NASL Week 3 Preview: RailHawks Look to Continue Positive Start, more

IMAGE, CAROLINA RAILHAWKS

by JAKE NUTTING

The third week of the North American Soccer League’s Spring Season will see the Carolina RailHawks look to continue their winning streak while hosting an Ottawa Fury FC side still looking to establish an identity.

Carolina is hoping to keep pace with the New York Cosmos, who are hitting the road for their first match away from Shuart Stadium this year. The Cosmos are squaring off with Indy Eleven, who after six all-time matches remain the only NASL team they have not beaten.

Minnesota United FC is also on the radar this week in their home opener against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The Loons are trying to prove their loss to Carolina in the opening week was merely a blip, and that they are the juggernaut their roster would suggest.

Jacksonville Armada FC host Miami FC, Friday April 15, 7 p.m. ET (beIN Sports)

After stumbling to a 2-0 loss to New York in their first match of the Tony Meola era, Jacksonville has the chance to regroup in front of their home supporters this week. They host their newest intrastate rival, Miami FC, who will be facing their third Florida-based team in as many weeks.

Both sides will be looking to get more out of their attacks on Friday night. Miami has scored a goal in each of their first two matches, but one came from a penalty and the second was the result of a poorly defended corner. Alessandro Nesta’s squad have sat back and played to protect the one-goal lead in each match, allowing opponents to control the pace and ultimately equalize.

Meola has talked a lot about instilling an attack-minded system in Jacksonville, but the results of those efforts were tough to spot last week. They didn’t do themselves many favors against New York when they got their looks, putting only one chance on frame. With the crowd now behind them, they’ll look to get a more clinical performance out of forwards Alhassane Keita and Matt Fondy.

Carolina RailHawks vs. Ottawa Fury FC, Saturday April 16, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

It took stoppage time heroics from NASL Player of the Week Austin da Luz, but the Carolina RailHawks are the only team other than the Cosmos to kick off the year with two wins. Like the Cosmos, they’ve tallied an impressive five goals in their opening matches.

The defense deserved credit in the opening week. Suspension and injury led to some concerns last week against Rayo OKC. Centerback Simon Mensing will be out again as he serves his red card suspension, and defender Karem Moses is questionable again due to a head injury. Midfielder James Marcelin was commendable while filling in at centerback last week, but it’s not the optimal situation for Carolina to have him on the back line.

Carolina will be looking to stay atop the standings against an Ottawa side gearing up for its third of four road matches to start the season. Ottawa looked improved in week two against Indy, appearing more comfortable in new head coach Paul Dalglish’s high-pressure, possession system.

Indy Eleven host New York Cosmos, Saturday April 16, 7:30 p.m. ET (ONE World Sports)

The New York Cosmos are once again the fastest team out of the gate in the Spring Season. Five goals scored and none allowed has given them an edge over the RailHawks in the standings. The productive start to the year differs from last season when the Cosmos only netted two goals in their opening two matches. Early chemistry between Juan Arango and Jairo Arrieta, along with some surprisingly brilliant finishing from Adam Moffat, has boosted the Cosmos so far.

New York’s first road match offers the new squad a chance to achieve something no previous Cosmos roster has. In six matches, the Cosmos have drawn with Indy Eleven each time — a surprise considering the disparity between the two sides over the past two years. This year, Indy is seeking to find a groove after a major overhaul under new coach Tim Hankinson. They looked more threatening against Ottawa last week, but striker Eamon Zayed has yet to truly impress.

The Cosmos will be without midfielder Ruben Bover¬†due to an ankle injury. Danny Szetela could also be back in consideration after his injury, and forward Yasmani Duk is expected back after sorting out visa issues. A hamstring injury could sideline one of Indy’s high-profile offseason signings, Sinisa Ubiparipovic.

Tampa Bay Rowdies host FC Edmonton, Saturday April 16, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

With one goal under their belt, the Rowdies have a slight advantage over the Eddies, who have yet to tally a goal in the first two weeks. Tampa Bay’s lone goal was earned through a late penalty by Georgi Hristov last week. High-profile acquisition Tommy Heinemann has been most neutralized due to a lack of service in both matches. Head coach Stuart Campbell might elect to remain patient, or some tinkering to the lineup could be in store. After two solid substitute performances, Hristov is likely the first choice to get a starting nod. Attacking midfielder Freddy Adu has been noticeably out of the gameday roster entirely so far.

The Eddies have even more room for improvement as they work through the growing pains of losing Lance Laing to free agency. Of their eight shots taken to open the season, they’ve only managed to direct two onto frame.

Minnesota United FC host Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Saturday April 16 8 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

After rebounding nicely with a convincing performance in Edmonton, Minnesota will finally have the opportunity to play in front of their home supporters. The Loons looked close to firing on all cylinders under new coach Carl Craig last week. Right back Kevin Venegas assisted on both of Ben Speas’ goals last week, showing that the full backs can still provide the deadly service that helped the team led the NASL in scoring last year.

Fort Lauderdale heads to Minnesota having sat out last week’s action. It will be the first time they’ve faced the Loons since last year’s Golden Boot and Golden Ball winner Stefano Pinho switched sides in the offseason. Pinho has yet to crack Minnesota’s starting lineup, entering as a late substitute for Speas in each match so far. The Strikers will look to be more potent after failing to pounce on a 10-man Miami side in the second half of their season opener.