcement center back Futty Danso was also taken off with an injury before the second half.

Minnesota United FC 2-2 San Antonio Scorpions

Two of last year’s top teams have come out of the gate struggling in 2015. Their meeting weekend was feisty and filled with physical challenges. San Antonio was likely hoping to impede the dangerous Loons attack by imposing themselves physically, and it paid off for much of the match.

In only the ninth minute, though, it was Scorpions midfielder Zourab Tsiskaridze who kicked off the scoring in stunning fashion with a 60 yard free kick. The sweeper keeper style of Minnesota’s Sammy Ndjock bit the Loons hard as Tsiskaridze managed to perfectly place the effort from over the halfway line and catch Ndjock cheating off his line.

The Loons had some difficulty building up play in the midfield due to some poor passing, but they managed to end the half equal with the visitors when Miguel Ibarra and Pablo Campos connected for the first Minnesota goal of the season in the 30th minute. Ibarra showed skill on the ball, beating his defender on the left flank and then delivered the ball to Campos to the far post for the easy header.

In the 60th minute Christian Ramirez, last year’s Golden Boot winner, kicked off new scoring campaign by calmly finishing a penalty after Johnny Steele was taken down in the box.

The Loons were close to their first victory of the season, but in the 89th minute San Antonio was awarded a controversial penalty when Ndjock rushed off his line to punch the ball away and made contact with Marvin Chavez. Midfielder Rafael Castillo stepped up and scored the equalizer to give his team their first point of the season.

Atlanta Silverbacks 0-0 New York Cosmos

After an uplifting performance at home against Tampa Bay, the Cosmos found a much stingier opponent on the road in Atlanta. Early on, Raúl and his teammates sent in a barrage of attacks, but none could beat keeper  Steward Ceus or the Silverbacks new back four. The draw is the first point that Atlanta have ever picked up on the Cosmos in the modern NASL.

Marcos Senna probably tested Ceus the most in the first half. In a bit of frustration, the veteran shot from 40 yards out and forced the keeper to push the ball over the bar.

In an attempt to find some quality finishing, Gio Savarese benched forward Mads Stokkelien in favor of Lucky Mkosana. The move didn’t pay off and Mkosana had miscues in several instances where his teammates put him into scoring positions.

Unfortunately, the most exciting event of the match happened after the whistle when a police escort was called in to get Raúl off the field when a group of overzealous young fans ran onto the field to meet the legendary striker.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers 3-1 Ottawa Fury FC

The Strikers showed little sign of fatigue on their second straight road trip up to the Great White North. Truthfully, they had more than just fatigue to overcome in the match. Last week’s hero, keeper David Meves didn’t make the trip due to shin ailment so fro Silverbacks keeper Joe Nasco got the starting nod. Nasco wasn’t in the match very long, though, as he had to leave for what was later revealed to be a fractured fibula. Third string keeper Lionel Brown came in and hardly missed a beat, making half a dozen saves as the Strikers cruised to victory.

After giving up three late goals to Edmonton on Wednesday in the Amway Canadian Championship, matters didn’t improve much for Ottawa’s defense. The pace and technical ability of Fort Lauderdale overwhelmed the Fury in midfield and on the back line.

In his second start of the season, forward Jose Angulo scored a brace, netting a goal off a PC corner kick in the 41st minute and one on one counterattack in the 90th minute to seal it.

The game winner came in the 64th minute when Marlon Freitas combined with Stefan Pinho on a give and go and finished with a gorgeous curling far post strike.

Ottawa struggled to muster momentum in the attack, but still managed to make things interesting in the 78th minute as former Striker Rafael Alves scored on a corner kick.