NASL Spring Week 4 Preview: Minnesota, Cosmos Clash, RailHawks Face Rowdies

IMAGE, MINNESOTA UNITED FC

by JAKE NUTTING

We’re only a month into the North American Soccer League’s season and there are already serious Spring Season title implications on the line for some teams.

After losing their first match ever to Indy Eleven in heartbreaking fashion last week, the New York Cosmos are faced with the job of stopping the high-flying Minnesota United FC — a side who are itching to get their first win over the Cosmos after three years of trying. With the first place Carolina RailHawks on their docket next week, the Cosmos can hardly afford to drop a second straight match.

Those undefeated RailHawks are facing a tough test this weekend as well. They’ll have to prove themselves away from the friendly confines of WakeMed Soccer Park against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who boast the league’s stingiest defense after three weeks and are looking to build off the momentum of their first win of the year last week.

Miami FC host Rayo OKC, Friday April 22, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

Friday night will see the newest entrants to the NASL square off in South Florida. This year’s two expansions sides have had impressive starts so far, with Rayo OKC remaining unbeaten in two matches and Miami only losing out to Jacksonville last week after a close battle.

However, this will be Rayo OKC’s first test away from home. They’ve had extra time to prepare themselves for the task having sat out last week’s action with a bye. Rayo OKC has also looked undeniably more threatening when forward Georgios Samaras has been on the field, but it’s still unclear when his fitness may be up to the level needed for a start.

Miami is also in need of diversification in their attack. Forward Dario Cvitanich has tallied a goal in each of their three matches but they’ve failed to mount many threats other than his tallies. They could also be without one of their top performers in midfield, Matuzalem, after he was stretchered off last week.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers host Jacksonville Armada FC, Saturday April 23, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

Fort Lauderdale will be hoping for a glimpse of anything positive after their embarrassing result in Minnesota. They had great luck against Jacksonville last year, but their intrastate rival look as if they have plugged many of the holes the Strikers exploited last year. With Fort Lauderdale looking seriously vulnerable, Jacksonville will be chomping at the bit to claim their first ever road win.

The Strikers will be in need of a serious boost in the attack. After scoring a penalty in week one, they were held to zero shots on goal against Minnesota. In hopes of remedying the situation, they added Honduran international Ramon Nunez to the roster this week. Capable of playing centrally or out on the wing, Nunez is an attacker with nearly 50 appearances for his country. He began his career with FC Dallas.

Tampa Bay Rowdies host Carolina RailHawks, Saturday April 23, 7:30 p.m. ET (beIN Sports)

Tampa Bay managed to notch their first goal from open play last week, but with only one goal conceded so far, the defense has been the obvious reason why they remain one of the league’s few unbeaten teams. The back line has severely limited opponents and veteran keeper Matt Pickens has been on point so far when asked to come up with critical saves.

This week’s opponent will offer the Rowdies defense their toughest test yet. The RailHawks are tied for the most goals with six in three matches, and most of that production has come out of the midfield. Winger Tiyi Shipalane continues to be one of the most threatening midfielders in the league with two top notch goals to start the year. This weekend will see them face a stiffer road test than the one offered by Rayo OKC two weeks ago. The dynamic wing play of Shipalane and Austin da Luz could be less effective on the narrower field at Al Lang Stadium.

Carolina will be boosted by the return of center back Simon Mensing after his red card in week one. His return will allow James Marcelin to move back to his preferred position of defensive midfield. Defender Karem Moses has also been cleared to return after suffering a concussion in week one of the season.

Minnesota United host New York Cosmos, Saturday April 23, 8 p.m. ET (ONE World Sports)

Minnesota and New York are even in pretty much every way after three matches. How even are they? Both clubs share the same amount of wins, losses, points, goals scored and goals allowed. The one major difference is that Minnesota has hit a stride with two wins after their opening day loss, while the Cosmos are looking vulnerable after blowing a 1-0 lead in the final five minutes of their first away match of the year.

The recent positive results for the Loons have come with little to no attacking threat from the opposition. Edmonton was bunkered down in their own stadium, while Fort Lauderdale couldn’t muster a single shot on net after going down a man early.

The odds of Minnesota completely shutting down the varied Cosmos attack of Juan Arango, Jairo Arrieta and Niko Kranjčar seems highly unlikely. Minnesota’s back line looked shaky in the face of pressure from the RailHawks in their opening loss.

FC Edmonton host Ottawa Fury FC, Sunday April 24, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

After three weeks of action, the NASL’s two Canadian sides find themselves with only a point each and occupying the bottom spots in the standings. The early stages of the season so far have been about each side searching for a new identity after major changes in the offseason. Edmonton remains one of the more defensively disciplined sides in the league, but that has been a necessity as they’ve failed to pose a threat in the attack at all. For Ottawa, they’ve been hurt by starting the season with three straight road matches — an unenviable task for new head coach Paul Dalglish.

Matchups between these two sides have typically been tightly-contested and entertaining as Canadian pride is always on the line. This weekend’s match will likely see a little extra fire from both sides as they look to lift themselves from the bottom of the table.