The Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks and San Antonio Scorpions all aim to celebrate with more than just fireworks on the Fourth of July as they battle for the North American Soccer League Spring Season championship on Thursday night.
There can be only one winner, who will also earn the right to host Soccer Bowl in November, but there are a multitude of complicated scenarios that could decide who comes out on top.
Occasionally two teams battle for glory on the final day of a soccer season but rarely are three clubs locked in a fierce title race on the final day of action with the right to host a championship game also on the line.
“In the first year of adopting this split season format and international style of rewarding the team that finishes first, we have already seen its advantages and go into the final day of games with a close race that is unprecedented in American soccer,” said NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson. “We have no playoffs, no second chances – just a must-win mentality that has been true throughout the season. Any one of three teams will be celebrating this week and that is fantastic for the sport and for our fans.”
The Carolina RailHawks face the simplest of tasks, knowing they only need to win away to title rival San Antonio Scorpions to make them untouchable out in front and also secure Soccer Bowl hosting rights.
A draw makes the picture slightly murky as the Atlanta Silverbacks could then join Carolina at the top on 21 points, but Atlanta would also have to win by four goals away to Minnesota United FC to overhaul a goal difference that currently sees the RailHawks enjoy a four-goal advantage.
The tiebreakers used to separate NASL teams could create an even closer race. Teams finishing level on points are separated first by goal difference, followed by goals scored, head to head record with their tied opponent and then away goal difference and away goals scored.
If the RailHawks are held to a 1-1 draw in San Antonio and the Silverbacks win 4-0, the two rivals would have an identical goal difference of plus six and would also have both scored 21 goals and conceded 15. Atlanta would then win the head-to-head tiebreaker having inflicted Carolina’s only loss of the season back in May.
Carolina could also lose to San Antonio provided Atlanta also draws or loses at Minnesota. But Colin Clarke’s RailHawks would have to avoid a defeat of three goals or more. A 2-0 Scorpions win would put the teams level on 20 points and tie on goal difference of plus four, but Carolina would have scored one goal more, winning the tiebreaker. That scenario would become immaterial if Atlanta was to win and finish with 21 points.
San Antonio can win the title only by beating Carolina by three goals or better, provided Atlanta does not win.
Minnesota United FC was eliminated from contention on Sunday evening by a 3-1 loss away to FC Edmonton, who wrapped up their season with a record of three wins, five draws and four losses.
The defending NASL champion Tampa Bay Rowdies and cross-state rival Fort Lauderdale Strikers were already out of title contention before the weekend and meet for Florida bragging rights this Thursday. The Rowdies can finish as high as second in the standings with a win and defeats for both Atlanta and San Antonio.
NASL Spring Season championship scenarios
- Will win the Spring Season championship with a win at San Antonio
- Will win the Spring Season championship with a draw at San Antonio provided Atlanta does not make up a goal difference currently +4 in favor of Carolina*
- Will win the Spring Season championship with a loss provided San Antonio wins by two goals or fewer coupled with an Atlanta draw or loss
- Will win the Spring Season championship with a win at Minnesota and a Carolina loss
- Will win the Spring Season championship with a win at Minnesota and a Carolina draw provided Atlanta is able to overturn a goal difference currently +4 in favor of Carolina*
* If Carolina draws 1-1 and Atlanta wins 4-0, Atlanta will win by the third tiebreaker of head to head (W1, D1) vs. Carolina because goal differential and goals scored will be level
San Antonio Scorpions
- Will win the Spring Season championship with a win vs. Carolina and an Atlanta draw or loss, provided San Antonio wins by at least three goals
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|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|