NASL Spring Week 3 Preview: Raúl’s Long-Awaited Home Debut, more

IMAGE, NYCOSMOS.COM

by JAKE NUTTING
NASL Beat Writer

It’s only week 3 of the NASL Spring season, so the league pecking order is still being determined. New York and Tampa Bay, however, are certainly making their case for teams to watch. Both are proving to be stout defensively but have had troubling finishing goal scoring chances. Carolina is in a three way tie for first place with New York and Tampa Bay, but have yet to play a top-tier opponent. And of course, Minnesota has only played one league match.

Teams are still looking to establish themselves as contenders, but the shortened Spring competition doesn’t leave them with much more time to do so.

Ottawa Fury FC vs. Minnesota United FC, Saturday at 3 p.m. ET

The high-flying Loons attack must have a bad taste in their mouths after looking rather tame in last week’s 0-0 draw in Tampa Bay. Last year’s NASL Golden Boot winner Christian Ramirez looked particularly lackluster in Minnesota’s 2015 debut. Fortunately for Ramirez and company, they get to square off against a vulnerable Ottawa side.

The Fury have been dealing with injuries in the midfield this year and have looked susceptible to the counter attack. Ottawa will be getting back Julian de Guzman after the Canadian international sat out last week’s action with a red card suspension. de Guzman will need to keep his composure and help lead the Fury in midfield if the home side has any shot at points against Minnesota.

New York Cosmos vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies, Saturday at 7 p.m. ET

The marquee match of the weekend will take place on Long Island when Thomas Rongen gets his first taste of a NASL heritage match as head coach. The Cosmos and Rowdies sit atop the league’s Spring table after only conceding one goal each in their opening two matches. However, both teams showed signs of struggling in the opponent’s final third last week. The Cosmos hope that Raúl’s nagging hamstring won’t prevent the legendary striker from lighting it up in their home debut. The Rowdies have hopes for one of their striker as well. After sitting out the first two weeks, the leading scorer in the preseason Maicon Santos has joined the team and will be available for selection on Saturday. The Cosmos love to throw numbers forward in the attack and Rongen has hinted that he may approach matches in a more aggressive manner. All this adds up to a possibly very entertaining match for neutral fans.

Carolina Railhawks vs. Atlanta Silverbacks, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET

How good the Railhawks are is still a mystery. They sit atop the Spring table with 4 points, tied with New York and Tampa Bay, but have only played the underwhelming Canadian NASL sides so far. And this weekend, at home, the opponent is equally as beatable. Atlanta has fought hard to earn draws in its first two matches but is facing its first test on the road. One thing we do know for sure about Carolina is that its midfield will keep them in games they have no business winning. Midfielder Ty Shipalane has been the engine of many dangerous attacks. Veteran striker Nacho Novo is off to a strong start with two goals already for Carolina. It’s still too early to make any final determinations about any team, but if the Railhawks have seven points after three matches in a short Spring season, it will be harder to deny them as contenders.

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

The 2014 Soccer Bowl champions got embarrassed by Tampa Bay at home in the opening week. After sitting out week two with a bye, Scorpions Head Coach Alen Marcina has an opportunity to right the ship in the Spring. San Antonio did not have an intense preseason, so chemistry and fitness issues will likely continue to linger, but the club has added depth at holding midfield with the signing of Joseph Nane.

Indy is off to a better start compared to last year’s Spring season but have still failed in the offensive end. They’ve managed to score two goals but one was a stoppage time penalty against Atlanta and the other was the result of a bewildering miscue from Cosmos keeper Jimmy Mauer. Indy has improved their defensive structure with signings like former Scorpion center back Greg Janicki, but still need to create more scoring chances.

FC Edmonton vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Sunday at 4 p.m. ET

After a solid Spring start at home, the Strikers are hitting the road for the first time, traveling all the way up to Edmonton where most NASL teams struggle to find results. The Eddies, though, have stumbled out of the gate, putting in two uninspired performances to start the season. The lone highlight in last week’s draw with Carolina was keeper Matt Van Oekel’s performance. Without Van Oekel in net, the Eddies would be facing week 3 with zero points.

Van Oekel and the Eddies back line will have their hands full with the Strikers attack. Victor “PC” Giro is fresh off NASL of the Week honors after leading Fort Lauderdale to a 2-1 victory over Jacksonville. PC – on loan from Corinthians – is quickly making a case to be the best pick up of the offseason.