NASL Fall Week 14 Recap: Ottawa Clinches Playoff Spot, Race for Fourth Stays Tight

IMAGE, OTTAWA FURY FC/STEVE KINGSMAN

by JAKE NUTTING

Ottawa Fury FC’s fourth straight win this weekend helped the young club capture its first postseason berth (37 pts Fall, 48 pts Combined) and the first berth for a Canadian club since the 2011 season.

The Fury still have plenty to fight for in the final stretch, though, as Minnesota United FC (32, 46) held serve with a victory at home and still have a shot at the Fall Season title. The winner of the Fall Season title will secure one of the top two seeds in the postseason.

If the current slide that the New York Cosmos (24, 44) are on continues, whoever takes the Fall will be assured the overall top seed in the postseason. A lackluster draw at home has left the Cosmos winless in their last four, with two outright losses in that stretch.

The race for the fourth playoff spot in the combined standings showed no signs of cooling off any time soon. The Tampa Bay Rowdies (15, 34) and FC Edmonton (25, 34) both dropped road matches, allowing the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to pull even on points with an emphatic away win. The Strikers also have the benefit of a game in hand on both the Eddies and Rowdies.

The Atlanta Silverbacks (23, 31) have also quietly stuck around in the postseason hunt and now can almost reach out and touch the three teams ahead of them in the fourth spot after an impressive draw with New York.

Jacksonville Armada FC 1-1 Indy Eleven

The Armada seemed to be coasting their way to their second straight victory under Interim Coach Eric Dade for most of Saturday night’s encounter. The match was the first time that Jacksonville has started the same lineup since June 7th. The consistency was rewarded in the 29th minute when Jaime Castrillon slipped in between defenders and headed home a cross from Pascal Millien.

The wheels came off for the home side when centerback Mechak Jerome was shown a straight red card for kicking Wojciech Wojcik after he fell down from a push in the back. Wojcik eventually provided the assist on the equalizer in the 83th minute to cap off a wave of attack from Indy. The forward’s chip over the back line fell to Brian Brown, who beat the offside trap and deposited the ball into the net. Brown’s goal gave Indy their second 1-1 draw with a Florida NASL team this week. The club erased another deficit on Wednesday in Tampa Bay.

Minnesota United FC 1-0 Tampa Bay Rowdies

After dropping crucial points at home to Indy on Wednesday, Tampa Bay came ready to do whatever it took to ensure a positive result in Minnesota. The team played with a five-man midfield to suppress the league-leading Minnesota attack and swarmed the ball every time an opponent touched it.

The commitment to defense looked like it would carry the Rowdies to an encouraging 0-0 score line at halftime until left back Ben Sweat was shown his second yellow in the 41st minute. Sweat has his feet tangled with Alejandro Vela when the attacker had an open run on goal. Minnesota capitalized when miscommunication between keeper Matt Pickens and defender Tamika Mkandawire allowed a cross to slip through to an unmarked Christian Ramirez on the back post. The attacker wasted no time tapping in his 11th goal of the year.

To their credit, Tampa Bay never relented in their dogged defense after going down a man and limiting the Loons to only a couple shots on frame in the second half. The Rowdies, though, were unable to mount any serious threats until a few half-chances arose in the dying moments.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers 4-2 San Antonio Scorpions

Stefano Pinho seriously made up for some lost time on Saturday when he recorded his second hat trick of the year after going scoreless in Fort Lauderdale’s previous four matches. The performance brings his goal total for the year up to 15, four more than second-place Christian Ramirez in the Golden Boot race.

Pinho kicked off the scoring for the Strikers in the 10th minute with a nifty bit of dribbling through defenders and a deft finish. Marlon Freitas doubled the lead when he slammed home his sixth goal of the year five minutes later.

San Antonio blew a golden opportunity to get back in the match when Rafael Castillo missed the goal entirely on a penalty attempt in the 21st minute. Pinho made the Scorpions pay with his second goal of the night through a swift counter attack a few minutes before the halftime whistle.

The home side managed to make things interesting in the second half when Kris Tyrpa notched a goal in his debut with a marvelous 25-yard strike, and Stephen Deroux followed with his first of the year with 15 minutes left in the match. Pinho, though, put the game out of reach again in the 86th minute with a finish inside the six-yard box.

Ottawa Fury FC 2-0 FC Edmonton

The Fury extended their winning streak to four on Sunday afternoon at the expense of the Eddies, who saw their five-game unbeaten streak come to an end. Ottawa first got on the scoresheet in the 23rd minute when Paulo Junior streaked toward the endline and slotted a pass to the back post for Siniša Ubiparipović for a clinical finish. Ubiparipović grabbed his second of the day in the 76th minute when he collected the rebound from his own shot and blasted his second attempt into the upper corner.

Keeper Romuald Peiser was able to secure his 13th shutout of the season by making critical saves on terrific free kick strikes from Dustin Corea and Lance Laing in the first half. Peiser’s shut out total this season is a new record for the modern NASL.

New York Cosmos 1-1 Atlanta Silverbacks

Sunday’s bout on Long Island is becoming an all too familiar story the Cosmos. The home side totally dominated possession and created a few chances in the first half, but failed in every instance to get the ball in the net. The Silverbacks were resolute on the defensive side of the ball and left the Cosmos desperate for any glimmer of space in the final third. Atlanta grabbed a goal in the 38th minute on their first and only shot of the first half when Michal Mravec flicked a header from a free kick past Jimmy Maurer.

The Cosmos continued to enjoy the majority of possession in the second half but needed an assist from the opposition to get on the board. A corner from Ayoze in the 70th minute took a fortuitous deflection off the thigh of Atlanta’s Simon Mensing and ended up in the net. The finishing touch continued to elude the Cosmos themselves, though, for the rest of the match.