Depending on the outcome of the three North American Soccer League games scheduled for this coming Saturday, any one of four teams could claim outright leadership on top of the current standings. And a fifth team, winless until last weekend, could sit in second place if results go their way.
Just as NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson underlined at the start of the campaign, every NASL game truly counts this season under the new format and there is very little margin for error.
A top of the table clash sees two teams who cannot be prized apart after four weeks of NASL action clash in Minnesota at 8pm ET (7pm local) on Saturday. The visiting Carolina RailHawks and home team United FC have identical records heading into their game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
Both have won twice and drawn once and both teams are unbeaten so far for a total of seven points. Each has scored five goals and conceded two, Minnesota’s defense proving impervious for 196 minutes until an Atlanta Silverbacks free kick finally beat Daryl Sattler.
“It's exciting to have two first place teams playing each other early in the season,” said United coach Manny Lagos. “We're eager to get off to a stronger start than we have in our first two games at home, and playing a team that's doing so well early on is exciting for us and really exciting for the fans.”
A win for either team will assure them top spot - unless that is, the defending champion Tampa Bay Rowdies win at home to FC Edmonton at 7.30pm ET and improve a goal difference currently inferior by only one goal and take over by virtue of that tie-breaker.
Fortunes have been mixed at Al Lang stadium for the Rowdies with a point taken on opening day followed by surrendering a 3-1 lead to lose 4-3 to Atlanta. There will be an urgency to match home form with the success enjoyed on the road that has so far seen two wins at San Antonio and Fort Lauderdale.
The Silverbacks head to what is certain to be a packed and noisy Toyota Park in San Antonio knowing that a win against hosts the Scorpions coupled with a draw between Minnesota and Carolina, and a Rowdies loss or draw will propel them into pole position on nine points.
But soccer is a funny old game and while the form book might point to Atlanta bouncing back from a home loss to Minnesota last week against a San Antonio team yet to hit the back of the net, Scorpions coach Tim Hankinson has other ideas.
“Despite the fact that we are still looking for our first goal, we have created many chances, and when you created that many attacking chances, the goals will come eventually,” he said. “Our defense has been playing well for us, allowing only three goals in our first three matches. We are ready to start climbing the standings by stringing some good performances together.”
A Scorpions win could edge them up the table above FC Edmonton, but the Eddies have aspirations of their own. The stars have to align for the Canadian team to move into contention for a home berth in Soccer Bowl 2013, but it is mathematically possible.
If there is a winner from the top of the table clash in Minnesota, one team will boast ten points and the other seven, with a dent in their goal difference. And if Atlanta suffers a defeat, they will remain on six points. That opens the door for FC Edmonton to tally seven points by beating the Rowdies, joining them on seven points overall and hoping for enough of a goal difference swing to steal second place.
“The character has been there for all to see all season and we’ve never given up,” said Eddies coach Colin Miller. “If we continue to play with the same attitude there’s so many positives, but I still expect more. We’re back in the pack and now we go to a very tough place to play the Tampa Bay Rowdies.”
Week Five Schedule
Saturday, May 4 (all kickoff times US EST)
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. FC Edmonton
Al Lang Stadium, St Petersburg, FL, 7.30pm
Minnesota United vs. Carolina RailHawks
Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, MN, 8pm
San Antonio Scorpions vs. Atlanta Silverbacks
Toyota Field, San Antonio, TX, 8.30pm
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.
This Week In The NASL
NASL Player of Week 4
Shaun Saiko scored the decisive goal that earned FC Edmonton the team’s first win of the 2013 NASL Spring Season and also collected the North American Soccer League Player of the Week award. The local hero, who hails from Edmonton, coolly converted a penalty kick during the final minute of the first half as the Eddies went in search of three points in their belated home league opener, having started the new campaign with three straight road games. Saiko was also Edmonton’s biggest offensive threat, generating four shots.
NASL Team of Week 4
Lance Parker, FC Edmonton - Made four saves and kept a clean sheet in Edmonton’s first win of the season.
Edson Edward, FC Edmonton - Created danger down the right side and defended well in FC Edmonton win. Edward drew a penalty, which resulted in the match’s lone goal.
Brian Kallman, Minnesota - Scored goal on a header of a corner in United’s 3-2 win at Atlanta.
Frankie Sanfilippo, Tampa Bay - Marshaled the Rowdies backline and dealt easily with a dangerous Strikers attacking group.
Lance Laing, Edmonton - Provided width on the left side for Edmonton going forward and was solid in defense during the Eddies’ 1-0 win.
Walter Restrepo, Fort Lauderdale - Completely changed the dynamic of the game after his half-time introduction. Scored from the tightest of angles after rounding the Rowdies goalkeeper.
Shaun Saiko, Edmonton - Converted a penalty kick during the final minute of the first half, to provide the only goal of the Eddies’ first win of 2013. Saiko also generated four shots on the day.
Luke Mulholland, Tampa Bay - Pulled the strings in midfield for the Rowdies, and showed his eye for goal with a low drive from outside the box to open the scoring against Fort Lauderdale.
Milton Blanco, Atlanta - Opened the scoring against Minnesota marking the third successive Silverbacks match where Blanco has recorded a goal or an assist.
Georgi Hristov, Tampa Bay - Put in a man-of-the-match display for the Rowdies, creating both goals and troubling the Strikers defense all night.
Simone Bracalello, Minnesota - Scored the game-winning goal and provided an assist in Minnesota’s 3-2 victory over Atlanta.
NASL Fans of Week 4
A charter bus full of Tampa Bay Rowdies supporters raced down I-75 and across Alligator Alley on Saturday headed to Fort Lauderdale. For the seventh time in four season's Ralph's Mob the supporters group of the reigning NASL champion Rowdies organized a bus trip down to Lockhart Stadium. Ralph's Mob is so committed to supporting the Rowdies away from home that they organize watch parties for every away match and have sat through lightning delays and other inclement weather on their travels while cheering on the team.
NASL Weekly Rewind
Catch all the highlights from Week 4 here.
|Rowdies Get Even Rowdier|
|Ricky Hill Returns As Rowdies Coach|
|Throwback Thursday - Pre-NASL: Oakland Top Baltimore To Win 1967 NPSL Championship|
|Indy Eleven Add Four More To 2014 NASL Roster|
|Scorpions Sign Danny Barrera, Jonathan Fana|
|Cosmos Defender To Play In Testimonial Match|
|Milton Blanco Joins FC Edmonton|
|Ottawa Fury FC Sign Irish Midfielder Richie Ryan|
|Silverbacks Exercise Contract Options To 11 Players For 2014 NASL Season|
|Silverbacks Part Ways With Haynes|
|New York Cosmos||14||9||4||1||10||31|
|Tampa Bay Rowdies||14||5||5||4||3||20|
|Minnesota United FC||14||6||2||6||2||20|
|Fort Lauderdale Strikers||14||5||3||6||-2||18|
|San Antonio Scorpions||14||3||1||10||-9||10|
|San Antonio Scorpions||12||6||2||4||4||20|
|Tampa Bay Rowdies||12||5||3||4||5||18|
|Minnesota United FC||12||4||2||6||-5||14|
|Fort Lauderdale Strikers||12||2||2||8||-14||8|