NASL Spring Week 6 Preview: Breathing Room at a Premium at the Midpoint

IMAGE, FC EDMONTON

by JAKE NUTTING
NASL Beat Writer

Taking too much stock in numbers after only five weeks, in any sport or league, is an excellent way to set yourself up to look like a fool a few months down the line. Some analysis feels necessary, though, when it comes to the NASL’s 11 week Spring season.

The New York Cosmos and Tampa Bay Rowdies sit in first and second place respectively with 11 and eight points. Teams only play each other once in the condensed Spring competition, so the Cosmos hold the head-to-head edge over the Rowdies after their convincing 2-0 victory in week three.

The two top teams don’t have much breathing room between them and the rest of the table, however. Despite ninth place Ottawa Fury FC only winning one match this year, only four points separate them from Tampa Bay.

Indeed, the table is close all over. Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta – tied on seven points – along with Indy, Carolina, and Jacksonville – even at six points – are all in excellent positions to quickly leapfrog Tampa Bay.

Unsurprisingly, a tight table is the result of a glut of draws. Of the 25 matches played so far this year, 11 have ended in a stalemate. That’s one more draw than the same point of the first two editions of the Spring competition in 2013 and 2014 combined. It’s impossible to pinpoint one exact reason for all the draws. Poor finishing, late defensive lapses, and questionable decisions from referees are always valid, but the playoff format may also be to blame. For the second straight year four NASL teams will make the postseason, so perhaps after seeing the Spring champions stumble in the postseason the last two years, coaches aren’t putting a premium on the Spring title. A team operating with limited resources like Atlanta has four draws, the most in the league, a fact that won’t bother anyone in Atlanta because it’s helped them grab a tie for third place with only five games left to play.

Ottawa Fury FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, Saturday 3 p.m. ET

Ottawa will be happy to be home after four straight combined losses in NASL and Canadian Championship action. The Fury will be hoping to replicate the magic that led to their surprising 1-0 victory over Minnesota in week three, their only win of the season thus far.

They host a Tampa Bay side that will be without midfielder Georgi Hristov for first time all year due to a red card suspension. The Rowdies may also be without forward Maicon Santos, who could be out with an upper leg injury suffered in last week’s match. Thomas Rongen will have one new player available for selection, though. Midfielder Richard Menjivar joined the team for training this week and could make his Rowdies debut in Ottawa.

Jacksonville Armada FC vs. Indy Eleven, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET

The Armada are fortunate to play at home, where they remain undefeated, again this weekend. Along with the positive home record, the Armada also boast the highest scoring attack in the league with eight goals. Speedy forwards Alhassane Keita and Jemal Johnson will be looking to add to their teams tally against a defense from Indy that has a major question looming over it after the departure of starting keeper Kristian Nicht.

Young and relatively inexperienced keepers Jon Dawson and Keith Cardona are Indy’s remaining keeper options. Whichever player gets the nod from coach Juergen Sommer will face the unenviable task of trying to suppress a relentlessly athletic Armada front line. Indy will need an excellent performance from center back Greg Janicki and the entire back line to keep Jacksonville at bay.

Minnesota United FC vs. Atlanta Silverbacks, Saturday 8 p.m. ET

At some point the Silverbacks won’t be forced to go up against a lethal attacking opponent; it just won’t be this week. After holding New York and Fort Lauderdale scoreless in their last two matches, Atlanta must square off against a potent Minnesota side hungry for redemption and its first victory of the season.

Three pivotal pieces of Minnesota’s attack, Miguel Ibarra, Christian Ramirez, and Pablo Campos have now notched a goal in 2015. Now the question is whether the flood gates have opened for the Loons. The Spring may already be close to out of grasp, but there is ample time for the preseason favorites to get back on track and work their way up the table. Fortunately for Minnesota, Atlanta doesn’t pose much of a scoring threat, so the home side can focus on putting on an offensive show for the crowd.

San Antonio Scorpions vs. Carolina Railhawks, Saturday 8:30 p.m. ET

San Antonio, last year’s Soccer Bowl winner, is still without a victory in 2015. The goals have come for the Scorpions, MLS veteran Omar Cummings has adjusted very well to life in the NASL and is tied for most goals in the league (three).

It has been on the defensive end where the Scorpions have come up short so far. They have conceded the most goals in the league, nine in only 4 matches. Reinforcements have arrived in the form of last year’s captain Adrian Cann returning from injury and center back Brad Rusin in last last week’s trade with Tampa Bay. Having gone through an extensive preseason with the Rowdies, Rusin should be fit and available to help quell Carolina’s attacking threats, Nacho Novo and Ty Shipalane.

New York Cosmos vs. FC Edmonton, Sunday 2 p.m. ET

The most intriguing clash of the NASL weekend may the Mother’s Day matinee between the lively Edmonton attack and the stingy Cosmos defense. The Eddies are tied for second most goals in the league while the Cosmos have only conceded one goal through five matches.

The Eddies will look to counter with the speed of wingers Lance Laing and Sainey Nyassi. Laing, in particular, has found his form from the end of last season, scoring twice and providing three assists in only four league matches.

This is, by far, the most in-form attack Cosmos keeper Jimmy Maurer has faced this year. He will need to get another solid effort from the players in front of him if he has any shot at keeping another his fifth clean sheet of the year.