NASL Spring Week 5 Recap: Carolina Loss Opens Up Title Race

IMAGE, INDY ELEVEN/MATT SCHLOTZHAUER

by JAKE NUTTING

A handful of North American Soccer League teams found themselves in the unusual position of rooting for the New York Cosmos (3W-2L-0D, 9 pts) this past weekend.

A fifth straight win for the Carolina RailHawks (4W-1L-0D, 12 pts) would have effectively clinched the Spring Season title for them, so teams around the league were content to see the Cosmos ride out a narrow 1-0 result over the RailHawks. The win clearly puts the Cosmos back in the title chase, but Minnesota United (3W-0L-0D, 9 pts) also has new hope of catching the RailHawks despite their opening day loss in Carolina.

Below the top three, though, are two teams with a glimmer of a shot at rising up the standing to take the spring. Indy Eleven (2W-0L-2D) has only four matches under their belt, but they are the only unbeaten team remaining in the NASL. Also working in Indy’s favor is the fact that they have yet to face off with Minnesota or Carolina.

While the Tampa Bay Rowdies (2W-1L-2D, 8 pts) are even with Indy on points, their odds of claiming the spring are a little slimmer. Having already lost to Carolina and drawn with Indy, the Rowdies would need to take care of business in their upcoming matches in Minnesota and New York, as well as a serious slip up from Carolina.

Ottawa Fury FC 2-0 Miami FC

The month-long wait to play in front of their home crowd turned out to be well worth it for Ottawa Fury, as the club thoroughly dominated expansion side Miami FC to secure its first win of the year.

Center back Fernando Timbo gave Ottawa the lead in the 25th minute when he was the first to get his foot on a loose ball in front of goal after James Bailey sent in a threatening free kick into the area.

Ottawa would have had a few more goals to celebrate had it not been for multiple outstanding saves from Daniel Vega. With little to no threat from the visitors coming, though, Ottawa persisted and bagged another in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Dennis Chin penetrated into the left side of the box and dribbled by two defenders to rip a shot to the far post that beat Vega and sealed Ottawa’s the victory.

Indy Eleven 2-1 Rayo OKC

Indy Eleven was able to jump out to an early lead on Saturday thanks to a brilliant counter attack initiated by Sinisa Ubiparipovic in the seventh minute. Standing in his defensive end three yards behind the midfield line, Ubiparipovic spotted Jair Reinoso with acres of space to run in on goal and lifted a long ball over the back line for him. Reinoso followed the service into the area and struck a booming shot past the keeper with his first touch.

After falling behind, Rayo OKC controlled possession in the opening half but had to rely on a bit of set piece magic to pull even. In the 25th minute, Captain Michel drew a foul 25 yards from goal and stepped up to take it himself. His attempt was right on the money, zipping by the wall and taking one hop off the turf before beating a diving Jon Busch to the post. Billy Forbes looked to move Rayo OKC ahead to close out the first half, but his powerful shot from 20 yards clanged off the post.

Indy gained more of a foothold in the second half and was finally rewarded with a winner in the 77th minute. Off a free kick that he drew on the left flank, defender Nemanja Vuković drifted away from the crowd of defenders inside the six-yard box and tapped in the ball on the second chance opportunity.

Tampa Bay Rowdies 1-0 Fort Lauderdale Strikers

The year’s first match up between the original Florida NASL rivals was full of choppy play. Some ineffective passing and 40 total fouls prevented the teams from developing any kind of flow going forward.

Forward Maicon Santos squandered a golden opportunity to put his side ahead in the final seconds of the first half with a failed penalty conversion. Keeper Matt Pickens dove to the wrong side, but Santos’ attempt ended up scuffing the outside of the right post.

The Rowdies finally found a goal in the 77th minute as center back Neil Collins rose to get his head on a long cross into the box by Eric Avila. Collins did well to sneak his header under the crossbar, but he was also aided by poor positioning and reaction speed from keeper Bruno Cardoso.

New York Cosmos 1-0 Carolina RailHawks

The Cosmos looked determined from the opening minute to pull themselves out of the recent funk that saw them lose their last two.

Making his first start of the year, winger Yohandry Orozco was a force for the Cosmos down the left side throughout the first half and it was his play that gave them their winner moments before the halftime whistle. He weaved by multiple defenders inside the box and fired off a shot that keeper Bryan Sylvester struggled to redirect.

The Cosmos continued to create chances through excellent play from Niko Kranjčar, but his individual efforts narrowly missed out on the back of the net.

Failing to put the game away would’ve cost the Cosmos their much-needed victory if not for some heroics from Jimmy Maurer. The keeper came up with his first critical save in the 69th minute when he got just enough of a touch on a shot from Brian Shriver to send it wide of the far post. Maurer answered the call again in the 85th minute by tipping a close-range volley from James Marcelin over the crossbar. He then took a major risk as the match drew closer to stoppage time when he raced out of his area to slide in and break up a dangerous opportunity for Tiyi Shipalane.