By Jason S Rufner
Just as we enter the hottest month of the year, the NASL's goal-scorers are heating up too.
The fifth weekend of the second half of the 2014 season saw 10 teams score 20 goals in 7 matches over 2 days – easily the NASL's most prolific barrage since the start of the Fall Season, which had seen a total of 50 goals through its first four weeks.
So, offense in the NASL is definitely trending ↑. (Though keepers aren't exactly giddy about it.)
Putting the ball in the net is nice, but putting the win on the table is the name of the game. In this article, we'll see who's heading up, who's falling down and who's staying put, for better or for worse.
Before we get into the trends of the teams, here's a sampling of the Week in Tweets in the #Fight4Fall – with supporters scarfing up, fans scarfing down pizza, and a player celebrating a big road win.
If The Championship began today:
Minnesota is the Spring Champion and San Antonio would be the Fall Champion. New York (27 points) would be the third seed and Fort Lauderdale (21 points) would be fourth.
Carolina's home loss slips them out of a berth for now. The RailHawks (20 points) are joined by Tampa Bay (19 points) and Atlanta (17 points) with their noses pressed against the glass. At least they still have an abundance of remaining matches to bust things open.
San Antonio Scorpions
The Stingers of the Southwest shook off their bad road loss of a week prior just the way a winning team should – by coming out firing (two first-half goals), while shutting down the opposition (zero goals allowed).
A great crowd, nearly making San Antonio's biggest this year, combined with a great performance on the pitch, gives the Scorpions an up arrow...after it was not quite so up last week.
Minnesota United FC
San Antonio has been the team of the fall, but Minnesota has been the team of the year. All the Loons have done is collect points, usually in threes. In five matches during the #Fight4Fall, they've left just two points on the pitch.
United earned another three-spot last weekend, taking care of business versus an improving FC Edmonton. Minnesota trails the table-topping Scorpions by two points, but with one fewer match played.
By definition, that arrow should be sideways – United began hot and has stayed hot – but when you're on this sort of roll, your arrow can still point upward.
Tampa Bay Rowdies
The Rowdies needed that.
In the highest scoring match of the NASL's highest scoring weeking since the #Fight4Fall began, Tampa Bay displayed moxie in Saturday's desperately needed road win.
In this column last week, I said the Rowdies should feel a sense of urgency. They obviously read this column, because they scored twice early and twice late to earn a win, zoom up the standings and flip that arrow right-side up.
New York Cosmos
The Cosmos have a lot in common with their #NASLGoldenEra cousins from Tampa Bay. Both are historic franchises laden with stars and championships – and both earned badly needed wins on the road to catapult themselves to the upper end of the table.
New York's jump from eighth to fourth is (along with Fort Lauderdale) Week 5's biggest climb. They still haven't hit their offensive stride, but their 2-1 victory versus Atlanta is easily their most impressive performance in the #Fight4Fall.
Three big, huge, enormous points are on the line in this Saturday's Cosmos/Rowdies showdown at Al Lang, reminiscent of the good old days of Rodney Marsh and Johan Cruyff.
Fort Lauderdale Strikers
It was a great day to be an NASL original. The Rowdies moved from sixth to third. The Cosmos zoomed from eighth to fourth. The Strikers jumped from ninth to fifth – and, more importantly, supplanted Carolina as the fourth seed in The Championship.
Like the Cosmos, the Strikers have yet to join the high-scoring party. But, like the Cosmos, the Strikers turned two goals into three points – on the road – and that's all that really matters.
Five trends analyzed. Five up arrows. I must be pretty easy to impress.
Not so fast. Enter Atlanta, who last week was in third, had points in three straight matches, and sported one of those green up arrows.
The Silverbacks lost a lead, lost their cool and lost at home against a struggling team. New York hadn't scored in over 300 minutes when they equalized at Silverbacks Park, and the Cosmos proceeded to take advantage of an Atlanta red card to punch in the winner.
With points as precious as they will soon become, losing leads at home because of red cards is a bad idea. But is it a trend? No; it's one game. The arrow turns sideways, but will probably pick a side next week, after a date with surging Fort Lauderdale.
That queasy feeling Indy's having is understandable. In the span of one week, the Eleven went from fifth, to third, to sixth. That's enough to make the oxygen masks drop.
But really, they haven't gone much of anywhere recently, standings-wise. That's not a knock; just observation. Still, there is cause for hope in Indiana. While the Eleven still seeks its first ever victory at home, they did manage a tie at home on Wednesday against a strong Fort Lauderdale club, and they did avoid getting run over on the road Saturday by a hyped-up first-place San Antonio club. Small but important victories for a first-year franchise.
The ignoble distinction of the week's biggest drop (fourth to eighth) goes to the RailHawks, to whom I gave a lukewarm up-arrow last week and on whom I'm saddling a deserved down-arrow this week.
Carolina has played six matches, from which they've earned six points. Two of their losses during the #Fight4Fall can be categorized as “bad” – setbacks at home to Tampa Bay (when they scored three and still lost) and Indy (when they lost to Indy).
The Hawks are still in playoff contention because of a good Spring Season showing – but a few days ago, they would have had a spot in The Championship; as of right now, they'd just have some nice parting gifts.
No sooner do I praise the Eddies' stingy defense than they surrender three goals in a loss at Minnesota.
But no sooner do I criticize their lack of firepower than they put up three against San Antonio and two against Minnesota. (Look at those two clubs' spots in the standings, and you'll see that's pretty remarkable.)
FC Edmonton is that classic enigma wrapped in a mystery. They lose to Indy, tie with Ottawa, crush San Antonio and scare Minnesota, all in a 28-day span. (Must be the supermoon.) They managed just one point in two road contests this week, enough to push their up-arrow sideways. An opportunity versus a hurting Carolina club will determine which way that arrow points next week.
Ottawa Fury FC
So Ottawa has one point and two goals in five matches this #Fight4Fall. You'd almost want to give Fury FC a sympathy up-arrow just for managing both those goals in the last two weeks, and for losing by just a single tally to two of the better clubs (Fort Lauderdale and Minnesota) in the NASL.
But moral victories don't win championships. Close only counts in horseshoes. Nice guys finish last...and other meaningless clichés.
Ottawa gets the sideways-arrow for the same reason they had it last week: It's hard to say you're going down when you're already at the bottom. But the weight on that arrow is getting heavier and heavier.
Best of luck to Fury FC with first-place San Antonio coming for a visit next Sunday.