NASL Spring Week 10 Preview: Cosmos, Strikers the Decisive Match

NASL

by JAKE NUTTING

As unbelievably tight and unpredictable as this year’s NASL Spring Season title race has been, the team that won it last year and one of the favorites to claim it again heading into the season could lock things up in the second to last week of the spring.

All the New York Cosmos (6W-0D-3L, 18 pts) need to lift their second straight Spring Season trophy is three points against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (3W-3D-2L, 12 pts). A draw in the match on Saturday night would potentially leave a crack in the window for Minnesota United (4W-1D-3L, 13 pts), Indy Eleven (3W-5D-0L, 14 pts) or the Carolina RailHawks (4W-1D-3L, 13 pts) to swoop in on the final weekend of the spring while the Cosmos watch from home on their scheduled bye week.

A loss for New York might also leave the faintest of hope for Fort Lauderdale or the Tampa Bay Rowdies (3W-3D-2L, 12 pts) to sneak in, but every single one of the teams still alive in the chase not named the Cosmos would need to win out in their matches to even have a shot.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers host New York Cosmos, Saturday June 4, 7 p.m. ET (ONE World Sports)

A strong case could be made that Fort Lauderdale played the most grueling match in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. An afternoon kickoff inevitably meant hot and humid conditions were a factor, and adding a full 30 minutes of extra time before reaching penalties means the Strikers could be gassed on Saturday.

Fort Lauderdale’s recent league form has been undeniably good, though. With three wins in their last four matches, their technical style has the potential to test the Cosmos in their spring finale. The Cosmos will need to overcome their disappointing road form this year if they wish to clinch the spring outright on Saturday. They’ve lost three of their four road matches so far, conceding at least one goal in the final stages of each of those losses.

Carolina RailHawks host Jacksonville Armada FC, Saturday June 4, 7:30 p.m. ET (beIN sports)

Losers in three of their last four league matches, Wednesday’s 5-0 explosion in the U.S. Open Cup could be exactly what the RailHawks needed to wake from their attacking stupor. Also working in their favor is the fact that Jacksonville’s form in league play has been even ¬†worse, with their last win in the league coming all the way back in week two of the spring. Saturday’s match will also be Jacksonville’s final shot at notching their first ever road win before the midseason break. After this weekend, they’ll have to look to the Fall Season to make history if they can’t get things done in Carolina.

Tampa Bay Rowdies host Ottawa Fury FC, Saturday June 4, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

Ottawa is in a tricky position heading into their match with the Rowdies. Theoretically, they should be riding high off the impressive win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the semifinal round of the Canadian Championship on Wednesday, but head coach Paul Dalglish and his squad could also fall prey to their minds wandering toward the crucial away leg of right around the corner next week. They’re already facing the next few matches without Julian De Guzman and Marcel De Jong due to international duty, so the team’s depth is sure to be tested.

The Rowdies meanwhile are coasting on the confidence of dispatching Minnesota last week and recording their first U.S. Open Cup win since 2013. Midfielder Joe Cole has had a major positive impact since joining the team three weeks ago, although his starting status could be in question after playing the full match on Wednesday right after doing the same a few days before. Another questionable starter is former Ottawa forward Tommy Heinemann. He sat out both the Minnesota and Open Cup matches with a knock, but head coach Stuart Campbell is hopeful that he will be available for selection.

Miami FC host Indy Eleven, Saturday June 4, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

Indy will be looking to continue their run as the only beaten team in the NASL against one of the lesser teams in the league. Miami managed to pull themselves a point above Jacksonville in the standings with their first win last week, but they’re still second from the bottom and look as if they have significant improvements to work on before they can be considered a serious threat. After getting off to a red hot start in the first month of the season, forward Dario Cvitanich has gone completely cold. The team has invested heavily in improving its defensive shape with the addition of Richie Ryan and Michael Lahoud, but that might not be enough to stifle an Indy side that is brimming with confidence and is motivated to latch on to that unbeaten record.

Rayo OKC host Minnesota United, Saturday June 4, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

Minnesota may be on a surprising two-game losing skid, but they’ve been given a gift in the form of a fixture against Rayo OKC this weekend. The expansion side will be without arguably its four best players and they have no one to blame for the absences but themselves. Attackers Billy Forbes, Georgios Samaras and leading scorer Michel all received red cards in last week’s loss to New York, while midfield general Derek Boateng is unavailable after picking up his fifth yellow card of the spring.

Meanwhile, the Loons should see the return of a number of players to the lineup, including playmaker Ben Speas. The attacker played a vital part of Minnesota’s attack before going down with an ankle injury several weeks ago.