NASL Spring Finale Preview: Cosmos Hoping to Punch Playoff Ticket, Rowdies Look for a Miracle, more

IMAGE, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES

by JAKE NUTTING
NASL Beat Writer

For all the talk of the New York Cosmos running away with the NASL spring season, the title is still to be decided in the final weekend of the short season.

Granted, the only challenger to the Cosmos, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, will need nothing short of a miracle to pull off the comeback.

The Rowdies will need to beat Atlanta, have New York fall to Jacksonville, and overcome a goal differential of six to win on tiebreaker and take the spring crown. A draw or win for the heavy favorite Cosmos over the expansion side on Saturday will seal the deal regardless of what happens between the Rowdies and Silverbacks.

This third iteration of the Spring Championship will see another first time winner as neither New York nor Tampa Bay won the competition in the first two years. The Atlanta Silverbacks won the inaugural edition in 2012 and Minnesota United FC captured last year’s title. The winner of the spring is guaranteed one of the top two seeds in the NASL’s four team playoff in November.

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

The main obstacle in the way of spring glory for the New York Cosmos is the expansion side from Florida. With any points clinching the season title on Saturday, the Cosmos aren’t likely to stray too far outside of their usual game plan. Keeping the Armada off the scoresheet at Hofstra sounds like a more than achievable task for a defense that has allowed the fewest goals this year (6). Jacksonville is also on a bit of a scoring drought. Including the U.S. Open Cup, the team has been held scoreless in its last three matches.

With a guaranteed playoff spot on the line if they clinch the Spring title, the Cosmos are expected to the take the match seriously. However, with an important U.S. Open Cup match up with New York City FC coming on Wednesday, some key starters may get a rest if the Armada match looks well in hand early on. The Cosmos had their off week last weekend. Interestingly, NASL teams have a 1W-3D-5L record in their first match following an off week this year.

Indy Eleven vs. FC Edmonton, Saturday 7:30 p.m.

Indy has suffered from attacking woes this spring, but has somehow managed to score four goals in their last two matches. While following a last-minute equalizer against the Rowdies with a last-minute winner over the Strikers may be exciting, it doesn’t instill strong confidence in the attacking unit. Relying on stoppage time goals is a surefire strategy for an inconsistent year.

Indy may be in luck though with Edmonton coming to town. The Eddies have conceded a staggering 19 goals in only nine matches this year. Switching back to 2014 Golden Glove winner John Smits didn’t help much last week as Edmonton was thoroughly beaten by the Rowdies. The Eddies attack will also be without its main cog in the spring finale as Lance Laing has left for international duty with Jamaica. The winger is tied for most goals on the team (4) and has the most assists (4).

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Atlanta Silverbacks, Saturday 7:30 p.m.

The Rowdies really couldn’t have picked a tougher opponent to go against while in desperate need of goals to bridge the goal differential gap between them and the Cosmos. Through nine games, the Atlanta Silverbacks have only conceded 10 goals this year and have only allowed an opponent to score multiple goals once. Working in Tampa Bay’s favor, though, is the fact that leading scorer Maicon Santos and playmaker Georgi Hristov, who leads the league with five assists, will be available again after missing last week due to red card suspension.

Things were looking up for the Silverbacks after the first month of NASL action, but the club faded as the spring wore on and the goals failed to come. With Hans Denissen playing only a limited role, Atlanta has managed to only net seven goals, the second-worst tally in the league. The poor attacking form has left Atlanta at the bottom of the points table heading into the final week of the spring season. The visitors will need to work hard if they want a positive result to close things out as the Rowdies are undefeated at home this year, including wins in their last three home matches.

Minnesota United FC vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Saturday 8 p.m.

Minnesota may have been eliminated from spring contention after conceding its second straight late equalizer, but Saturday’s match still has plenty of meaning. Besides the obvious implications for the combined points standings, the match will also be U.S. international Miguel Ibarra’s final competitive match in a Minnesota shirt before heading for Club León in Liga MX. Supporters and anyone involved with the club will be rooting hard for Ibarra to end his time in Minnesota on the high notes they’ve grown accustomed to.

While Minnesota may be entering the match with a little extra motivation, Fort Lauderdale is likely lost in a haze. The departure of head coach Marcelo Neveleff earlier this week wasn’t a shock but it could mean some of the squad may already be looking ahead to the summer break when a new coach will come in. It’s up to veteran defender and now interim head coach Ivan Guerrero to keep the players focused and properly motivated. Guerrero has played nearly 700 of a possible 810 minutes for the Strikers this year.

San Antonio Scorpions vs. Ottawa Fury FC, Saturday 8:30 p.m.

Flying under the radar in the spring season because of San Antonio’s relative insignificance in the title race, is resurgent forward Omar Cummings. The MLS veteran has found firm footing in his move to San Antonio and now leads the NASL in goals scored (5). Cummings, along with fellow attacker Billy Forbes, is a huge reason why the Scorpions are a mid-table team at the end of the spring instead of a bottom dweller. The defense hasn’t been as helpful in the spring, conceding 15 goals thus far.

San Antonio’s back line could be in luck this weekend, though, with Ottawa coming to town. Ottawa has only mustered five goals this spring season, with only one goal to their name in their previous four matches.

Scorpions defender Nana Attakora and Ottawa captain Julian de Guzman will be unavailable for the match as both are away on Canadian national team duty.

  • Larry’s slow left arm is a simpleton

    Who cares what the Cosmos do? I’m an MLS man all the way. I’ve got a shrine to Don Garber in my bedroom and I pray to the Lord Don Almighty nightly. No one cares about the NASL! It’s an MLS World! I don’t need a girlfriend! I have a life size poster of Sal Zizzo!