NASL Week 8 Preview: Spring Title Elimination Looms For Several Clubs

IMAGE, NEW YORK COSMOS

by JAKE NUTTING
NASL Beat Writer

The field for the NASL Spring title race could drastically shrink by the end of this weekend’s action.

All eyes will be on the Cosmos and Scorpions on Long Island Saturday night. If the Cosmos are able to continue their unbeaten run with a full three points, then San Antonio, Edmonton, Ottawa, Carolina, and Atlanta will all be eliminated from contention for the first available playoff spot of the season. With a win, the Cosmos would have 18 points – putting them at an unsurmountable lead over those competitors.

The other marquee match of the weekend will take place in Minnesota when Jacksonville Armada FC travels up North for the first time. Minnesota and Jacksonville are the only teams that control their own Spring destiny regardless of how the Cosmos perform. If either team wins their remaining Spring fixtures, they will surpass New York in the standing and clinch the Spring title. The high stakes and proficient attacks for both teams could mean an exciting show for neutral fans tuning in.

Ottawa Fury FC vs. Indy Eleven, Saturday 3 p.m. ET

Two of the most hard-pressed attacks in the league will kick off the weekend’s action on Saturday afternoon. Indy has netted only six goals so far this year while Ottawa have a league-worst four goal tally.

In hopes of spurring their offense, Indy signed 21-year-old forward Duke Lacroix. The University of Pennsylvania product participated in Indy’s preseason camp but elected to finish out his degree before signing his first professional contract.

Indy is also coming off its worst beating of the year, courtesy of Minnesota. To make matters worse, center back Greg Janicki is questionable for the match with a calf issue. Keeper Kristian Nicht, though, may finally see the field again after the club gave him an extra week to recover from his short foray into MLS with Montreal Impact.

New York Cosmos vs. San Antonio Scorpions, Saturday 7 p.m. ET

The Cosmos barley managed to remain unbeaten in the Spring in Carolina, with stoppage time heroics from Andres Flores and gaffes from the Railhawks back line being the only saving grace in a 2-2 draw.

New York returns home to attempt to further their Spring title race dominance against a suddenly streaking San Antonio Scorpions. After a dismal start to the season, the 2014 Soccer Bowl champions have won their last two matches. Last week’s 3-2 victory over Edmonton was likely their best performance of the year.

With NASL teams entering the US Open Cup next Wednesday, and the high priority that the Cosmos place on the competition, head coach Gio Savarese has some interesting decisions to make. Managing minutes for Raul and Marcos Senna – who left the Carolina match in the 10th minute with a tweaked hamstring – will be crucial. Next weekend’s match at Minnesota is possibly even more pivotal as the Loons still could surpass the Cosmos if they win out in the Spring.

Savarese and his players will likely be hoping to take an early lead over the Scorpions and bunker in to comfortably sail into next week’s fixtures. After conceding two goals in each of their last two matches, the normally resolute Cosmos back line will need to remain organized to squash the Scorpions lethal attackers Billy Forbes and Omar Cummings.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. Carolina Railhawks, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET

With a string of disappointing results in their most recent matches, both Carolina and Fort Lauderdale are looking to get back on track in the home stretch of the Spring season. Both teams sit with seven points, but Fort Lauderdale is in a much better position with a game in hand on Carolina.

After a stretch of impressive attacking results early on, the Strikers have been held scoreless in the last two outings. Last week’s effort in a 1-0 loss to the Rowdies was particularly uninspiring. Captain Leo Moura’s absence was felt in the midfield in that match and his status for Saturday’s match is listed as questionable.

Carolina’s spirits may be in doubt after letting the biggest upset of the season slip away last week when they conceded two stoppage time goals to the Cosmos and had to settle for a draw. The Railhawks have only been buoyed through an injury plagued Spring by Ty Shipalane. The winger has contributed to virtually every positive result the Railhawks have scraped together. After a poor effort defending the pace of the Rowdies last week by the Strikers back line, Shipalane could be in store for another strong showing.

Minnesota United FC vs. Jacksonville Armada FC, Saturday 8 p.m. ET

Minnesota and Jacksonville are two of the few teams that have been making positive moves up the points table in recent weeks. After an underwhelming start to the Spring, the Loons are currently on a four match unbeaten streak, including wins in their last two matches. Similarly, after letting a lead slip away against the Rowdies in week four, Jacksonville has gone on a three game unbeaten streak to rise up the ranks.

The match in Minnesota will be Jacksonville’s first away game outside the South. So far the Armada has only faced Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Fort Lauderdale on the road. The expansion team is still in search of its first away win after a 1-1 draw in Atlanta last week.

With 10 goals scored, Jacksonville is the second highest scoring team in the league. They’ll have to breakdown a solid Minnesota defense that is averaging only goal allowed this year. Although, the veteran Loons back line could be in trouble with the far superior pace that Jacksonville fields every week with attackers like Jemal Johnson, Alhassane Keita, and Pascal Millien.

Minnesota had its best offensive output last week in a convincing 3-1 win over Indy, but must deal with midfielder Jamie Watson’s season-ending ACL tear. Miguel Ibarra and leading scorer Pablo Campos will need to shine again as they did in the Loons’ previous two home matches.

FC Edmonton vs. Atlanta Silverbacks, Sunday 4 p.m. ET

Sunday’s afternoon match up will be the Eddies third match in seven days and their sixth total in the month of May. Edmonton must bounce back quickly after Wednesday’s devastating stoppage time loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps in the semifinal round of the Amway Canadian Championship. Tired legs and deflated spirits will need to be overcome promptly as the Eddies are in desperate need of three points after two straight losses in league play.

With Atlanta coming to town, the Eddies are up against one of the stingiest defenses in the league. Silverbacks head coach Gary Smith will likely take a typically conservative approach in hopes of stunting Edmonton’s potent attackers Lance Laing and Tomi Ameobi.

While the defense has been stout for the Silverbacks, their offense has been less than stellar, scoring only five goals. However, they did get their first major contribution from high-profile offseason Hans Denissen last week. The forward netted his first goal in a Sliverbacks shirt in the opening minute of the 1-1 draw. The one constant for Edmonton this year has been conceding early goals, so Denissen and his teammates should be ready to pounce on any opening given to them early on in the match.