NASL Spring Week 3 Recap: Cosmos Break Away from the Pack, Minnesota Stumbles, & Eddies Rebound

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by JAKE NUTTING
NASL Beat Writer

This weekend of NASL action was the polar opposite of last week’s league-wide draws in week 2.

This time around, every match produced a winner — one even producing a stunning game winner from 45 yards out. The heritage matchup between the Rowdies and Cosmos saw New York come out on top and thus solidify itself as the team to beat in the Spring season. Minnesota travelled to Ottawa in hopes of finding goals but failed. Perhaps the biggest surpise of the weekend was that by the time it was over, Atlanta and Indy were tied for second place on the table.

Ottawa Fury FC 1-0 Minnesota United FC

Minnesota’s juggernaut offense from last year hasn’t showed up yet in 2015. The team has played two matches so far this season and has failed to score in both, with few clear chances created. In Ottawa on Saturday, the Loons failed to muster one shot on goal in the entire first half. They also lost high-profile signing Ibson 30 minutes into the match and replaced him with the much less creative Aaron Pitchkolan.

Putting aside Minnesota’s current woes, Ottawa deserves full credit for playing a strong match for the full 90. With some players returning from injury and Julian de Guzman returning from red card suspension, it was apparent from the opening whistle that the Fury came to play. Unlike Tampa Bay in the previous week, Ottawa was more aggressive and challenged the Loons in their own end. Ottawa finally broke through in the 68h minute when Tom Heinemann broke down the left flank and netted the game winner.

Kalif Alhassan provided a spark to the Loons attack after he entered the match in the 67th minute but neither he or any of his teammates could find the finishing touch as Ottawa keeper Romuald Desire Peiser made the necessary saves.

New York Cosmos 2-0 Tampa Bay Rowdies

The match with all the hype heading into the weekend produced a thoroughly convincing performance from the Cosmos.

The stars Raúl and Marcos Senna showed up in a big way for New York, controlling the midfield throughout the match. Dealing with some injuries in his midfield, Thomas Rongen gave Juan Guerra and rookie Verneri Välimaa their first starts of the season. The pair struggled and looked outmatched by the overloaded and energized Cosmos midfield core.

The chances were fairly even for both teams but New York made the most of their opportunities. After only 11 minutes, the Cosmos were awarded a penalty after Rowdies full back Darnell King was called for a hand ball on a clearance attempt. Senna calmly finshed from the spot and the Cosmos mostly cruised from there.

Their second goal came only minutes into the second half when a defensive breakdown from the Rowdies back line on a Walter Restrepo run to the byline left Leo Fernandes completely unmarked in the box. Restrepo picked Fernandes out and the winger put the chance away to secure the match.

Indy Eleven 2-1 San Antonio Scorpions

All signs pointed to Indy Eleven securing its third straight 1-1 draw of the young season on Saturday; an impressive feat when compared to Indy’s disastrous Spring in 2014 where the team failed to win a single match. Fortunately, though, Indy fans didn’t have to settle for a draw as a desperate attempt from 45 yards out by midfielder Sergio Peña seconds before stoppage found the back of the net and secured all three points.

The first half was a scoreless affair, with the Scorpion’s looking like the more dangerous aggressor. The improved Indy defense kept its shape and former Scorpions center back Greg Janicki even provided a goal line clearance in the 40th minute.

San Antonio managed to break through in the 52nd minute when Cesar Elizando intercepted a pass in the midfield and slotted a ball onto the streaking Omar Cummings for the easy finish. Cummings now has two goals in as many appearances for the club.

In the 64th minute, Indy made the most of a corner kick as defender Erick Norales headed othe ball in to tie things up. Norales’ goal lifted the spirts of Indy and the visitors took charge of the remaining minutes.

It looked as if San Antonio had done enough to get its first of the season, but Sergio Peña hopeful strike from near the halfway line caught keeper Jon Kempin totally by surprise.

FC Edmonton 3-2 Fort Lauderdale

Games played in Edmonton don’t generally wind up as shoot outs, but that is exactly what happened when the Strikers made the long trek up North this weekend. After two dismal performances to start the season, the Eddies really redeemed themselves and got strong performances from wingers Lance Laing and Sainey Nyassi.

Both teams had success implementing their styles in the match. With a plethora of Brazilians in the starting XI the Strikers love to play a quick, possession style game, while the Eddies prefer to utilize their speed on the wings.

The Eddies struck first when Nyassi made a break down the right flank and found Ritchie Jones near the penalty spot to kick things off in the 7th minute.

After that initial success, Fort Lauderdale was able to break through in the 20th minute. A defensive error gave forward Dani Sanchez the ball in the box and he did not waste the opportunity.

The Strikers struck again in the 63rd minute when Eddies keeper Matt Van Oekel fumbled a shot attempt and Strikers captain Leo Moura pounced on the rebound to put his team ahead.

In between Fort Lauderdale’s goals, the Eddies piled on the pressure, but keeper David Meves refused to relent, denying a penalty shot and making tremendous back to back saves on attempts from Ritchie Jones.

Meves couldn’t stifle the home side forever though and Edmonton scored on two crosses into the box. A corner kick in the 75th minute fell to the feet of Nyassi, who finished with conviction. And then in the 80th minute Tomi Ameobi headed home a delivery from Laing for the winning goal.

Atlanta Silverbacks 2-1 Carolina Railhawks

After surprising everyone with two positive results in the opening weeks, Carolina blew a terrific opportunity to establish itself as a contender for the Spring title. The Railhawks had the better run of play in the first half but could not convert on any of their scoring chances. Striker and leading scorer for Carolina Nacho Novo was forced to exit the match with a groin injury after only 30 minutes.

It wasn’t long into the second half before the home side started to lament all their missed chances. In the 49th minute, a deflection fell to Silverbacks forward Shaka Bangura at the top of the box and he put his shot on a direct path toward the top corner.

Atlanta doubled its lead 20 minutes later when Kyle Miller sent in an excellent cross from the right wing that found Jonathan Okafor behind Carolina’s back line for the easy volley finish.

The Railhawks made a push in the final 10 minutes of the match and got on the board when defender Blake Wagner buried a punch out from Atlanta’s keeper in the 84th minute. Ultimately they couldn’t complete the comeback and Atlanta left town with all the points.

After three weeks of action the league-owned Silverbacks, under the stewardship of head coach Gary Smith, find themselves in a terrific spot on the Spring table with 5 points, tied for second with Indy.