NASL Spring Week 7 Preview: Cole Set for Rowdies Debut, More

IMAGE, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES

by JAKE NUTTING

With the finish line of the Spring Season sprint approaching quickly, it’s still unclear which North American Soccer League team will be left standing when it’s all said and done.

The New York Cosmos (4W-0D-2L, 12 pts) hold a narrow advantage over the Carolina RailHawks (4W-0D-2L, 12 pts) thanks to goal differential, but only five points separate the league’s top seven teams.

Of the top three teams, the Cosmos face the stiffest challenge heading into round seven of the Spring Season as they have to head to Canada to take on FC Edmonton’s stingy defense. Meanwhile, Carolina will play host to the last-place Miami FC (0W-2D-4L, 2 pts) and Minnesota United FC (3W-1D-1L, 10 pts) take on the struggling Jacksonville Armada FC (1W-1D-3L, 4 pts).

Fort Lauderdale Strikers host Indy Eleven
Saturday May 14, 7 p.m. ET

Indy Eleven may be heading into the weekend with a four point advantage over Fort Lauderdale in the Spring Season standings, but the Strikers actually hold a slight advantage in most attacking statistics after last week’s 3-1 upset of the RailHawks.

The Strikers have 18 shots on target compared to Indy’s 14, proving that Indy’s positive position on the table is due to their stout defense. Through five matches, the “Boys in Blue” have only conceded four goals and have yet to concede multiple goals in a single match.

Indy should be eager to push for a win this weekend after sharing a point with Edmonton at home last week. A win for them could potentially pull them even with Carolina and New York at the top of the table. Fort Lauderdale could be without Maicon Santos after the starting forward exited last week with a first-half injury. Santos accounts for three of the team’s five goals.

Carolina RailHawks host Miami FC
Saturday May 14, 7:30 p.m. ET

After getting off to a red hot start, the RailHawks are looking vulnerable thanks to two straight losses.

There was no shame in falling to the Cosmos 1-0 on the road, but a 3-1 loss to the previously winless Fort Lauderdale Strikers last week is another story entirely. Winger Tiyi Shipalane has found touches harder to come by over the last two weeks so Carolina will look to improve in that area to get back to their winning ways. The good news is that this weekend offers another opportunity to rebound against a winless team at the bottom of the standings.

Miami is truly reeling after two deflating losses in which they failed to register a single shot on goal while allowing five. Last week’s 3-0 loss to the Cosmos at home was particularly embarrassing and even prompted head coach Alessandro Nesta to bluntly state that it may already be time to reassess the expansion side’s roster after only six matches.

Tampa Bay Rowdies host Rayo OKC
Saturday May 14, 7:30 p.m. ET

The clear story line in Saturday’s match in Tampa Bay is the potential debut of Premier League Joe Cole for the Rowdies. Based on head coach Stuart Campbell’s comments at Cole’s official introduction earlier in the week, Cole taking the field is a foregone conclusion. Campbell has been anticipating Cole’s arrival for weeks now and is eager to see the midfielder slide into the lineup right away.

Cole hinted that he may be tasked with playing a deeper role in the midfield, but he’ll ultimately be judged by how much he can improve Tampa Bay’s offensive output through his distribution to the players up top. Two of the Rowdies four goals so far have come from the center backs finishing long balls into the box.

Cole and the Rowdies face a tough test in Rayo OKC, though. The expansions side’s two wins have come on the road and players like Robbie Findley and Billy Forbes seem to be growing in confidence.

Minnesota United host Jacksonville Armada FC
Saturday May 14, 8 p.m. ET

Minnesota will be anxious to get back in front of their home crowd this weekend after blowing a full three-point result in the final minutes of last week’s match in Ottawa. They hold a decided advantage over the visiting Armada FC, who occupy the second to last spot on the Spring Season table and still have not recorded a win away from home.

Apart from occasional blunders from keeper Miguel Gallardo, Jacksonville has looked decent defensively. The problem for head coach Tony Meola and his squad is their woeful scoring output. With only three goals through five matches, Jacksonville is dead last in scoring and doesn’t seem to improving. The talent is there with attackers like Pascal Millien, Matt Fondy and Alhassane Keita, but Meola has not found a way to get his dynamic players to perform as a unit and create opportunities consistently.

FC Edmonton host New York Cosmos, Sunday May 15, 4 p.m. ET

Sunday’s matinee NASL action will be a showdown between two of the league’s most resolute defenses. The Cosmos lead the way with only three goals allowed through six matches, while the Eddies have conceded four in their five bouts. Surprisingly, the Eddies slipped up and allowed Ottawa to score three times in the Amway Canadian Championship on Wednesday.

Regardless of that blip earlier in the week, the Eddies usually push the Cosmos to the edge, especially at home. If he’s fit to go after sitting out last week’s match in Miami, the Cosmos could surely benefit from the vision and distribution skills of midfielder Niko Kranjčar when trying to open up the Eddies defense. The Cosmos field a bevy of capable attacking players to get by the Eddies, though. Juan Arango had his best outing of the young season last week and is now tied for second in scoring in the league with three goals.

  • Len

    First Joe Cole NASL match this Saturday, can’t come soon enough!!!