NASL Fall Finale Preview: Awkward Goodbyes, Minnesota Chasing Rayo OKC

IMAGE, MINNESOTA UNITED FC

by JAKE NUTTING

A heated race for the final spot in The Championship has come down two teams in the final week of the Fall Season.

Expansion side Rayo OKC (32 pts Fall, 44 pts Combined) is in control with a three-point lead over Minnesota United FC (25 pts, 41 pts) and could very well have everything locked up before they even kick off on Sunday night. Ironically, the league’s Spring and Fall Season champions could play a huge part in who earns the last playoff spot. The Loons must pull off a win at home over the visiting New York Cosmos (44 pts, 62 pts) on Saturday to jump ahead in the tight race and then hope for Rayo OKC to fall at home to the spring winners Indy Eleven (37 pts, 55 pts).

Apart from the exciting finish to the playoff chase, the league’s fall finale will also see a few teams say their awkward goodbyes to the NASL. The MLS-bound Minnesota could stick around a little while longer if they reach the postseason, but the Tampa Bay Rowdies (23 pts, 39 pts) and Ottawa Fury FC (22 pts, 31 pts) are both definitely on the way out after announcing they will join the USL earlier in the week.

Miami FC host FC Edmonton, Friday October 28, 8 p.m. ET

The Eddies lost out on their chance to secure the second seed in The Championship when they let the fall crown slip away, but they still have a shot at finishing the year second in the combined standings. While not the most groundbreaking of achievements, a second-place finish over Indy might give them a boost in morale before they face off next week in the semifinals.

Working against Edmonton is their poor road showings since clinching a postseason spot. Head Coach Collin Miller left out several regulars, including Golden Ball candidate Matt Van Oekel, in back-to-back road matches and was rewarded with two shutout losses as a result.

Miami’s final outing of their inaugural campaign is all about pride after the 4-0 drubbing they were subjected to by the Cosmos last week.

Ottawa Fury FC host Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Saturday October 29, 2 p.m. ET

Ottawa will close out their third and final season in the NASL at home this Saturday afternoon. Injuries and frustrating inconsistencies have plagued Paul Dalglish throughout his first year in charge, but the Canadian side has already given the head coach the vote of confidence for its transition to the USL next year.

While Ottawa’s future is set, Fort Lauderdale’s remains ambiguous. The players and head coach Caio Zanardi have performed admirably through the ownership’s financial difficulties, but those issues will need to be resolved in the offseason. In order to guarantee the team sticks around for the long haul, they will likely need to find new owners or financial support from the rest of the league’s owners.

Puerto Rico FC host Carolina RailHawks, Saturday October 29, 7:30 p.m. ET

The deck was always stacked against Puerto Rico heading into their NASL debut after sitting out the Spring Season. Despite going on a seven-game unbeaten run in the last two months of the year, a losing skid over the last two weeks has sealed their fate at the bottom of the combined standings. The expansion side does have one small accomplishment to fight for, though. With a win this week, they could potentially leapfrog Jacksonville to finish second from the bottom in the fall standings.

The RailHawks put on a valiant effort in last week’s win over Minnesota, but still ended up eliminated from the playoff race anyway. Saturday will mark Colin Clarke’s first return to Puerto Rico since serving as head coach of the Puerto Rico Islanders between 2007 and 2011. Clarke has weathered significant swings throughout the year to earn a respectable, albeit disappointing, mid-table finish in the standings.

Minnesota United FC host New York Cosmos, Saturday October 29, 8 p.m. ET

Minnesota has everything to play for on Saturday, while the Cosmos have little on the line unless they care who they meet in the semifinals next week. A win for the Loons would lift them into the fourth spot based on goal differential, but they would still need Rayo OKC to drop all three points on Sunday to clinch the postseason spot.  A draw or win for the Cosmos, though, would axe Minnesota from playoff contention altogether and send them on their way as they prepare for next year’s debut in MLS.

Like Indy and Edmonton, the Cosmos are likely to rest a few starters or at least manage their minutes ahead of the postseason. Gio Savarese might also be hopeful to get captain Carlos Mendes and Lucky Mkosana after both sat out the last few weeks with injuries.

 Jacksonville Armada FC host Tampa Bay Rowdies, Sunday October 30, 4 p.m. ET

Mark Lowry and company should be eager to finish the year off with a positive result after finding themselves on the losing end with late concessions in their last two matches. Since Lowry took over as head coach, Jacksonville has demonstrated promising signs but is still poised to finish second to last in the combined standings with a record of 3W-6D-4L during his time in charge.

Tampa Bay is another club set to close out their time in the NASL after a frustrating season. With the impending move to the USL next year, the team’s supporters will be wondering if Sunday’s match will be the final time they see English star Joe Cole suits up for the Green and Gold. Cole was signed to a two-year contract by the team in May, but some question if a player of Cole’s profile will follow the Rowdies to USL. The Rowdies will be without leading scorer Georgi Hristov and right back Darnell King due to red card suspension.

Rayo OKC host Indy Eleven, Sunday October 30, 7 p.m. ET

The scheduling gods have smiled upon Rayo OKC. With the benefit of hosting the final match of the regular season 24 hours after Minnesota’s finishes up with the Cosmos, the expansion side will know exactly what they need to clinch the final postseason spot. A loss or draw for Minnesota would secure a postseason berth for Rayo OKC, but even if the Loons pull off a win, all Rayo OKC would need is a single point to claim the spot.

Rayo OKC will be squaring off with the only team that is arguably hotter than they are. With three-goals posted in three straight wins, Indy Eleven are heading into the postseason full steam ahead. Tim Hankinson has indicated he’s only likely to rest his regulars if Rayo OKC has already locked up the final spot in The Championship based on Saturday’s result in Minnesota.