Photo Credit: Puerto Rico FC

News

NASL Power Rankings 2016: Week Fifteen

by on 26 July 2016

Are the Power Rankings going to start coming out on Tuesdays now? It’s been a few weeks where my normal punctual Monday schedule has been upended by a lot of work and other commitments. The answer is no, I still will try to publish on Monday. But these things take a while to write, and the busyness doesn’t seem to stop these days, so stay tuned, I guess.

It was a pretty unremarkable week in the NASL. There weren’t any stunning losses, or stunning plays in general. One game generated all the talking points, really, and I think it’s overblown. The Power Rankings remain stable at the top, but there’s still plenty of churn in the bottom, and a new team falls to the ranking cellar.

Fun all around. Take a break from despairing about the future of the nation, and read on!

PRCosmos
#1. New York Cosmos – (9-1-5, 28 pts) – No Change

New York grabbed a draw on the road in Tampa, which given their road woes this year is probably a decent result. But given the sequence of events in the game, in which the Cosmos took a 2-0 lead into the later stages before blowing it, the result may feel a bit like a loss.

The green and white didn’t particularly impress in the match, and so I’m not willing to declare their issues away from home to be vanquished. New York were at their opportunistic best in order to score twice. They were not at their defensive best when they gave away the lead, including a deserved penalty caused by Jimmy Ockford bear-hugging Tommy Heinemann in the box. It was dumb, and sloppy, and the Cosmos are usually not either of those things.

Longtime Power Ranking readers know the reverence I have for the #1 spot, and how rarely I award it to a new team. New York haven’t exactly earned their ranking for the past few weeks. Even when they’ve won this fall season, they haven’t played to the best of their ability. Still, the Cosmos haven’t lost it either. They’re still grinding out results and getting points on the board.

Two matches await New York this week, and they’re at opposite ends of the difficulty spectrum. First, an away trip to Edmonton, where they lost in the spring. Then a home match against Puerto Rico, which ought to be a walk in the park.

PREleven
#2. Indy Eleven – (7-7-1, 28 pts) – No Change

Nothing to complain about for Indy Eleven, who remained at the top of the league table with a 1-0 win over Edmonton. Indy haven’t fallen off their form yet, as I and others suspected might happen. I’m not entirely sure whether that’s due to teams in the league simply being dumb, or the Eleven having more guile than I’ve given them credit for. Aside from Minnesota’s cynical-but-effective approach, nobody has quite managed to outfox Tim Hankinson’s troops yet.

Indy had a good game overall against the Eddies, but I’d be a tiny bit concerned about their finishing, which was much too direct and rarely forced Eddies goalkeeper Matt VanOekel to do much to stop it. But that’s a minor complaint.

Indy travel to Miami this coming week, in a match that I think could be a real interesting one to watch. It ought to be fast, direct, and with a good bit of individual initiative. I’ve written before about Indy’s struggles to beat bad teams, even as they easily dispatch better sides. Miami are kind of a good-bad team, so watching the Eleven wrap their heads around the matchup could prove entertaining.

PRUnited
#3. Minnesota United FC – (8-1-5, 25 pts) – No Change

It was kind of a crazy week for Minnesota United, who became a viral sensation thanks to Sammy Ndjock’s legendary own-goal in a midweek friendly against AFC Bournemouth. The club scrambled and recovered nicely with a video poking fun at the gaffe, but it was an unforgettable moment for all sides.

The club also recovered on the field over the weekend, with a competent 3-1 bashing of the visiting Fort Lauderdale Strikers (although Ndjock did not start). The Loons weren’t utterly dominant in the way you might’ve expected, but they won with some comfort. The clinching goal, by Minnesota-native Ismaila Jome on his debut, provided the kind of positive, feel-good moment that the preceding week had lacked. Jome’s solid first appearance puts United in an even stronger position. Just like the emergence of J. C. Banks as a central attacking midfielder, Jome’s work has given his team depth where it previously didn’t expect it.

Minnesota are in good position, just three points back on the combined table, and one point back in the fall, with a game in hand in each. They have a run of home games coming up soon, which have been almost automatic Ws this season. But before that, the team will travel to Oklahoma City for a weekend match. In the spring, the Loons stumbled to a truly awful 0-1 defeat against Rayo. There are still big questions about Minnesota’s performances on the road, but the team is playing well at the moment. Let’s see what they can conjure.

PREdmonton
#4. FC Edmonton – (7-3-4, 24 pts) – No Change

Without either of their two invaluable starting center backs, Edmonton actually put together a respectable outing in Indianapolis, losing 0-1. It could’ve been worse, but the Eleven took all of their chances directly at Matt VanOekel, more or less. It also could’ve been better. The Eddies did not go without chances to get a point. Facing what could be a long hard scrap for a playoff position, every point will matter.

It’s back home for Edmonton this coming week, and they’ve got two really crucial games coming down the pipe. In the middle of the week, they host the New York Cosmos. Edmonton upset the green and white at Clarke Field in the spring, and they’ll be hoping to do it again. A repeat performance would tie them for the Fall Season lead, and with a game in hand. Then, on Sunday, Edmonton will face Carolina, who sit within striking distance on the combined table. These are huge matches for the Eddies, and they will bolster their chances tremendously if they achieve six points from the homestand. The opposite is true if they fall short.

Oh, and one final note about the Indy game. The best moment of the night, by far, was when an unmarked Matt VanOekel won a header off a corner kick, and nearly scored a last gasp equalizer. The ball was cleared by the defense, and Jon Busch probably had it anyway, but shades of Jimmy Glass are what we all need.

PRRowdies
#5. Tampa Bay Rowdies – (5-6-3, 21 pts) - No Change

Tampa’s 2-2 draw against New York was easily the most entertaining and talked about match of the week, and most of the drama came from the Rowdies’ side. First, let’s say that to come back from an 0-2 deficit to tie the Cosmos is a good result. Even given New York’s away woes this season, I think I’d be satisfied with a point in the abstract, were I a Tampa fan.

But of course, Rowdies fans are livid about the result, especially at the officiating crew led by Caleb Mendez. So livid, in fact, that team owner Bill Edwards beclowned himself on Monday with a pathetic, preening statement of grievance that included a team-made video of all the times the team believed they were wronged by officials this season. Never mind that the video showed a number of calls that were not as cut and dry as they think they are (a couple were obviously called correctly). Never mind that no attempt was made to account for calls that have gone in favor of the Rowdies. Never mind that no solution to the problem of refereeing was offered aside from an implied “do better”. The Rowdies think they’re the only team in the league who occasionally gets screwed by the referees. But speaking about the same match, Cosmos coach Gio Savarese thought the referees screwed his team, by awarding Tampa a late penalty.

Sad!

I could delve deeper into this mess, but it’s honestly embarrassing, and the Rowdies should figure out how to keep a lid on their owner’s dumb media ideas (#OneYearPlan). Suffice to say, if you’re writing open letters raging about the officiating, you’re definitely losing. The Rowdies are in fifth place in the combined table because four teams in the league are better than them. The only solution to that?

Do better.

PRMiami
#6. Miami FC – (2-6-6, 12 pts) – No Change

In a shootout, Miami managed to rescue a point away in Carolina. Credit the teal and tangerine for their fight, but losing two leads isn’t positive. For all of their additions (and forward Vincenzo Rennella is reportedly next), Miami have yet to bolster their central defense, which has repeatedly been exposed this year. Central defenders are hard to find (just ask Minnesota), but with every agent in the country shopping their wares at Miami’s doorstep, it’s a noticeable failure so far.

There’s no doubt that Miami FC are now much more dangerous, skilled, smart, and crafty, than they were when they started. Their second goal, coming from a quickly taken free kick, is good evidence. It’s not going to be easy for Miami to make the playoffs, but if any of the league’s bottom teams have the tools to engineer the turnaround, it’s Alessandro Nesta’s squad. But that defense, tho…

Next weekend’s match between Miami and Indy, in South Florida, ought to be something worth watching. I don’t think Indy have quite played a team like the current version of Miami, who are a curious foil for them. When they last played, the result was a dull 0-0 draw. But now, the hosts have more talent in key positions. Both teams play a 4-4-2, although they manifest themselves in different ways, and rely on different strengths. For the nerds out there, this is the NASL’s best matchup next week.

PRRailHawks
#7. Carolina RailHawks – (6-3-5, 21 pts) – Up Two

Carolina showed some gumption against Miami FC on Friday night. Twice down a goal, they rallied each time, eventually taking a 3-2 lead, before surrendering an equalizer and settling for a 3-3 draw. It wasn’t the kind of defensive performance that the RailHawks have put together in the past few weeks, but it still did Carolina some credit. This team, which not too long ago was totally adrift, has found solid ground again.

The next question, then, is which Carolina team is the real one? Surely not the team that roared to four straight wins to kick off the season. That dream is dead. But the Carolina team we’ve seen recently isn’t half bad, this is a team that could contend for the playoffs. Then, there’s the Carolina team we saw in between, which was a unmitigated disaster.

I can’t say, but I hope it’s this most recent iteration. The RailHawks are too talented to be a catastrophe.

The next weeks will be taxing. James Marcelin is injured, which is bad, and Carolina are on the road in Ottawa on Wednesday and in Edmonton on Sunday. I’d consider three points from the trip a success, were it not for the Eddies being a plausible rival for a playoff spot. Denying them three points at home might be Carolina’s most important goal. Won’t be easy.

PRRayo
#8. Rayo OKC – (5-5-5, 20 pts) – No Change

My unified theory of Rayo OKC (that they’re a much better team without Derek Boateng) took a big hit on Saturday, after the Scissortails slumped to defeat and Boateng barely played. Alright, so maybe I was wrong.

Rayo are fully committed to confusing and inconsistent results, however. This team has been 1-1-1, 2-2-2, 4-4-4, and now 5-5-5. Only once this season have they achieved the same result in consecutive games. On the balance, it actually all looks decent, with a +2 goal differential, on par with Tampa. So am I underrating Rayo? Perhaps.

But it’s hard to really believe in this team. They’ve never truly been bad, but they’ve never truly been good either. To win the league, at some point, you have go on a run better than four points every three games. This is a competitive league, but that PPG just won’t cut it, and I don’t really see how Rayo OKC will improve and take the next step up.

Midweek, Rayo host Tampa Bay, and on the weekend they host Minnesota. I wouldn’t favor them in either match, but they took four points against these teams in the spring. So who knows?

PRFury
#9. Ottawa Fury – (3-3-8, 12 pts) – Up One

Ottawa were the better team away in Jacksonville, and earned a much needed win. There won’t be many easier opponents, even away, than the Armada. But credit to Paul Dalglish’s men for finally taking advantage.

The Fury have been a funny team to figure out this year. Apparently I’m not the only one who’s been confused. This past week, Dalglish went on a bizarre Twitter spree, posting screencaps of his teams’ stats.

This actually advances a point I’ve been making weekly in these rankings. The Fury are playing well, to my eyes, but their players just aren’t good enough. Ottawa have been making some good additions lately (although a big LOL at Ryan Williams, who was billed as a “free kick specialist”, was subbed on to take a corner, and it was terrible), which I think shows that they’re aware of the problem. But losing Marcel de Jong was a blow, and time is already running out. Ottawa are twelve points short of the playoff places in the combined table, and seven points shy of first place in the fall. And (to adapt an earlier line) if you’re tweeting random stats showing how good you are, you’re probably losing.

Ottawa host Carolina midweek. Now that the RailHawks are decent once again, this ought to be a match worth watching. On the weekend, the Fury host Tampa Bay. Neither of these matches are easy, but if the Fury get four points from them, that’s something to build on.

PRStrikers
#10. Fort Lauderdale Strikers – (4-4-7, 16 pts) - Down Three

They were a good team,
Coached by Günter
Loves Ronaldo
and beer drones too

They were a good team
crazy ’bout Brazilians
Loves yellow cards
and red cards too

It’s a long season,
thirty two matches
There’s a freeway,
runnin’ to Jacksonville

And now they’re a bad team
nobody even watches
A bad team
with money problems

And they’re freeeeeeeeeee,
free faaaaaallin’ (free fallin’, Caio’s-a free fallin’)

Yeah they’re freeeeeeeeeee,
free fallin’ (free fallin’, Caio’s-a free fallin’)

PRPuertoRico

#11. Puerto Rico FC - (1-2-2, 5 pts) – Up One

Puerto Rico FC haven’t been great to start their debut campaign, but they’ve been more competitive than I might’ve guessed given their roster. On Saturday evening, the Melos notched their first win of the year and deservedly so. The previous week, PRFC ought to have won in Oklahoma City, before shooting themselves in the foot. This week, they got a chance to face Rayo OKC once again, this time at home, and they got the job done with a 1-0 victory.

It’s been a special joy to watch the big man, Héctor Ramos, go to work. He’s scored four of Puerto Rico’s five goals so far. He’s got a great work rate, a good sense of positioning, and can finish with his foot or his head. He’s like the playoff version of Tommy Heinemann, except he’s playing like this in the regular season. Given that the Melos came under fire locally for not rostering enough Puerto Ricans, it’s great to see that their early star Puerto Rican player is living up to top billing. I’d love to see his rampage continue, but it will get more difficult as teams pay him mind.

It’s also about to get tougher because Puerto Rico haven’t had a particularly challenging start to their existence. They badly flunked their biggest test yet, away to Tampa Bay. This coming weekend, Los Naranjas head up to New York, which may be the league’s toughest road trip. But with a win already under their belt, some of the pressure is surely off.

PRArmada
#12. Jacksonville Armada – (2-5-8, 11 pts) – Down One

As any season progresses, teams tend to get better and better week after week. Especially in soccer, where familiarity between teammates counts for a bucket-load, the best way to improve is to play.

Then there’s a team like the Jacksonville Armada, who seem to be bucking this trend. This team has actively gotten worse since they started the season. On Saturday afternoon, the Armada went down in defeat 0-2 in their home park to the Ottawa Fury. That’s a poor result no matter what, but the quality of Jacksonville’s play was breathtakingly bad. It’s beyond not being good enough, it’s symptomatic of not giving a damn. There was little off the ball movement, way too many passes were telegraphed, defensive headers went straight up in the air, or sideways, or directly to the opposing team. This team isn’t playing like they mean it, and that’s just in defense and midfield.

By now, it’s abundantly clear that the Armada are utterly clueless at creating chances inside the box. It’s no coincidence that their best chance every game is usually a Junior Sandoval rip from deep. They simply cannot create anything better. We’re now fifteen games into the season, and the Armada have scored eight times (Puerto Rico have scored five goals in just five matches). Saturday marked their third consecutive game without scoring, which is only their second longest scoreless drought of the season so far. The lowest scoring NASL team in history were the 2011 Atlanta Silverbacks, who scored just 25 times in 28 matches. That team looks prolific compared to this year’s Jacksonville team.

I was high on the Armada for their attacking chops at the beginning of the season, and I very quickly realized that I was dreadfully wrong. The appointment of Tony Meola as the head coach has been a total disaster. One of the themes I’ve harped on a lot this year is management experience. The fates of Indy and Jacksonville, two teams who hired new coaches this offseason and went in divergent directions, makes the importance of experience abundantly clear.

Jacksonville play Fort Lauderdale next week, in a battle of the two teams in abject free-fall. Unfortunately for the Armada, the match is away, which basically guarantees a Strikers victory.

***

Comments? Please share them below!

Tags: ,