NASL Fall Week 17 Recap: Battle for Top Seed Still Undecided, Rowdies Control Fate

IMAGE, BRIAN BLANCO/TAMPA BAY ROWDIES

by JAKE NUTTING

Ottawa Fury FC (44 pts Fall, 55 pts Combined) had a pretty good week of action, but it could have been so much better.

The Canadian side locked up the Fall Season crown with a comeback win in Jacksonville and was also 12 minutes away from clinching home field advantage in the postseason. The Fury were denied that all-important leverage when the New York Cosmos (33, 53) found a crucial game-winner from defender Ayoze.

Ottawa can still lock up the top playoff seed with a win in Atlanta next week, but a draw might not necessarily get the job done. Ottawa is only ahead by two in the tie-breaking goal differential, so the Cosmos have a realistic shot of surpassing that.

The Cosmos will be aiming for that top spot while hosting rival Tampa Bay Rowdies (20, 39), who are now in pole position for the final playoff berth. Only the Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers (27, 38) remain in consideration for the final spot, but the Rowdies control their destiny thanks to a narrow win over Carolina and the Strikers only scrapping together a single point from two matches during the week.

Ottawa Fury FC 3-1 Jacksonville Armada FC

Ottawa produced the better opportunities in Wednesday’s match in Jacksonville, yet they still found themselves down a goal at the halftime break thanks to an impeccably struck free kick from defender Mechack Jerome from 35 yards out. Only needing a draw out of the match to secure the Fall Season title, the Fury swarmed the Armada in the second half and tallied three unanswered goals from Rafael Alves, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, and Andrew Wiedeman. The result is only Jacksonville’s second home loss of its inaugural year and Ottawa’s 13th win of the Fall Season. Ottawa is now unbeaten in their last 11 and can tie their 12-game unbeaten run that sparked their initial run up the standings in the summer.

Indy Eleven 2-1 Fort Lauderdale Strikers

Indy’s contingent of Jamaican attacking talent hasn’t always lived up to expectations this year, but it showed up in full force for the club in its upset over the Strikers.

Don Smart opened up the scoring in the 20th minute when, under no pressure, he fired off a low-driven shot from outside the box that blew by the keeper. Smart’s fellow countryman Brian Brown tallied his fifth of the year a few minutes before the halftime break by heading home a superb free kick from Dylan Mares.

In desperate need of a result to stay in the driver’s seat of the playoff race, Fort Lauderdale surged in the second half to take something from the match. Jose Angulo entered at the start of the second half and cut the deficit to one in the 59th through a long range effort gifted to him by a botched clearance. Fort Lauderdale continued to push, but league-leading scorer Stefano Pinho was shut out for the second straight match and the Srtikers lost control of their playoff fate.

Tampa Bay Rowdies 1-0 Carolina RailHawks

Winless in their previous five matches, the pressure was squarely on the Rowdies to earn a full three points in the final home game of the regular season. Tampa Bay showed great energy in front of a near-capacity crowd and applied early pressure on the visiting RailHawks. Twelve minutes into the match, midfielder Richard Menjivar¬†capped off the positive play with a brilliant strike. The midfielder received a poor clearance 35 yards from goal, took a couple seconds to assess the situation and struck a curling shot that sailed past unsuspecting keeper Hunter Gilstrap. Carolina’s keeper rebounded nicely to deny the Rowdies on a handful of more serious chances in the match, though. The RailHawks enjoyed the majority of the possession after conceding, but they never produced a dangerous shot on frame. Tampa Bay’s defenders were constantly in the right position to block shots and when they weren’t, Carolina was hamstrung by their own lackluster finishing.

Minnesota United FC 1-0 Atlanta Silverbacks

The only goal of Saturday’s match in the Twin Cities came after only nine minutes. Attacking midfielder Kalif Alhassan had a terrific run to penetrate the penalty area but he was tripped up by Atlanta’s Simon Mensing while trying to cut inside. Christian Ramirez stepped to the spot and confidently converted the penalty for his 12th goal of the year. Atlanta came close to equalizing two minutes later when a terrific curling free kick by Paul Black was redirected on frame by Rauwshan McKenzie. The defender’s header had the keeper beat, but he was thwarted by the far post. It was the only whiff of the goal the Silverbacks could manage all night. The Loons attack-minded lineup pressed for more in the late stages, but Atlanta’s netminder Steward Ceus came up with two stellar saves to keep the scoreline respectable.

New York Cosmos 2-1 San Antonio Scorpions

A weather delay from Hurricane Patricia pushed the Cosmos and Scorpions match from Saturday to Sunday afternoon. As the hometown side, San Antonio looked like the more threatening team in the first half. Midfielder Billy Forbes was a menace throughout the opening half and gave his club a 1-0 lead to carry into the halftime break when he stripped a defender of the ball in the box and slotted a shot past Jimmy Maurer

The Cosmos attacking frustrations carried over into the second half. Chances from open play were few and far between in open play, but the Cosmos managed to claw their way to a pivotal win through two set pieces. First Marcos Senna equalized when he converted a penalty that Gaston Cellerino drew in the 60th minute, and then Ayoze tallied his first of the year with a breathtaking free kick to secure all three valuable points.

FC Edmonton 1-1 Jacksonville Armada FC

Less than a minute. That is how long Jacksonville had to hold on until the final whistle would have blown to award them their first away victory of the year. The Armada controlled nearly every facet of Sunday’s match and was only held to one goal by the heroics of Edmonton keeper Tyson Farago. In only his second start of the year, the keeper made several spectacular saves to keep his team competitive in their final match of the season. Jacksonville only managed to get on the board through an own goal from defender Albert Watson shortly after Edmonton’s Ritchie Jones was ejected. Even with the man advantage, the Armada blew their last shot at a road win when Mallan Roberts headed an equalizer into the net in the final minute of stoppage time.