NASL Spring Week 10 Preview: Minnesota and Tampa Bay Hold Slim Odds For Spring Title

IMAGE, MINNESOTA UNITED FC

by JAKE NUTTING
NASL Beat Writer

In the second to last weekend of the NASL Spring season only three teams remain in the title race – The New York Cosmos, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and Minnesota United FC. While New York is a virtual lock for the Spring title, the Loons and Rowdies do hold outside shots at swooping in to steal the crown in the final week.

While New York enjoys its break after a successful and historic trip to Cuba earlier in the week, Minnesota and Tampa Bay will need to win by wide margins in their matches to make up ground. If either team wins their remaining two matches, and the Cosmos drop all three points against Jacksonville next week, then they will be tied at 19 points with New York. Goal Differential is the first tiebreaker and the Cosmos (9 GD) have an even more commanding lead over Minnesota (3 GD) and Tampa Bay (2 GD) in that category.

Of course, all the scenarios become meaningless if the Loons and Rowdies both failed to earn three points. If both teams stumble this weekend then the Cosmos can comfortably celebrate clinching the first playoff spot of 2015 from their couches.

Atlanta Silverbacks vs. San Antonio Scorpions, Saturday 7:30 p.m.

The Scorpions have struggled on the road this year and this weekend they head to Atlanta, where teams have struggled to score all year. Atlanta’s defense has helped the team draw all four of their home matches this year. Scorpions forward Omar Cummings is tied for the most goals in the league (4). However, the speedy Jamaican will need help to break through the well-organized bodies that Atlanta will no doubt stuff into the box.

Staying compact and maintaining their defensive shape has helped the Silverbacks all season, so a change in that philosophy is unlikely. Although, with Hans Denissen finding getting into the swing of things a playmaker in the past few matches, the Silverbacks have started to develop more quality scoring chances. Denissen will look to feed leading scorer Shaka Bangura and the wing players whenever possible on the counter to exploit a Scorpions defense that has conceded 15 goals in eight matches.

Carolina RailHawks vs. Minnesota United FC, Saturday 7:30 p.m.

Two teams with the best run of form in the past few weeks will clash at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday night. The visiting Loons are unbeaten in league play since week three of the Spring season and were minutes away from defeating the first place New York Cosmos before Raul was able to find an equalizer. The match is an a must-win for Minnesota, who will be without Miguel Ibarra as the midfielder heads to Europe to join the U.S. Men’s national team. Head coach Manny Lagos still has leading scorer Pablo Campos to call on, but Campos has benefited greatly from the service of Ibarra on many of his goals so it will be interesting to see how impactful the forward can be.

Carolina’s is unbeaten in its last three league matches and is coming off a 4-0 drubbing of Jacksonville. Ty Shipalane has been the star performer in the Spring for Carolina, but new contributors sprang to life in that win over Jacksonville. Midfielder Mark Anderson grabbed his second goal of the year, while Neil Hlavaty, Conor Tobin, and Leo Osaki recorded their first. The RailHawks have their off in the final week of the Spring season next week so this match will serve as the club’s Spring finale. They currently occupy second place on the table, over Minnesota and Tampa Bay based on goal differential.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. Indy Eleven, Saturday 7:30 p.m.

Indy Eleven experienced a major shakeup earlier this week when the club announced that head coach Juergen Sommer was relieved of his duties and assistant coach Tim Regan would be taking over as interim coach. It’s Regan’s first time in the head coach position at the professional level and the biggest issue facing him going forward is figuring out how to get goals. Indy’s defense has shown some signs of improvement this season compared to last year, but the goals have not come as easily and the club sits at the bottom of the league table.

The Strikers have hit a scoring drought of their own, scoring only two goals in the four matches since their last win in week five. The production from Brazilian imports Leo Moura and PC in the midfield has dropped off considerably since the opening weeks. With only eight points under their belt, two more underwhelming results for the Strikers to close out the Spring could put the South Florida side in a deep hole heading into the Fall.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. FC Edmonton, Saturday 7:30 p.m.

Two dismal showings in the U.S. Open Cup and at Indy last week has drained virtually all of the momentum all of the Rowdies had built up into their off week. The task won’t get any easier with numerous players unavailable for the match up against a dangerous Edmonton side. Holding midfielder Richard Menjivar left the Rowdies this week to join the Salvadoran national team and midfield captain Marcelo Saragosa is also questionable with an injury. Leading scorer Maicon Santos, leading assister Georgi Hristov and dependable center back Stefan Antonijevic will all miss Saturday’s action after receiving red cards last week in Indy.

The potent Eddies attack, led by winger Lance Laing and leading scorer Daryl Fordyce will look to exploit the makeshift Rowdies lineup that will more than likely include Gale Agbossoumonde at center back. Agbossoumonde has not played a competitive match in nearly two years after sitting out all of 2014 with the Colorado Rapids. Edmonton has conceded the most goals this year (17), but the back line is coming off its first clean sheet after a scoreless draw with Ottawa. 2014 NASL Golden Glove winner John Smits has returned to a starting role and could play a key role in turning around Edmonton’s playoff hopes.

Jacksonville Armada FC vs. Ottawa Fury FC, Sunday 4 p.m.

As the lowest scoring team in the NASL (5 goals), Ottawa may be looking at Sunday’s afternoon match in Jacksonville as a strong opportunity for redemption. After all, Jacksonville’s defense did just get burned for four goals by Carolina at home last weekend. Ottawa, though, is by far one of the worst road teams in the league with a 0-1-3 record.

The expansion side has hit a particularly rough patch at the end of May. Including the U.S. Open Cup, the Armada have conceded a whopping 10 goals in their last three matches. Head coach Guillermo Hoyos will have some major issues to solve on the back line if the Armada have any shot at making a serious run at the remaining three playoff spots. This will also be the last taste that Jacksoville’s home crowd gets in the Spring as the team will close out in New York next week. The response from the community has been phenomenal for the club and is a prime example of what is well-executed expansion plan can produce in the NASL.