NASL Fall Week 13 Preview: Fourth Spot Up for Grabs, more

NASL

by JAKE NUTTING

The NASL will only see two matches kick off on Saturday night, but each one could have a significant impact on the playoff picture.

If Minnesota United FC (20 pts Fall, 36 pts combined) cannot find a way to halt its losing streak when they face Jacksonville Armada FC (13 pts, 20 pts), then a winner between the Tampa Bay Rowdies (19 pts, 35 pts) and Miami FC (28 pts, 35 pts) could leapfrog them to take hold of the fourth spot in the combined standings on the same night.

A heavy slate of matches on Sunday will be highlighted by a battle between Indy Eleven (27 pts, 45 pts) and FC Edmonton (27 pts, 44 pts) north of the border. If Indy succeeds in being the first team take a three-point result in Edmonton this year, the Eddies could effectively be eliminated from the race for the Fall Season title after slipping to fourth in the standings thanks to recent struggles. Conversely, a win would put them right back into the hunt.

Tampa Bay Rowdies host Miami FC, Saturday October 1, 7:30 p.m. ET

The Rowdies will put their five-match unbeaten run to the test against one of the best performers of the Fall Season and their direct competition for the fourth playoff spot in the combined standings. Miami is the closest to the Cosmos in the fall standings, but their easiest path to the postseason remains jumping into the fourth spot. They needed a dramatic goal deep into stoppage time on Wednesday against Ottawa to snap a two-game losing streak.

Tampa Bay will hope to carry over the momentum from their best offensive showing of the year in the 4-1 win over Fort Lauderdale. A win this weekend would not only create space between them and Miami, it would also clinch their first Coastal Cup trophy since 2013.

Minnesota United FC host Jacksonville Armada FC, Saturday October 1, 8 p.m. ET

Minnesota’s three-game losing streak has placed their playoff aspirations in serious jeopardy. Late collapses and an inability to put opponents away with multiple goals have been a concern for the Loons even before the losing streak. They will undoubtedly want to get back in the win column this weekend before they travel to the streaking Rowdies, who could wind up overtaking them in the combined standings on Saturday if they don’t get their act together.

Jacksonville must be growing increasingly frustrated. The team would have notched just its second win under interim head coach Mark Lowry last weekend if not for a controversial penalty call in the final minutes that went in favor of Rayo OKC. They followed that up with a scoreless effort against Edmonton for their third straight draw.

Ottawa Fury FC host Puerto Rico FC, Sunday October 2, 2 p.m. ET

No one can accuse Ottawa of giving up on the season yet. Prior to hitting a snag with a stoppage-time loss in Miami on Wednesday, the Canadian side clawed its way back into the playoff race with back-to-back wins over the fourth-place Loons. Trailing the Loons by seven points, the Canadian side still has a ways to go if they want to be considered a serious contender again, though.

Challenging Ottawa is the equally red hot Puerto Rico. The expansion side has virtually no shot at reaching the postseason at this point, but they’ve battled on regardless to dispatch Miami and Fort Lauderdae.

FC Edmonton host Indy Eleven, Sunday October 2, 4 p.m. ET

Indy picked up a major boost in their effort to catch the Cosmos for the top spot with an emphatic 3-0 win over the current league-leaders last week. They’ll need to be at their best again on Sunday if they hope to pick up three more points, though. While the Eddies have been diipping in form recently, they remain unbeaten at home this year.

Edmonton remains seated comfortably in a playoff position, but that status could slip away sooner than they would like if they don’t find a way to secure a win. It’s a blessing that Matt Van Oekel is having such a banner year in net for the Eddies considering the team has now been blanked in all but one of their last seven outings.

New York Cosmos host Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Sunday October 2, 4 p.m. ET

Given their shaky showings on the road this year, the Cosmos will look to take full advantage of one of their two remaining home matches on Sunday. After facing off with the Strikers, the Cosmos must find a way to get as many points as possible in three road matches to claim the fall title and top seed in the postseason.

The Strikers on the other hand are simply looking to stay relevant after a bad week that saw them lose in a lopsided result to the rival Rowdies and newcomer Puerto Rico. Despite the rough patch, the Strikers have the potential to jump right back into the mix if they can pull off an upset. They still only trail the Rowdies and Miami by three points heading into the weekend.

Rayo OKC host Carolina RailHawks, Sunday October 2, 7 p.m. ET

Remarkably, the RailHawks only find themselves three points back of the Minnesota for the fourth spot in the combined table after losing three out of their last four matches. They’ll hope to remedy the defensive miscues and offensive woes that have sunk them in recent weeks as they clash with a Rayo OKC side that has gone unbeaten in four straight. However, with just one win recorded in that stretch, and last-gasp penalties being the only reason they took draws in their last two matches, Rayo OKC still has plenty of room for improvement in the final weeks of the season.