NASL Spring Week 5 Preview: Red Hot Carolina Heads to New York, Homecoming for Ottawa

NASL.COM

by JAKE NUTTING

The Carolina RailHawks (4W-0L-0D, 12 pts) are flying high after four straight wins to start the season, and they could soar even higher after this week if they can get past the New York Cosmos (2W-2L-0D, 6 pts) on the road.

Another victory this week would move them even closer to clinching their first Spring Season title after only reaching the halfway mark of the 10-game competition.

For their part, the Cosmos are simply looking to get back on track after underwhelming in two straight road losses.

Minnesota United FC (3W-1L-oD, 9 pts) will keep a close eye on Sunday’s action at Shuart Stadium as they sit out the weekend with a bye. With a loss to Carolina already in the books, they’d hate to see the RailHawks surge ahead anymore than they already have.

Ottawa Fury FC host Miami FC, Saturday April 30, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

After a month-long odyssey across North America, Ottawa Fury FC is finally set to return to the Canadian capital for its first home match of the year. The club is in desperate need of a regroup in front their home crowd after picking up a single point through their first four matches on the road. The defense that helped lead Ottawa to the playoffs last year has not been near the same level, but it’s been the attack that has truly handicapped the team so far. Failing to create chances or get a high volume of shots on goal has left them with only one goal.

Fortunately for Ottawa, they’re host one of the other three winless teams this week. Miami has managed to remain competitive throughout their matches and have even come minutes away from securing three-point results. The one constant holding them back has been their lack of discipline. Through four matches, they’ve conceded the second most fouls (64) and have given up a late penalty in each of those matches.  This weekend also poses a new challenge for Miami as it’s the first time they’ll head outside the Sunshine State.

Fort Lauderdale Strkers host Tampa Bay Rowdes, Saturday April 30, 7 p.m. ET (ONE World Sports)

Tampa Bay and Fort Lauderdale, the two old dogs on the block down in Florida, are seeking to finally hit their stride this weekend when they face off for the first time. At the moment, the only thing keeping the Rowdies ahead of the Strikers in the standings is their one win over Edmonton two weeks ago.

The Rowdies will be eager to bounce back after blowing their shot against the RailHawks to establish themselves as a true contender. With only two shots on goal in that loss, and only two goals from open play through four matches, head coach Stuart Campbell has admitted it may be time to shake things up with lineup changes in the attack.

Fort Lauderdale will be looking to improve their offensive output as well, but they’ll also be hoping to avoid going down a man after seeing a player ejected in each of their last two matches. Captain Jean-Marc Alexandre will miss this week’s match after being the latest player to hit the showers early, while forward Geison Moura is returning from his suspension. Defenders Dalton and Julius James are expected to be available after being sidelined with injury. Newcomer Ramon Nunez could also be in line for more minutes. The attacking midfielder had a positive impact as a second half substitute in the team’s rally to equalize last week.

Rayo OKC host Indy Eleven, Saturday April 30, 8 p.m. ET (beIN Sports)

Both OKC and Indy head into the weekend with the recent memory of achieving their first win of the year in dramatic fashion. While Indy’s may have come two weeks ago, the confidence of knocking off the esteemed New York Cosmos isn’t likely to fade fast.

They’ve played one fewer match than most of the other teams in the league, but Indy’s defensive unit has been stellar in each outing, not just against the talented Cosmos attack. Indy’s defense has only allowed one goal from open play and keeper Jon Busch has been able to settle in comfortably given he’s only facing an average of three shots a match.

Rayo OKC’s overall defensive numbers aren’t bad either, but they’ve fallen short in the category that matters most by allowing five goals in their last two matches. Besides the obvious boost from winning your first match, the most promising sign for the expansion side is attackers Robbie Findley and Billy Forbes getting on the scoresheet for the first time. Prior to that, the team had been too reliant on Georgios Samaras coming off the bench to create late in matches. Forbes proved in San Antonio that when he’s at the top of his game, he can raise the level of everyone else around him.

New York Cosmos host Carolina RailHawks, Sunday May 1, 6 p.m. ET (ONE World Sports)

The Cosmos are back at home this Sunday after letting matches slip away in the final moments two straight times. The obvious late-game defensive lapses aside, it’s the complete disappearing act of the attack that is the most troubling about the recent skid. Forward Jairo Arrieta still leads the team with eight chances created despite posting zero over the last two weeks. Mifielder Niko Kranjcar is also struggling to be effective. He recorded a whopping 85 touches in Minnesota last week and created absolutely nothing with any of them.

New York is likely envious of the type of production Carolina has been getting out of the attack. The RailHawks lead the league in goals (9), assists (8), shot accuracy (60%), and shot conversion rate (25.7%). The midfield has unquestionably been the engine for the RailHawks early on, but shutting down that area of the field down is easier said than done. Across the line, Tiyi Shipalane, Nazmi Albadawi and Austin da Luz are all finding ways to contribute whenever the opportunity arises.