NASL Fall Week 13 Preview: Cosmos Feel the Squeeze at Top of the Table

IMAGE, STEVE KINGSMAN/OTTAWA FURY FC

by JAKE NUTTING

Ottawa Fury FC (31 pts Fall, 42 pts Combined) are inching closer to locking up the Fall Season title, but perhaps more importantly, both they and Minnesota United FC (26, 40) are finally applying serious pressure on the New York Cosmos (23, 43) for the top spot in the combined standings.

A slip up for New York in Edmonton this weekend and they could find themselves even with the Loons or trailing the Fury.

Further down the combined table, the Tampa Bay Rowdies (14, 33) and Fort Lauderdale Strikers (20, 31) continue to play musical chairs with the final playoff spot. The Strikers are hosting the formidable Loons this weekend, so a win for the Rowdies against the free-falling Jacksonville Armada FC could provide a tiny bit of breathing room.

Of course, it’s also still far too early to eliminate the Atlanta Silverbacks (21, 29) and FC Edmonton (22, 31) from the discussion entirely.

Carolina RailHawks vs. Ottawa Fury FC, Saturday 7:30 p.m.ET

The Fall Season leaders made an emphatic statement to the rest of the league when they followed up a win in Fort Lauderdale with another road victory against the combined standings leading Cosmos. Ottawa will need to pass one more road test, though, before they can return home. The Fury will take their impressive 5W-4D-2L road record into Carolina to face a RailHawks side that is desperate to stay relevant in the postseason race.

Carolina sits seven points back of the final playoff spot and enters the weekend tied for most goals conceded this year (39). The club signed Spanish defender Alex Pérez  this week in hopes of plugging the holes in the back line. At 24, Pérez has valuable experience in Europe, including two Europa League appearances for Getafe.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. Minnesota United FC, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET

The Strikers let opportunity slip through their fingers last week when a home loss to Ottawa knocked them out of a playoff spot yet again. The task gets no easier for the South Florida side as Minnesota United comes to town with sights squarely on pulling even with the Cosmos at the top of the combined standings. Fort Lauderdale will also face their first match without the dynamic PC, who was ejected in the loss to Ottawa.

The match has the potential for an offensive explosion. The Loons lead the NASL in goals with 42, while the Strikers are second in the Fall Season with 24. Fort Lauderdale fields the NASL Golden Ball pacesetter Stefano Pinho (12) and Minnesota’s attack is lead by Christian Ramirez (9), one of the only true threats to Pinho taking the award home. Pinho has been held scoreless in his last three outings, so he’ll be itching to get back on track.

Jacksonville Armada FC vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET

Jacksonville became the fourth NASL team to fire their coach this season when they dismissed Guillermo Hoyos on Monday. The Armada’s Director of Player Development Eric Dade has been tasked with coaching duties for the club that finds itself at the bottom of both the Fall and Combined Season standings. This is Dade’s first professional coaching job, though he did lead Jacksonville United to an NPSL title in 2011. Dade has his hands full trying to fix a defense that has allowed 38 goals in 23 matches and has also been blanked in five straight matches.

Meanwhile, Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell, who took over only a little over a month ago, is sighing a little breath of relief after jumping back into a postseason spot. He can’t get too comfortable, though, as his club is still in serious need of consistency. Tampa Bay beat Jacksonville in their previous two encounters but this time they’ll be without Maicon Santos, the man who scored four of their six goals in those matches.

San Antonio Scorpions vs. Atlanta Silverbacks, Saturday 8:30 p.m. ET

The Silverbacks have flown under the radar in recent weeks, but they still sit in a favorable position for the final playoff plush. Atlanta is only four points back of Tampa Bay with six games left on their schedule and a terrific opportunity to pick up valuable road points against a deflated San Antonio side. Atlanta’s attack has been riding on the backs of Jaime Chavez, Junior Burgos and Pedro Mendes throughout the Fall Season. The trio has combined to score 15 of Atlanta’s 19 goals in the Fall.

San Antonio’s playoff hopes have been put on life support after last weekend’s listless loss to the Rowdies. Forward Omar Cummings, who still sits second in goals scored with 10, has been invisible for close to two months now. The Jamaican has not found the back of the net in seven straight matches.

FC Edmonton vs. New York Cosmos, Sunday 4 p.m. ET

After suffering their first home loss in over a year, the Cosmos are hitting the road to face the in-form Eddies. Edmonton has posted back to back wins, shutting out their opponents both times. And before those wins, Edmonton held the prolific Loons to one goal and limited chances in a road draw. It would appear that the Eddies may have finally found the defensive form that head coach Colin Miller’s squads have been known for over the years.

The sudden resurgence of Edmonton’s back line and keeper Matt Van Oekel could spell trouble for the Cosmos, who have struggled connecting on the final pass and finish in recent weeks. New York has only scored two goals in their last four matches and has also been shutout in three of their last six. Head coach Gio Savarese has some issues to solve to get back to consistent scoring, including figuring out the best way to incorporate Gaston Cellerino in the attack. The forward was taken off at halftime of his first start on Tuesday after failing to impact the game.