NASL Week 4: What to Look For

Zach Steinberger IMAGE, TODD DREXLER/JACKSONVILLE ARMADA

By JAKE NUTTING

imagesIn Week 4 of the North American Soccer League Spring Season half the league is taking Easter weekend off.

Jacksonville hopes to increase its lead at the top of the standings in Saturday’s game against visiting San Francisco. The second-place expansion Deltas notched their first league win last week.

At the bottom of the table, FC Edmonton and North Carolina FC are each desperate for three points. The Eddies and NCFC are the only NASL teams that have yet to record a win.

Armada’s Sturdy Defense

Jacksonville’s early hold on the top spot is a result of the team being the only outfit to not concede a goal. Last year’s Armada (2-0-0, 6 points) squad only registered five shutouts, one in a disastrous the Spring Season. Center back Mechack Jérôme is tied for third-most clearances in the league (14) and his partner Aaron Pitchkolan has (13) after only two matches. Goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell also rose to challenge with four saves last week to secure the narrow victory in Edmonton. While neither of Jacksonville’s wins have offered offensive showcases, Coach Mark Lowry‘s shift to a possession-oriented philosophy has allowed the team dictate the match and prevented it from becoming stretched out.

Heinemann Back to Old Habits

The reunion of Tommy Heinemann and Coach Marc Dos Santos paid off in San Francisco (1-0-1, 4 points) after two matches. Heinemann has two goals in two games, half of his total in 26 appearances with the Tamp Bay Rowdies last year. He scored twice last week against North Carolina FC, propelling the expansion team to its first win. During his career-year under Dos Santos at the Ottawa Fury in 2015, Heinemann posted three two-goal matches and had 12 goals across the regular and postseason.

Despite Early Losses, Eddies Still Tough to Breakdown

Edmonton (0-2-0, 0 points) must be feeling frustrated after dropping a pair of 1-0 results to Jacksonville. The Canadian side didn’t play poorly in either match, but was doomed by a lack of attacking efficiency and a couple defensive mishaps. While the Eddies are still hoping to find a consistent scorer, they’re fortunate to have a resolute back line, led by the captain Albert Watson. They’ve had a bit of bad luck, as two of the four shots on goal they’ve allowed this year have made it past goalkeeper Chris Konopka.

North Carolina Lacking Creativity

North Carolina’s (0-1-1, 1 point) attack is off to a sluggish start. Two goals in two matches isn’t a reason to hit the panic button, but the lack of scoring chances created by the team’s top attackers is a concern. The captain Nazmi Albadawi led the league in assists last year (10), but he has only created two scoring chances so far. Meanwhile, midfielder Tiyi Shipalane and forward Matt Fondy have set up zero scoring opportunities. With winger Lance Laing questionable because of injury, it’s vital that the team’s creative players start to produce.