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NASL Power Rankings 2016: Week Fourteen

by on 19 July 2016

There was a lot of action in the NASL this week. Nine league games and one high profile EPL friendly were played, two teams set attendance records, and Joe F*cking Cole scored a bicycle kick goal.

What was especially odd about this past week was that of the nine league matches, just one ended in a draw. Even weirder, only in that draw did both teams score. There were four 3-0 victories this past week. And the two teams that won on Wednesday, 3-0 each, both lost 0-2 and 0-3 on the weekend.

As a result of all this madness, quite a few teams made huge leaps in their point totals this week. Applying this sudden wave of very decisive results and scorelines was a challenge this week, but in general, the PR is less volatile and less prone to swings with individual results.

This coming week is a bit less hectic, even thought it contains another EPL friendly, a US Open Cup match, and the usual weekend slate. Still, plenty of soccer to go around!

PRCosmos
#1. New York Cosmos – (9-0-5, 27 pts) – No Change

The New York Cosmos’ loss by three goals to Rayo OKC wasn’t quite unheard of, but it was pretty close. Only twice previously in team history have the green and white been defeated by three goals. Always the NASL’s benchmark of consistency and competitiveness, it’s rare to see New York on the bad end of such a scoreline. The Cosmos were held in check by Rayo OKC’s defense, and they conceded a bad penalty and a bad free kick, both of which the hosts took advantage of. By the time the third goal came in stoppage time, the match was very much over.

The 0-3 loss was even more shocking considering that it came after the Cosmos midweek 3-0 victory over the Jacksonville Armada. A six-goal swing between results is an odd look to say the least. In one week, we witnessed New York at their best, and their worst.

In a simple sense, you can explain the divergent results thusly: New York won at home and lost on the road. Now in seven matches away from Hempstead, the Cosmos have won just twice, and both of those wins were against Miami FC. Every other away match has been a loss. It’s abundantly clear that Gio Saverese has some work to do when his squad goes on the road. On the flip side, their home form has been incredible, with a total score of 14-2 in seven matches and seven wins. Surely neither of these trends are sustainable. New York will eventually have to lose or draw at home, and eventually win a few more on the road. But at the moment, the contrast is stark.

This will be a theme, by the way.

PREleven
#2. Indy Eleven – (6-7-1, 25 pts) – No Change

Just like with New York, it was a wildly up and down week for Indy. They also won 3-0 midweek, absolutely pummeling the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in Indianapolis (all three goals came early, and Indy took their foot off the gas in the second half, which was really disappointing, I was hoping for revenge from the famous 7-1 match last year). Then, naturally, the Eleven traveled to Minnesota and suffered their first defeat of the year, 0-2.

Indy’s win over Fort Lauderdale helped reinforce the point that the team’s strong showing in the spring season wasn’t a fluke. This is a punishing team to play against. But their loss against Minnesota suggested that perhaps the Eleven also owe a decent amount of their success to luck.

Here’s what I mean. Indy had, before Saturday, played seven matches at home and six away each. The best teams they had played away at that point, were Tampa Bay and OKC. Their other away matches had come against Jacksonville, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Puerto Rico (total record 1-5-0). To put it simply, Indy have played the league’s worst teams away, and the best teams at home. That’s as favorable as it gets. And as Saturday’s loss in Minnesota might portend, the Eleven will soon face tougher opponents away as the season goes on. But they’ll also face easy opponents at home. So while the Eleven might not be able to call themselves undefeated anymore, they still ought to earn quite a few points by beating up league weaklings at IUPUI.

Final note: with a playoff place secured, I ask Tim Hankinson; why not experiment more? The team’s most talented player is Dylan Mares, who I think is more or less wasted on the wing. Why not slot Mares centrally where he belongs? Why persist with this boring, results-only style of play?

PRUnited
#3. Minnesota United FC – (7-1-5, 22 pts) – No Change

After yet another embarrassing loss away in Indy, the Loons recovered to exact some revenge, toppling the Eleven at the NSC the following weekend. It was a curious performance for Minnesota. The two goals for the hosts were scored within the first six minutes, one through a penalty kick, the other through a tap in. Christian Ramirez, who has now scored 10 goals in just 13 matches, notched both. After going ahead, United continued to dominate, up until the 25th minute or so, after which Indy gradually gained a foothold in the match. For about twenty minutes in the second half, it were the Eleven who dominated, although they could not score. After that, the game ossified as the visitor’s attack lost steam and the hosts simply waited for the clock to run out.

Minnesota played just once this week and they hold the fabled game in hand. But it is an away game, and the Loons have nearly the exact same home/away pattern as the two teams ahead of them. United have won six and lost once at home. Away, they’ve won once, tied once, and lost the other four matches. There’s not much of an excuse for Minnesota in terms of opponents; they’ve played some serious stinkers away from the friendly confines of the NSC.

With that in mind, the near-term looks good for Minnesota. A home match against the Premier League’s AFC Bournemouth is on the schedule for Wednesday, and a home league match against Fort Lauderdale will follow. The midweek match offers a great opportunity to get playing time for a number of players, and the weekend match is a highly favorable home match-up against a team that’s a bit of a mess right now. Should be three points and quite a lot more money in ticket sales by the end of the week.

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

Edmonton won in classic Edmonton fashion on Sunday afternoon. Even down a man, they didn’t concede against the Ottawa Fury, and eventually the Eddies scrapped a goal and nabbed the three points.

Defense. Defense. Defense.

The immediate concern for Edmonton is the looming absence of Papé Diakité, their brilliant centerback, who was on the end of a very un-brilliant sending off. He’ll be suspended for next weekend’s match against Indy, and his usual understudy Mallan Roberts, is of course loaned to Ottawa. So that puts Colin Miller in a bit of a pickle for a match that promises to be quite challenging. The other match this year in which the Eddies were missing one of their two starting centerbacks was when Albert Watson sat out an 0-2 loss to Minnesota..

Back to the theme of the evening, Edmonton have, you guessed it, been extremely good at home (6-0-1) and poor away (1-3-2). Interestingly, the Eddies have conceded as many goals at home as away (4). But the big difference has been in their attack. The Eddies have scored just 3 times away, but 9 times at home. Their defense is steady always, but it’s the Alberta air which helps Dustin Correa, Daryl Fordyce, Jake Keegan and co. get going.

PRRowdies
#5. Tampa Bay Rowdies – (5-5-3, 20 pts) - Up One

Tampa Bay had a rough week thirteen, but losing at home to Puerto Rico FC was simply not going to happen regardless. The green and gold drank the tonic and roared back to life, winning by a convincing 3-0 scoreline,

Of course, the headlines were stolen by Joe Cole’s bicycle kick, which wasn’t just a bike, it was a bike executed amid pretty good defending. Cole had three Puerto Rico players near him when he got airborne, and he made it happen all the same. The goal of the year race this year is going to be pretty nuts, but that might’ve clinched it.

But the rest of the Rowdies squad played quite well. Stefan Antonijevic and Justin Chavez did a nice job in defense—a big change from last week, perhaps thanks to Chavez replacing Frankie Sanfilippo. Matt Pickens was strong, as usual. Even Tom Heinemann scored, although the Rowdies look better without him.

Tampa Bay had a favorable match-up on Saturday, but they’ll go straight back into the fire this coming weekend, hosting New York. That could be difficult, and with the ongoing centerback troubles and inconsistent scoring, it will be a challenge for Tampa to get a result.

And I know you’re thinking “what’s the home/away split?” Tampa are actually fairly decent on the road, but they’re correspondingly worse at home.

PRMiami
#6. Miami FC – (2-5-6, 11 pts) – Up One

Miami finally won another match, and it was their can’t-lose fixture at home against Jacksonville. The teal and tangerine made a meal of it as well, scoring the 1-0 winner in stoppage time. So it’s very hesitantly that I push them further up the ranking. I think #6 is about as high as you can go on unrealized potential.

This week, Miami made the truly head-scratching acquisition of Jonny Steele, one of two players in three years to look me up and message me on Facebook when I wrote something critical of him. Steele is not an unskilled player, but he was awful on and off the field in Minnesota, and hadn’t exactly been tearing up the league this year in Ottawa. Like with past signings, Steele is a good player to have if the price is right, and with Miami, it probably wasn’t.

Regardless, with Ryan, Lahoud, Steele, and Poku all coming in, Miami are are surely set in the midfield. They ought to look for a striker next. The offensive action in the match against Jacksonville mostly consisted of shots from deep for both teams. Dario Cvitanich has scored almost exclusively from penalty kicks this year, and Saturday’s match winner Jamie Chavez seems the better striker. Why not play him with Ariel Martinez, or else buy someone better?

In defense, Miami probably avoided conceding because they were playing Jacksonville. Better teams continue to take advantage of them, and as hard as centerbacks are to find, it’s surprising that Miami have not made a move for one (instead of Steele, why not Rafael Alves?)

Miami really do look a better side. They have the talent for sure. The question is can they continue to put it together. There’s been some progress so far, but their next match, away in Carolina, ought to be a good test.

PRStrikers
#7. Fort Lauderdale Strikers – (4-4-6, 16 pts) - Down Two

The Strikers had the no-good very-bad week that’s been coming for a while. The red and gold fell to two defeats in one week, 0-3 away to Indy and 0-1 at home to Carolina. Fort Lauderdale’s surprising surge from being godawful to pretty good was one of the stories of the spring season. Now they’re right back at godawful, and a number of teams have passed them by in the table. Both Geison Moura and Ramón Núñez were also sent off this week, which is classic Fort Lauderdale. I believe Caio Zanardi was dispatched to the stands as well. The Strikers lead the league in yellow and red cards. Bold strategy, cotton.

But it all doesn’t matter to Fort Lauderdale if they’re able to beat the Chicago Fire on Wednesday. Already in the Ro8 of the US Open Cup, the Strikers have won every single game in extra time or penalties. They’re basically the Portugal of this tournament, which might not be such a bad approach. In DC and Orlando, you wouldn’t say that they’ve face the top of the top in MLS, but the Fire are the worst team in the league, and as bad as they played this week, Fort Lauderdale do have a chance, even away.

After the weekend match in Chicago, it’s away at Minnesota. That’ll be tough, perhaps tougher if Chicago don’t take the cup seriously (though given the way the league is going, they probably will). Could be a great week, but more likely to be a second straight bad week for the Strikers.

PRRayo
#8. Rayo OKC – (5-5-4, 20 pts) – No Change

In a week of weird up and down performances, consider Rayo OKC. Midweek against Puerto Rico, the Scissortails somehow went down 0-2, only to equalize in the final ten minutes. Then, on the weekend, they beat the Cosmos 3-0. To emphasize the Twilight Zone quality, even Georgios Samaras scored.

I have a theory about Rayo OKC. They are better when Derek Boateng doesn’t play. The Ghanaian was perhaps the most impressive signing from the expansion club on paper. Just 33, and with experience in Europe, Boateng looked to be in a class of his own among NASL defensive midfielders. But it turns out that he’s a hack, and a lazy hack at that. His defending was culpable in Edmonton’s equalizer in the first match of the fall season. His giveaway led to Puerto Rico’s second goal. The two matches in which he has not started this year, Rayo has won twice by a combined 5-0 score against Minnesota and New York. Yes, I know he assisted on the third goal on Saturday night. But he wasn’t on the field for the first two. He’s the most overrated player in the NASL.

With their strong start to the fall, Rayo are climbing up the ranks. I’m still a bit dubious, given how they really got lucky against Puerto Rico, and three of their four matches have come at home. Their next match is away at Puerto Rico, which shouldn’t tell us much either. I’ve got the series of three matches after that circled. Home against Tampa and Minnesota, then away at New York. If Rayo are to contend this year, they will need to make the most out of those types of games.

PRRailHawks
#9. Carolina RailHawks – (6-2-5, 20 pts) – Up Two

Carolina built on last week’s cathartic 4-1 breakthrough with a morale-boosting 2-2 tie against West Ham, followed by a 1-0 win against Fort Lauderdale. The weekend win over the Strikers wasn’t anything special, but it was solid in a way that we haven’t seen from the RailHawks in a long long time. Props for the clean sheet to Simon Mensing and Kareem Moses, not the most impressive of center-back pairings this year, who got it right this week. Mensing in particular seemed to have mastered the art of not quite fouling people in the box. Also, for the second week in a row, I’ll say that I think Brian Sylvestre ought to be starting, and I’m glad Colin Clarke seems to agree.

Should we buy Carolina’s resurgence? With two wins in two weeks, they’re right back amid the pack of teams. Still, these good results come amidst a string of home fixtures that’s set to continue with a match against Miami FC this coming weekend. There’s still plenty that the RailHawks have to prove, and we’ll see what they make of less favorable circumstances against tougher teams.

A good recovery all the same, and it came after I suggested another loss ought to cost Clarke his job. So fans of slumping teams, I too can jinx your team back to competitiveness for a low, low fee!

PRFury
#10. Ottawa Fury – (2-3-8, 9 pts) – Down One

[Rereads last the last two weeks’ Ottawa Fury posts.]

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[Pastes with edits]

Ottawa continue to play every match as if they’re trying to boost the confidence of their opponents. They play well, but not quite well enough, and after 90 minutes, the opponent wins. How nice of them!

Ottawa travel to Jacksonville next weekend, in what should be a very low scoring match. Jacksonville are beatable, so look for Ottawa to not take advantage.

PRArmada
#11. Jacksonville Armada – (2-5-7, 11 pts) – Down One

This is where I remind you that the Jacksonville Armada have still never won a competitive away game in twenty four attempts. They very nearly drew against Miami, but got beaten by a stoppage time goal, because of course they did.

Young goalkeeper Sean Lewis is worth building around. The rest of the team is pretty bad, still. The Armada have scored eight goals all season, which is incredible because Minnesota has scored very nearly three times that number, and in one fewer game. If you’re going to lose a lot, at least be entertaining.

Next, the Armada host Ottawa in a match which anyone could lose. Or it could end up 0-0.

I’m tired of writing about this team, nothing ever changes, they’re always bad.

PRPuertoRico

#12. Puerto Rico FC - (0-2-2, 2 pts) – No Change

Tough luck for Puerto Rico, as they played away twice and blew a two goal lead, then were smashed on the weekend. The Tampa Bay loss was simple enough, but the Rayo OKC defeat was heartbreaking. After allowing the Scissortails back into the match, you just knew the Melos would concede again.  But it came through the stupidest tackle of the year to award a penalty kick. It was one of those moments you saw coming well before it happened and you thought “no way he tackles there, it’s so stupid, no way, what are you doooooooinnnnnnnnnggggggggg.”

The good news is that Puerto Rico are back at home this weekend, which means we get more of their awesome fans and announcers. While I’ve been hard on Puerto Rico so far, it should be said that they’ve played three of four on the road, that’s a tough ask, and they have a chance to make a good impression back at home in the coming weeks.

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