NASL Spring Finale Preview: Indy, Rowdies, Strikers Look to Play Spoiler

IMAGE, ROLANDO OTERO (@PHOTERO)

by JAKE NUTTING

The NASL’s Spring Season is set for its conclusion this weekend, with only four teams left vying for the title and a guaranteed spot in The Championship — the league’s four-team postseason tournament.

The idle New York Cosmos (18 pts, +7 goal differential, 15 goals for) must wait to see how the three contenders below them fare in their finales before they can claim their second straight Spring Season title. The three chasing the Cosmos are Indy Eleven (15 pts, +4 GD, 11 GF), the Tampa Bay Rowdies (15 pts, +2 GD, 10 GF) and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (15 pts, +1 GD, 11 GF).

All three hopefuls have serious ground to make up on the Cosmos if they hope to claim their first Spring Season silverware. Since they can only hope to match New York’s point total, they can only take the title through the league’s designated tiebreakers: 1) Goal differential. 2) Goals for. 3) Head-to-head. 4) Away goal difference 5) Away goals scored.

Cosmos clinch if: Any of the three teams lose or draw. Or Indy win by three or fewer, the Strikers win by five or fewer, and the Rowdies win by five or fewer.

Indy clinch if: 1) Win by four or more and the Rowdies lose, draw or win by five or fewer and the Strikers lose, draw or win by six or fewer. Or 2) Win by three goals while scoring at least four and the Rowdies lose, draw or win by four or fewer and the Strikers lose, draw or win by five or fewer.

Rowdies clinch if: Win by six or more and the Strikers lose, draw or win by six or fewer and Indy lose, draw or win by three or fewer.

Strikers clinch if: Win by six or more and the Rowdies lose, draw or win five or fewer and Indy lose, draw or win by three or fewer.

Jacksonville Armada FC host Tampa Bay Rowdies
Saturday June 11, 4 p.m. ET

The Rowdies are hopeful that their recent upswing in productivity can carry over into their  trip up to Jacksonville this year. The 2013 NASL MVP Georgi Hristov came through with three goals to help them to victory in league and U.S. Open Cup play last week, but he’ll need to see the excellent midfield play of Joe Cole and Kalif Alhassan continue if the Rowdies have any shot at grabbing the necessary six goals to win the spring.

While the last-place Armada FC has performed well below expectations under first-year head coach Tony Meola, it would be a stretch to say they’ve been a disaster on the defensive side. Keeper Miguel Gallardo has cost his team with a handful of mistakes this spring, but they’ve still only let in 10 goals and have yet to concede more than two in a single match. It will take something special from the Rowdies or something historically awful from Jacksonville to see the Rowdies finish on top in the spring.

Ottawa Fury FC host Rayo OKC
Saturday June 11, 7 p.m. ET

Ottawa and their head coach Paul Dalglish are likely eager to reach the league’s midseason break after their recent results. Dalglish has Ottawa playing an engaging style, but none of it has translated into consistent positive results yet. The Canadian side has lost its last two league matches and was ousted from the semifinal round of the Canadian Championship on Wednesday after allowing the Vancouver Whitecaps to notch three goals and win 3-2 on aggregate.

Rayo OKC should be heading into their spring finale with some swagger after knocking off Minnesota United despite dealing with suspensions to several key players. Attackers Billy Forbes and Michel will still be unavailable as they finish off their two-match suspensions, but midfield general Derek Boateng and forward Georgios Samaras are back in the mix. Already sitting on 11 points, the expansion side will not want to waste a shot at finishing the spring with a respectable position and to set itself up for a strong run in the fall.

Indy Eleven host Carolina RailHawks
Saturday June 11, 7:30 p.m. ET

With the most feasible chance at stealing the spring from the Cosmos, expect Indy to come ready to push hard for a lopsided win in front of their home crowd. The club from the Circle City will be looking for scoreline similar to the 4-2 victory they posted over Minnesota at home back in May. Leading goal scorer Eamon Zayed (3) will need to be on top of his game, although the Irish-Libyan international has mostly only produced as a poacher in front of net. Indy will need to see handful of chances created and quality finishing across the board on Saturday to leapfrog the Cosmos.

Only a win will do for Indy and they’re matching up with a Carolina side that is winless in its last five league outings after starting out with four straight wins. The RailHawks did concede three goals once this year, in a 3-1 result at home against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers back in early May. Talented netminder Akira Fitzgerald will want no part of allowing Indy to celebrate a spring title against his team, though. The longtime RailHawk will try to have the back line front of him as organized as possible without Haitian international James Marcelin providing cover in the center of the field (he is with Haiti for Copa America).

Minnesota United FC host Miami FC
Saturday June 11, 8 p.m. ET

As one of the preseason favorites to be in contention for multiple trophies this year, Minnesota must be bitterly disappointed to be eliminated from the spring title race on the final week of the season. They have no one to blame but themselves, though, as they’ve now lost their last three league matches and have been blanked in the most recent two. They’re still second in the league with 13 goals, but the sudden dip in production due to injury and plain ineffectiveness has cost them dearly.

Minnesota will look to get its attack back on track against a Miami side that has drastically improved its defensive form in recent weeks. Since falling to the Cosmos 3-0 in an embarrassing result at home, Miami has kept three clean sheets and picked up one win. The commitment to defense from the team is clear, but the expansion side is still seeking answers on the attacking end. With only one goal from their last five league matches, Miami has clear work to do if they hope to get back into the playoff race after the break.

FC Edmonton host Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Sunday June 12, 4 p.m. ET

With four wins and a draw in their last five league matches, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers are unquestionably the hottest team in the league. The turn in form may have come too late, though, as they will need a serious showing from the attack to take home their first Spring Season title. The Strikers have an impressive nine-goal tally in their last five outings, but they’re matched up with a serious defensive force in Edmonton to close out the spring.

Edmonton enjoyed a brief moment in the sun atop the Spring Season table only to be eliminated after failing to mount any offensive threat against Miami shortly after. Offensive ineptitude aside, the Eddies have once again proven to be stout defensively. Seasoned keeper Matt Van Oekel has come up with saves at critical moments throughout the spring to keep Edmonton’s concessions to six goals, the fewest of any NASL team. The only time the Eddies have allowed more than one goal in a match this year was way back in week two against Minnesota.

  • smurf040

    Carolina, didn’t do the Cosmos any favors. those bums laid down like dogs!! the fix was in!!!

    • Smith

      Or …the Cosmos could have easily just gotten the job done last week. They didn’t and thus deserve what happened tonight.