The North American Soccer League Spring Season standings show top of the table Atlanta Silverbacks just a point ahead of the Carolina RailHawks and Minnesota United FC on their tail with three weeks of action remaining before the summer break.
But with only nine points separating first through last place, for even the clubs that have been eliminated from hosting Soccer Bowl, awarded to the champion of the spring campaign, finishing the season strongly could still increase the odds of qualifying for the November finale.
The fall winner will join the team that progresses from the spring, unless the same team wins both seasons, in which case combined records from all games will decide the berth and the next-best team qualifies. So for the eliminated FC Edmonton and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, as well as Minnesota United, Tampa Bay Rowdies and San Antonio Scorpions – who all fight to stay in the race this weekend – three points could prove a valuable commodity.
“We know that our chances to win the Spring Season are slim after Saturday’s loss, but we will go to Atlanta in search of the win as it may be crucial in the long run,” said Tampa Bay Rowdies coach Ricky Hill, whose side travels to face the league-leading Silverbacks.
“Atlanta is a very talented team and April’s match was an example of how dangerous they can be. We can’t rely on scoring two or three goals each match to get the three points, and it all starts with not allowing any goals in our net.”
When the teams met in Tampa on April 20 at Al Lang Stadium, the Rowdies let a 3-1 lead slip to eventually lose 4-3 and Atlanta is currently enjoying a worst-to-first season having ended last season at the foot of the table.
Breathing down the Silverbacks’ necks are the Carolina RailHawks, whose planned return to top spot was denied by a 1-1 draw away to FC Edmonton last weekend. They face third-placed Minnesota United FC at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday, on a weekend when any one of three clubs could climb into pole position.
“This weekend against Minnesota is a very big game,” said RailHawks coach Colin Clarke. “It’s the start of an important two weeks of NASL play. The good thing for us is that our next two matches are at home and we have performed well at home. It’s important to go out and continue that success at home starting Saturday night.”
The clash will see United strikers Pablo Campos and Etienne Barbara return to their old stomping ground, only in 2011 when the sides met in the playoff semi finals, the pair lined up for Carolina in a thrilling second leg. Minnesota carried a 1-0 lead into the game, which ended with the aggregate score tied at 4-4 before the visitors won on penalties on their way to the 2011 title.
Minnesota is in the strange position of battling for the league lead while also guarding against elimination from hosting Soccer Bowl contention. United must win or draw against Carolina, or lose and hope that Atlanta fails to win to stay in the race.
The Rowdies need to beat Atlanta and rely on Carolina and Minnesota to draw, while the San Antonio Scorpions face the most complicated scenario. Tim Hankinson’s side, which has three games remaining, must win at home to FC Edmonton coupled with either Atlanta or Carolina failing to win. Or they can draw provided Carolina and Minnesota draw and Atlanta loses.
So the best plan of attack for all concerned is to target a win and three points towards whichever scenario best leads down the road to Soccer Bowl.
Week 12 Schedule (All kickoff times US EST)
Saturday, June 22
Carolina RailHawks vs. Minnesota United FC
WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, N.C. 7:00 pm
Atlanta Silverbacks vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Atlanta Silverbacks Park, Atlanta, Ga. 7:30 pm
San Antonio Scorpions vs. FC EdmontonToyota Field, San Antonio, Texas 8:30 pm
Bye week: Fort Lauderdale Strikers
All games will be streamed live and can be watched via the NASL official website www.NASL.comand at each respective team website.
|New York Cosmos||31||14||9||4||1||10|
|Tampa Bay Rowdies||20||14||5||5||4||3|
|Minnesota United FC||20||14||6||2||6||2|
|Fort Lauderdale Strikers||18||14||5||3||6||-2|
|San Antonio Scorpions||10||14||3||1||10||-9|
|San Antonio Scorpions||20||12||6||2||4||4|
|Tampa Bay Rowdies||18||12||5||3||4||5|
|Minnesota United FC||14||12||4||2||6||-5|
|Fort Lauderdale Strikers||8||12||2||2||8||-14|