NASL Fall Week 16 Recap: Ottawa, Fort Lauderdale Take Hold of Respective Playoff Races

IMAGE, FORT LAUDERDALE STRIKERS

by JAKE NUTTING

After 16 weeks of NASL action in the Fall Season, home field advantage and the fourth and final playoff spot have yet to be clinched.

Ottawa Fury FC (41 pts Fall, 52 pts Combined) and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (26, 37) did all they could, though, to close out each race and build overwhelming leads.

The New York Cosmos (30, 50) were idle and Minnesota United FC (35, 49) laid an egg on the road against Indy Eleven, who despite the win, were the first team eliminated from the playoff race. Ottawa’s 1-0 victory over the San Antonio Scorpions at home puts them back on top of New York in the combined standings. Both teams have two matches left on the schedule, so only a Fury collapse will allow the Cosmos to steal the top playoff seed.

Fort Lauderdale’s 4-0 tear down of the Carolina RailHawks gives them back sole possession of the fourth playoff spot. That’s only one point better than the Tampa Bay Rowdies (17, 36), who listlessly played to a 0-0 result in Atlanta, but the Strikers still have three games left to play compared to two for the Rowdies.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers 4-0 Carolina RailHawks

A four-game stretch that saw Fort Lauderdale drop three games had cast some doubt on whether or not the club was capable of taking hold of the race for the final postseason spot. Those doubts were cast aside on Saturday night when the Strikers cruised to victory over the winged RailHawks.

Carolina narrowly escaped with a 2-1 victory on Wednesday over Edmonton, but lost talented attacker Nazmi Albadawi in the process. The RailHawks attack undeniably looked punchless throughout Saturday’s encounter as a result.

Defenders Frankie Sanfilippo and Jonathan Borrajo grabbed their first goals of the year in the 21st and 30th minutes to give the hometown Strikers the lead. Marlon Freitas and Stefano Pinho added another pair of tallies early in the second half to seal the deal that saw the club move back into pole position for a postseason berth. Pinho’s goal was his 16th of the year, which creates a seemingly insurmountable lead for him over Christian Ramirez (11) in the Golden Boot race.

Atlanta Silverbacks 0-0 Tampa Bay Rowdies

The Silverbacks and Rowdies take home the dubious honor of the dullest match of the week. It’s always nice to give defenses credit when they put in rock solid performances, and the two defensive units in this match do deserve some credit for limiting the opposition. However, any eye test of this match shows that neither attacking unit was even remotely close to anything resembling quality in the final third. Atlanta produced the only serious shot on frame in the 9th minute from 23 yards out that keeper Matt Pickens punched away, but that was it. Pickens wasn’t called on to make another save and his fellow netminder Steward Ceus only had to deal with one save of his own. Both teams needed three points to keep realistic playoff hopes alive, but couldn’t get a whiff on goal to save their lives.

Indy Eleven 3-1 Minnesota United FC

Only one week after clinching their spot in the postseason, Minnesota was swiftly brought back down to earth by the one of the league’s bottom-half clubs. The Loons were without midfielder Juliano Vicentini due a nagging injury, and defenders Justin Davis and Tiago Calvano were also absent as a result of yellow card accumulation. The absences were felt greatly in Indy as the home side put on a counter attacking clinic to score their first two goals. Young Player of the Year candidate Dylan Mares netted his fifth of the year a few minutes before halftime when he was left unmarked in the center of the box on a break and Brian Brown doubled the lead only 10 minutes into the second half by finishing off an excellent cross from Don Smart. Brad Ring put the match well out of reach with a booming Goal of the Week contender from well outside the box in the 83rd minute. The Loons pulled one back two minutes later through a header by Brent Kallman, but it was too little too late for the visitors.

Jacksonville Armada FC 3-2 FC Edmonton

The Armada looked poised for an easy home win on Saturday against an Edmonton side that was playing its third road match of the week and was without star midfielder Lance Laing yet again. A give-and-go combination between Alhassane Keita and Jemal Johnson in the 31st minute left Keita with space in the box to give the hometown side a lead.

Disaster struck, though, when Keita was shown a second yellow card for a late challenge after only six minutes of play in the second half. The Eddies rode their newfound advantage to notch two quick goals in the 62nd and 65th minutes. Daryl Fordyce first equalized when a shot ricocheted off the post and into his path and then Sainey Nyassi gave his side a lead when a through slipped him behind the back line for a free run on net.

Jacksonville was down but not out thanks to the exploits of Akeil Barrett. The Jamaican used his dangerous pace to draw a penalty that Pascal Millien converted in the 67th minute. Barrett then buried the game winning goal himself three minutes later when a blocked shot bounced to him with yards of space to put a far post finish into the net.

Ottawa Fury FC 1-0 San Antonio Scorpions

The first half of Sunday afternoon’s action was a tightly contested bout. Both sides produced a few promising chances, but Ottawa’s Romuald Peiser and San Antonio’s Daniel Fernandes rose to the occasion every time to deny their opponent from reaching the back of the net. As they have done so many times during the Fall Season, the Fury were the first to break through and find a winner, this time through Mauro Eustaquio in the 68th minute. Julian de Guzman set Eustaquio up with a clever flick and the midfielder rocketed a shot from outside the box that took one bounce before whizzing by Fernandes to the far post. San Antonio could only produce one more shot on frame and were further hindered by a late red card to Eric Hassli.