NASL Spring Week 4 Preview: Battle for first in Atlanta, Minnesota Hoping to Kickstart Scoring, More

IMAGE, ATLANTA SILVERBACKS

by JAKE NUTTING
NASL Beat Writer

Week four of the NASL Spring season is here and only three clubs remain unbeaten – New York, Indy, and Atlanta.

Of the three the Cosmos have undoubtedly looked the best, but the new-look Silverbacks have a chance to make their case at home this weekend — and possibly move to the top of the table with a full three points. After losing a 3-2 shootout in Edmonton last week, Fort Lauderdale gets its shot on the road against the other Canadian NASL team. And in the final game to kick off Saturday, Minnesota is hoping that San Antonio’s porous back line is just what they need to overcome their scoring woes.

Ottawa Fury FC vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Saturday 3 p.m.

Fort Lauderdale drew the schedule short straw and have to make long Canadian road trips back to back. Ottawa might be dealing with some fatigue issues of their own after playing FC Edmonton in the  Voyageurs Cup on Wednesday. The Fury were unable to carry over the momentum from their surprising 1-0 win over Minnesota and lost to the Eddies 3-1.

The Strikers hope to rebound after letting a 2-1 lead slip away late in the second half last weekend. Dani Sanchez and captain Leo Moura were the goal scorers last week, but early season top-performer Victor “PC” Giro can be a difference maker this weekend after signing a permanent multi-year deal with the Strikers.

Ottawa has shown more discipline on the defensive end, but if the Strikers can avoid tired legs from so many miles in the air the past two weeks, they might be able to overwhelm the home side with their superior pace in midfield.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Jacksonville Armada FC, Saturday 7:30 p.m.

The Rowdies are hoping that some Coastal Cup action is the perfect thing to wash away the taste of last week’s performance in New York. Tampa Bay has had tremendous success in the Coastal Cup since its inception in 2010. This time around, though, Jacksonville has been thrown into the mix with Tampa Bay and Fort Lauderdale. Before their week three bye, the Armada kicked off the 2015 Coastal Cup campaign in a 2-1 loss to the Strikers.

The match up could be fortuitous for a Rowdies attack that has not scored any goals since netting three against San Antonio in the opening week. The Armada love to be aggressive in the attack, which can leave space open in the midfield. The Rowdies midfield were thoroughly dominated by the Cosmos last week, so the extra space could be helpful to a team still seeking its scoring identity. With a large group traveling contingent down from Jacksonville for the match, hopefully the players can make the compelling for both sets of fans in the stands.

Atlanta Silverbacks vs. New York Cosmos, Saturday 7:30 p.m.

An unlikely battle for first place will take place in Atlanta this weekend. Most of the followers of the league expected the Cosmos to be a contender for the Spring title, but not many expected the Silverbacks to be in the thick of things.

High-profile signing Hans Denissen hasn’t contributed much to the Silverbacks yet. Instead, the club has had strong performances from attackers Matt Horth and Shaka Bangura. The totally new back line, anchored by center backs Simon Mensing and Raushawn Mckenzie, has also impressed compared to past seasons. They’ve only allowed one goal in each of their first three games, with one coming off a stoppage time penalty.

The Silverbacks, though, have yet to face a team with the firepower of the Cosmos. Raúl and Marcos Sennna are both coming off their best performances of the season so far. Wingers Walter Restrepo and Leo Fernandes are also off to strong starts this year. Silverbacks Head Coach Gary Smith and his squad have their work cut out for them this weekend if they wish to remain one of the unbeaten teams in the NASL.

Indy Eleven vs. Carolina Railhawks, Saturday 7:30 p.m.

Despite not putting forward convincing performances in any of their three opening matches, Indy finds itself tied for second place on the Spring table — and one of only three unbeaten teams in the league. A late penalty in the opener against Atlanta, a terrible error from Cosmos keeper Jimmy Mauer, and a sensational desperation winner from Sergio Peña last week at San Antonio may mean Indy are currently living beyond their means.

Spurred by signing Greg Janicki, the defensive effort has improved tremendously compared to last year. The club is still looking for a consistent creative player and goal scorer up top. Forward Charlie Rugg hasn’t provided the same impact as last Fall season and Kleberson’s absence in the midfield continues to be felt.

The good news for Indy is that the Railhawks are coming to town after a lackluster performance in their first loss of the year. Carolina’s attack could not recover after losing forward Nacho Novo to a groin injury early in the match. Head coach Colin Clarke doesn’t have much depth up top and has to rely heavily on his midfield with players like Ty Shipalane and Mark Anderson to stay in matches.

Minnesota United FC vs. San Antonio Scorpions, Saturday 8 p.m.

Last season’s winners of the Soccer Bowl and unofficial regular season crown are both still without a win in 2015.

With a lax preseason schedule and significant roster turnover, the Scorpions have struggled to gel in many areas of the pitch. A lone highlight in their only two matches this year is that longtime MLS veteran Omar Cummings appears healthy and still capable of scoring goals. The Jamaican forward has netted a goal for his new team in each match.

After dropping a league best 47 goals in 2014, the Loons have failed to score out of the gate. Strong defensive efforts from both Tampa Bay and Ottawa kept Minnesota off the board, but a team with so many attacking options should be creating many more chances than they have so far. NASL Golden Boot winner Christian Ramirez had an unproductive preseason and it has carried over into the regular season.

Minnesota needs to get more out of midfielder Johnny Steele and Miguel Ibarra to create more havoc in the opponent’s final third if the team is going to get back to its scoring ways.  Kalif Alhassan opened up the Ottawa game up for his team as a second half substitute, but Head Coach Manny Lagos isn’t one to make drastic lineup changes so early into a season.

  • NYCSPORTSPUNK

    Love this breakdown, keep it coming.