The NASL split season has its fans and has its detractors. It’s the old adage – you can’t please all the people all the time.
But there is no denying that even with two teams ruled out of contention for the spring title, and with it the right to host Soccer Bowl, three points are still a valuable commodity worth fighting for no matter where a team currently lies in the standings.
Combined records from the spring and fall campaigns will decide the second team to qualify for Soccer Bowl if the same club wins both seasons. So finishing lower down the current table than is considered ideal, coupled with second place in the fall, could prove decisive come November. Stranger things have happened.
Two weeks ago the coaches of all NASL teams were underlining that ‘every match matters’ as they jostled for position. This Saturday, they have turned their attention to either gunning for the title or playing for maximum points from the remaining games to take a mathematical advantage into the fall season.
At the top of the table, no team can clinch the right to host Soccer Bowl this weekend, and neither the Carolina RailHawks nor Atlanta Silverbacks can be eliminated from contention.
“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 league-leading Silverbacks face the toughest closing schedule; taking on defending champion Tampa Bay this week before traveling to title rivals Carolina and Minnesota.
“In all honesty now, we are a one game at a time team,” said Silverbacks coach Brian Haynes, whose team plays the teams currently sitting fourth, second and third place. “We know that in the end if we win all our games that’s important, but right now we are focusing on not losing first and foremost, second of all getting a tie or third win and we’re going to approach it that way.
“We’re playing against a (Rowdies) team that’s desperate. If they lose or tie, they’re out of it and desperate teams are a dangerous thing. If you give them any kind of life they’re going to feel like they have a chance. So, we’re going to come out and play our best and throw everything at them, get the first goal and get the pressure back on them so that we can relax and play our soccer.”
The Tampa Bay Rowdies can still win the spring title, but this week they must win away to high-flying Atlanta and reply on Carolina and Minnesota to draw to stay in contention.
“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 coach Ricky Hill.
An additional July 4 win against rivals Fort Lauderdale following a bye week would total 18 points for the Rowdies, which is where Hill’s side comes to rely on the results of other teams.
Atlanta and Carolina must draw against each other next week and then both lose their final games, coupled with San Antonio taking a maximum of seven points from three games and FC Edmonton beating Minnesota next week. That would create an incredible five-team logjam on 18 points and the tiebreakers will kick into overdrive.
Regardless, the Rowdies will be looking to an 18 points final haul as a positive tally if they are put in a situation where they have to combine that with the fall total.
The San Antonio Scorpions can still win the spring title. Three wins from remaining games would earn them a final 20 points, although two wins and a draw could also prove to be enough.
“We continue to try and work ourselves out of a hole that we created,” said coach Tim Hankinson. “The boys are in a frame of mind to roll up their sleeves and they know the work that has to be done. We are moving in that direction so we are excited about the game on Saturday.”
If the Scorpions win this week at home to FC Edmonton, they would need either Carolina or Atlanta to fail to win then San Antonio would have to also beat Fort Lauderdale and Carolina to reach 20 points. Next week, Atlanta and Carolina would have to draw, Minnesota would have to lose to Tampa Bay and then United FC would have to beat Atlanta on the final day. That scenario would see the Scorpions win the spring title by two points with three rivals behind them locked on 18 points. If the Scorpions draw this week, similar outcomes would lead to tiebreakers being employed to determine a winner.
Minnesota United FC have the title in their sights, but a loss away to Carolina would also leave them looking over their shoulder at elimination if Atlanta also beats Tampa Bay. Quite simply on the positive side, three Minnesota wins will lead to a total of 23 points, which only Atlanta would be able to equal.
“Carolina has been playing really well both in league play and in the Open Cup and so were approaching a team with a lot of confidence and it certainly is a big game for both teams,” said United FC coach Manny Lagos. “We’re looking forward to going down there and for the challenge.”
FC Edmonton was ruled out of spring title contention last weekend, but can finish on 17 points by winning at San Antonio this Saturday and then at home to Minnesota on June 30 before ending with the bye week.
“We may be out of the race now but we still have plenty to play for,” said coach Colin Miller. “Every player has to stand up and be accounted for and we've done that all season. We're going for all six points from our two remaining games and it starts in San Antonio.”
There is a sequence of results that sees the Eddies finish in third place on 17 points, just two points shy of the spring champions, meaning they would head into the fall campaign full of optimism.
The Fort Lauderdale Strikers have a bye week on Saturday, but by beating San Antonio next week and then their rival Rowdies, they can close out the campaign with 14 points. And if Tampa Bay and San Antonio only take a point each from their remaining games and FC Edmonton draws twice, the Strikers would finish in fourth place in the standings.
However you look at it, there is still all to play for in the NASL.
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|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|