NASL Fall Week 11 Preview: Postseason Anxiety Setting in for Some Clubs

IMAGE, SAN ANTONIO SCORPIONS

by JAKE NUTTING

The NASL postseason race is still tight across the board, but desperation must be setting in for a few clubs as every team has less than ten matches remaining on the schedule. The San Antonio Scorpions (Fall 9 pts, Combined 21 pts) and Jacksonville Armada FC (Fall 11 pts, Combined 23 pts) could be in serious danger of elimination from playoff contention if they can’t secure three point results soon.

The fourth postseason spot from the combined standings is still wide open to nearly half the league. The Tampa Bay Rowdies jumped back into the spot while the Strikers were off last week, though beneath them are a number of teams anxious to make a jump of their own. The table is so congested that even the Carolina RailHawks, who recently lost four straight matches, are only five points back of the Rowdies.

San Antonio Scorpions vs. Carolina RailHawks, Wednesday 8:30 p.m. ET

The Scorpions will be trying to overcome an injury to a key cog in the attack for their second of three matches in an eight-day stretch. Leading scorer Omar Cummings (9) will likely be on his own for the weeknight clash against Carolina after assist leader¬†Billy Forbes (6) exited Saturday’s match with a knock before halftime.

The RailHawks are coming off their first win in over a month. After conceding three goals in four straight matches, Carolina’s back line regrouped against the Silverbacks and recorded its first clean sheet of the Fall Season. Another positive sign for Carolina is the emergence of forward Nazmi Albadawi, who netted his first three goals of the year in spectacular fashion in the team’s last two matches.

Ottawa Fury FC vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Saturday 3 p.m. ET

The Fury rebounded from a disappointing three-game stretch where the team took only two points with a sturdy 1-0 performance in San Antonio. The Fall Season leaders will be getting captain Julian de Guzman back from the Canadian national team, but it’s unknown if he’ll factor into Saturday’s plan after receiving a calf injury last week.

Ottawa may have had a respectable showing last week, but the unfortunate news for them is that the hottest team in the NASL is coming to town. Fort Lauderdale is unbeaten in four matches, with three convincing wins in their most recent matches. The Strikers are also one of the few clubs this year to have beaten Ottawa at home. The last time that the two sides met was in the Spring Season, and the Strikers came out of that matches with a flattering 3-1 scoreline. A few weeks after that match, Ottawa began its record unbeaten run that saw the team rise up the standings. Ottawa has not conceded three goals in any match during the Fall Season.

New York Cosmos vs. Jacksonville Armada FC, Saturday 7 p.m. ET

New York has the benefit of returning to friendly setting at Shuart Stadium on Saturday after probably the club’s worst performance of the year. From the surface, squaring off against the only other team to beat you in league play right after a dismal outing seems bad, but Jacksonville is somehow winless in 11 road matches this year. Marcos Senna is not yet at full match fitness and Roversio is likely out again after pulling a hamstring last week. Even Raul looks as if he may be fading in the back of the season, leaving head coach Gio Savarese with interesting choices to make for the final stretch of the regular season.

The once imposing attack of Jacksonville has fallen to the wayside in the past month. The expansion club has only scored once in its last four matches. Injuries to Jemal Johnson and Alhassane Keita, as well as international duty for Pascal Millien have left the Armada attack hamstrung. Millien will be back from international duty, but there is no word how close Johnson or Keita are to returning.

Minnesota United FC vs. Carolina RailHawks, Saturday 8 p.m. ET

The Loons will, no doubt, be hoping to put in a commanding performance at home against the RailHawks after two disheartening showings in Carolina. The RailHawks dealt the Loons one of their two losses in the opening week of the Fall Season. Minnesota has gone on to find a nice run of form, while Carolina has struggled to remain relevant in the playoff race. Minnesota’s attack should also find some extra motivation after failing to put their boot down on a 10-man Edmonton side on Sunday. The Loons underwhelming nature in late stages has cost them a few three point results this year. This malady is something that head coach Manny Lagos will need to rectify if they hope to make a run for the Soccer Bowl.

San Antonio Scorpions vs. Indy Eleven, Saturday 8:30 p.m. ET

Indy Eleven is a perplexing club. Interim head coach Tim Regan and his squad were embarrassed with a 7-1 shellacking by Fort Lauderdale only two weeks ago and promptly responded by holding the high-flying Loons to one goal and trouncing Jacksonville 3-0. The club finally seems to be using Dane Richards’ speed to its advantage. The attacker is already tied for most goals with 3, but his pace has also opened up the game for other attackers, including Zach Steinberger who scored a brace last week.

FC Edmonton vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, Sunday 4 p.m. ET

The Eddies showed scrappiness to hang on and grab an equalizer against Minnesota despite a one-man disadvantage. Last week’s ejected player, Michael Nonni, would be an unlikely starter anyway with the return of Lance Laing and Sainey Nyassi from international duty. Edmonton presently sits five points back from Tampa Bay in the final playoff spot in the combined standings and will need Laing to return to his Spring Season form if they have any shot of making the postseason. A string of absences due to national team duty has left him with only three goals in the Fall.

Tampa Bay is riding high after its best overall showing since week one of the Spring Season. The players have bought into what promoted head coach Stuart Campbell is selling and are responding well to the tactical changes. Campbell will face a stiff challenge with a trip to Edmonton as the Rowdies, coincidentally, have not won a road match since the Spring opener. He’ll also be without leading scorer Maicon Santos (7) after the Brazilian pulled up with a non-contact injury last week. Loanee Omar Salgado is still not fit for selection, so Campbell will need to find a new partner for Georgi Hristov up top. NASL veteran Brian Shriver is the most likely candidate.