NASL Spring Week 7 Preview: Florida Derby Reunion, Armada look to stay in race, more

IMAGE, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES

by JAKE NUTTING
NASL Beat Writer

It’s week seven of the NASL Spring season and some teams are starting to see the finish line.

With a five point lead over Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, unbeaten New York is getting closer to wrapping up the Spring season before they even reach their off week and travel to Havana for their highly-publicized exhibition with the Cuban national team. Jacksonville is hoping that they can keep the pressure on the Cosmos by notching their third straight win and their first three points on the road. Meanwhile, the second place Rowdies and third place Fort Lauderdale Strikers will continue their historic rivalry when they take the field for first time in 2015 at the Rowdies home venue.

Atlanta Silverbacks vs. Jacksonville Armada FC, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET

After two straight wins in front of their loyal supporters, the Armada are hoping they can secure their first away win of the year to continue their rise up the Spring table. The fact that the Armada field one of the highest-scoring teams in the league should not intimidate the Atlanta Silverbacks, a club that has only conceded four goals through six matches.

If the Silverbacks wish to stay in the hunt for the Spring title, though, they will need to do more than just keep their opponent off the scoresheet. Going into the weekend, Atlanta is tied with Ottawa or dead last in goals scored (four). A stout defense has kept them afloat with four draws so far, but to stay in contention for a playoff spot this year, Atlanta will need to find consistent scorers to start earning three point results. Head Coach Gary Smith has shown a preference for a counter attacking style, a tactic that has left Jacksonville exposed in its two road losses this season to Fort Lauderdale and Tampa Bay.

Carolina Railhawks vs. New York Cosmos, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET

The New York Cosmos have undeniably been the cream of the NASL crop this Spring season. Through six weeks, the club is still unbeaten with a first place lead that continues to widen every week.

If they want to continue the streak, though, they will need to find a result at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina, the venue that has most perplexed the Cosmos since they entered the league. In five matches against the Railhawks since 2013, New York has a 1-0-4 record, with the lone win coming at home. The last match between the two clubs was a 5-4 shootout that ended in favor of Carolina.

That type of offensive output is far from likely this time around, at least from Carolina’s perspective. With injuries plaguing the Railhawks all Spring, they have not won a match outright since week one and have consistently failed to produce many goals. The Cosmos coming off their biggest offensive explosion of the Spring against Edmonton and Raúl joining the effort this season, make a positive result in Cary for the Cosmos look very likely.

Indy Eleven vs. Minnesota United FC, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET

Fresh off their first win of the season over Atlanta, Minnesota should be re-energized for this weekend’s action. Midfielder Miguel Ibarra has found a nice form the past few weeks, providing assists to forward Pablo Campos on two occasions.

After a close-fought loss to Jacksonville last week. Indy Eleven’s defense will likely be rejuvenated in their own right with the re-acquisition of star keeper Kristian Nicht after his two week sting in MLS with Montreal Impact. Keeper Keith Cardona acquitted himself well in his one appearance against the Armada, but the veteran experience Nicht brings to the back line is irreplaceable.

Indy has both conceded and scored five goals this year, a respectable number for the defense, but a dismal statistic for the attack. With the club’s announcement that last year’s leading scorer Kleberson will continue to miss action for an indefinite amount of time, the pressure is mounting on Indy to find an offensive spark before it’s too late.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET

The first match of the 2015 Florida Derby is finally set to kick off. Both sides saw massive turnover in the offseason, which included five 2014 Strikers joining up with the Rowdies and two 2014 Rowdies inking deals with the Strikers.

Former Rowdies captain Frankie Sanfilippo has done well to earn a starting center back spot with his new club and even earned NASL Team of the Week honors for his latest performance. For the Rowdies, former Strikers Stefan Antonijevic and Martin Núñez will likely be key contributors for the home side. Antonijveic has played every minute for the Rowdies this year and earned NASL Team of the Week honors three times, while Núñez has worked his way into a starting position with two goals after beginning the year as a bench player.

Off a bye-week, the Strikers should be fully rested and ready to get back to their scoring ways. Despite posting a scoreless effort in their match against Atlanta, the Strikers are the second highest-scoring team in the league. The Rowdies will have their hands full trying to shut down speedy players like PC.

With the return of Georgi Hristov from suspension and a possibly a fully-recovered Maicon Santos, the Rowdies are also hoping to jumpstart their attack after an uninspired 0-0 result in Ottawa.

FC Edmonton vs. San Antonio Scorpions, Sunday 4 p.m. ET

The past week has been an interesting one for the Eddies. After a rough 4-2 loss in New York on Sunday, the team had to travel all the way across the continent to square off with MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps in Canadian Championship action on Wednesday. They pulled out an impress 1-1 draw with Vancouver and now, on short rest, face the potentially lethal attack of San Antonio.

With both teams implementing a style that showcases quick counter attacking soccer, fans in Edmonton could be in for a show. Lance Laing and Tomi Ameobi have been phenomenal for Edmonton over the past month, helping lead them to a tie for most goals scored (nine). However, Omar Cummings, loanee Bright Dike, and the entire Scorpions midfield have shown momentary flashes of brilliance in the past week. The team that manages to keep its defensive shape the best will likely come out on top in the match.