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NASL Power Rankings 2016: Week Seventeen

by on 9 August 2016

There was NASL soccer played this week? Gee, I don’t remember seeing any NASL soccer played this week. My memory is completely blank from the hours of 7-9 on both Wednesday and Saturday of last week, so I really have no idea what happened.

Guess I’ll have to watch the video highlights to job my memor—MINNESOTA DID WHAT? OH GOD WHY

PRCosmos
#1. New York Cosmos – (10-2-6, 32 pts) – No Change

The Cosmos continue to plod along, playing skillful football, but not always getting the results you’d expect. That’s not to say they’re not getting results. They’re just not quite as dominant as it often feels they should be.

On Sunday, New York’s home winning streak came to an end at the hands of Oklahoma City, who scored early and managed to keep their opponents to only one penalty in reply. Those are two dropped points for the green and white, whose untouchable home form has been their saving grace this year. If the Cosmos start dropping more points at home (especially given how many home matches they’ve got coming up) then that could mean serious trouble.

New York face off against Tampa Bay this coming weekend, and that match is also at home. When these two teams squared off in the spring season in New York, the Rowdies gave the Cosmos a good run. Their match in St. Pete in the fall was the source of all that refereeing controversy. So the expectation on Saturday will be for a close match. Let’s see if the Cosmos can make a statement instead, in response to this past weekend’s disappointment.

PREleven
#2. Indy Eleven – (9-7-2, 34 pts) – No Change

Indy have been the masters of the late goal this year, and what’s incredible is that it keeps happening. It’s more than just a couple of isolated incidents: at this point it’s basically a style of play.

Stonewalled by Ottawa all night long, the Eleven just kept on attacking and they made it count in stoppage time with a winner from Don Smart. More than the goal itself, I think Smart’s celebration captured the essence of this club. Smart started the match. After 91 minutes of chasing after the ball on the wing, he still had the energy to burst towards goal to tap in the winner, and after that, he had the energy to run, full sprint halfway up the sideline in celebration. This is a team that has already booked their playoff spot, by the way. They could be mailing it in. But they’re not at all. This is a team with only one gear, and that gear is GO, full throttle.

If you’re going to play Indy, you have to be more than just cagey. Minnesota, for example, took a fairly cynical approach. Miami were a bit more direct and open, relying on the superior skill of key attacking players. But regardless of how you go at it, you need to be willing to run with Indy for as long as it takes. Because if you don’t, they’ll make you pay at the most agonizing moment.

Indy are at home against Oklahoma City next.

PREdmonton
#3. FC Edmonton – (10-3-4, 33 pts) – Up One

Edmonton kept their winning streak going with a late win over Puerto Rico FC. To win 1-0 over Puerto Rico isn’t necessarily a major accomplishment, but for the men from Alberta, I think it is. That’s because the travel for this match is truly insane. To come off a trip like that, keep a clean sheet, and score is something worth celebrating.

These Eddies, man. They’re just solid as a rock. Matt Van Oekel has stopped trying to play with his feet, and has been excellent. Albert Watson and Papé Diakité have gotten all the deserved praise, but this midfield is underrated. Defensive midfielder Nik Ledgerwood has been the unsung hero of the team. Shamit Shome (who is still 18, btw), has gotten serious minutes in the midfield engine room. Dustin Correa has been the man tasked with jump-starting an offense in a team that is mainly about defense. Whereas Edmonton teams of years past were all about the wing play, this Eddies team is strongest in the center of the park. Good for them. They’re not exactly fun to watch, but they’re getting results. I’m increasingly starting to believe in this team. Last year, Fort Lauderdale made the playoffs with 41 points, and the year before with 40. The Eddies aren’t far off those numbers which have traditionally secured a playoff position.

This coming week, Edmonton host Minnesota, one of only two teams to win at Clarke Stadium this year. They’ll be looking for revenge, and their form suggests they’ve got a great chance at it.

PRMiami
#4. Miami FC – (4-6-6, 18 pts) –Up One

Of all the possible results for Miami to achieve in Minnesota, few if anyone would’ve predicted a 4-0 victory for the teal and tangerine. Yet thanks to a bit of fortune and some ruthless counterattacking, the visitors came away with three points, a big boost to their (still underwater) goal differential, and a boatload of confidence.

How did they do it? Well, Minnesota certainly played poorly, especially in goal. But it was Alessandro Nesta’s men who came out with the right gameplan and executed extremely well. Ariel Martinez and Kwadwo Poku were especially fearsome in the midfield, and Jonny Steele exerted more effort in one night against his old team than he did in his career with Minnesota. When Miami play like this, you can see why they’ve been getting the benefit of the doubt in these rankings for weeks, even if their position on the table is still not recovered from their start.

The next question is: what can Miami make of this statement victory? Will the confidence propel them to another decisive win at home against their local rivals Fort Lauderdale? Or was this just a momentary flash of brilliance for a team that, despite their excellent parts, still often seems a bit disjointed?

We’ll see, but it’s hard not to argue that this team is now one that few teams will want to play.

PRUnited
#5. Minnesota United FC – (8-3-6, 27 pts) – Down Two

Minnesota’s sabbati horribilis (what, you think I know Latin?) began on Wednesday, with a miserably frustrating 1-1 draw at home against Puerto Rico. Things got bad early, when Justin Davis basically gave the visitors a goal, and despite a PR own goal to even things up, the hosts were unable to break through thanks to a brilliant performance from David Meves.

United fans could stomach dropping two points in a presumably easy fixture, if the team had pummeled Miami over the weekend. But instead, the opposite occurred. Before over 9,000 disbelieving fans in Blaine, it was the visitors who scored early and often. The end result, 0-4, was entirely fair. To make matters worse, the Loons saw both Stefano Pinho and Damion Lowe leave the game with injuries. For a team already missing the first choice right back, central attacking midfielder, and goalkeeper to injuries and ailments, these losses are farcical.

But there’s absolutely nothing for Minnesota to do except keep soldiering on and attempting to right the ship. Before this week, the Loons were looking at pulling ahead of the teams on top of them in the table. Now, they’re looking to fend off a challenge from below. The good news for those up north is that Minnesota have something of a cushion. Rayo, who have played a game more, are two points back. Tampa are three points back, and even after Saturday’s capitulation, Minnesota still hold a good goal differential edge over both teams.

This coming week might deepen the Loons’ misery, however. The team travels to Edmonton on the weekend. They won there in the spring, but the Eddies are a much better team now, and they’re not missing any key pieces, while Minnesota certainly is.

PRRayo
#6. Rayo OKC – (6-7-5, 25 pts) – No Change

Incredibly, Rayo OKC managed to draw on Sunday night in New York. This result bucks everything we know about the Scissortails, which is that they always win, tie, and lose in sets of three. But with a loss in Hempstead needed to complete the 6-6-6 record, Oklahoma City managed a draw instead. Oh, and Georgios Samaras scored again, only his second in NASL, both of which came against the Cosmos. Go figure.

Of course the game took a backseat this week to news that manager Alen Marcina, his staff, and at least half of the front office, were laid off. Following their relegation from La Liga, parent club Rayo Vallecano have been looking to cut costs, and their misbegotten American child was an obvious target. On with 87 days to go until the team plays its final game of the season, the Rayo repo men arrived (on 90 day tourist visas, reportedly), and installed the new austerity regime. Out went the nuts and bolts that make a functioning club, and presumably all the copper wire in the office. The new coach, Gerard Nus, evidently owed someone at Rayo a favor, but will hopefully do right by the players while he’s in charge.

It’s all a mess, and it’s all a mess that most of us saw coming. Rayo have beaten low expectations in a number of areas, but bad ideas are bad ideas. I feel for the fans who signed up to support this club. The NASL didn’t deserve better, but they did.

PRFury
#7. Ottawa Fury – (5-3-9, 18 pts) – No Change

I’m choosing not to read much into Ottawa’s loss to Indy late in stoppage time. Obviously that’s a point they’d like to have had. But they were the underdogs going into the match and they made it tough. We’ve seen enough of the Fury this season to know that they’ll make it tough on anyone. What they don’t do enough is actually take the game to the opponent. In that sense, Saturday’s match was more or less true to form. To paraphrase the late Dennis Green, they are who I thought they were.

Ottawa are ninth on the fall table, but I don’t think you’ll see Paul Dalglish go the way of Tony Meola. While Jacksonville seemed completely adrift, Ottawa always go about their business with a purpose. You can see there’s coaching there. He and his team deserve more time.

The Fury next play the Jacksonville Armada in TD Place, which is more or less three points in the bag.

PRRowdies
#8. Tampa Bay Rowdies – (6-6-5, 24 pts) - No Change

Tampa Bay won this weekend, so I’m sure the refereeing was faultless in their match. Surely even Bill Edwards can’t complain about the late penalty awarded against his team for an obvious hand-ball?

I’m not sure the Rowdies can be thrilled about how they played, especially given that they rode Matty Pickens to victory down the home stretch. But they can be thrilled about the result, and it was nice to see the goalkeeper back in form after a brutal performance last week. Keith Savage also showed up to play on his 100th appearance for the club, rewarding Ralph’s Mob with a goal after they had raised this fantastic tifo in his honor.

Tampa Bay play New York (away), Minnesota (away), and Edmonton (home) in their next three matches. Perched at 6th in the combined standings, three points south of the playoff places, the Rowdies have a good opportunity to make up ground, but it’s also an opportunity to fall further behind the pace. I’ve really never been sold on the Rowdies this year. I had them at 5th in the rankings for many weeks, and they never seemed bad enough or good enough to move them out of where they were. In the fall season, they’re only eighth.

PRRailHawks
#9. Carolina RailHawks – (6-4-7, 22 pts) – No Change

At times this year, I’ve thought I had a handle on the Carolina RailHawks. But time and time again, I’m reminded that I really know nothing about this team.

A few weeks ago, Carolina looked good. Then they looked really bad recently. And now they look both good and bad all at once. Away in Jacksonville, the RailHawks seemed the better of two bad teams, yet somehow managed to allow the Armada (let alone Charles Eloundou) to score twice against them. A red card to Austin Da Luz was the cap to a disappointing match.

The RailHawks are five points back of the playoff places, but it’s just too hard to take them seriously as contenders. Even if they were to win their next three games, you’d still feel as if they were just on the verge of losing three more. It’s hard to take any surge seriously because you know there’s a slump around the corner. It’s hard to take any slump seriously, because ultimately they seem capable of a limited rebound and return to mediocrity.

Carolina host Puerto Rico this week. Having given up their orange kits this year, I’ll be watching for how many times a RailHawk accidentally passes the ball to the wrong team.

PRStrikers
#10. Fort Lauderdale Strikers – (5-4-8, 19 pts) – No Change

The Strikers traveled to Tampa and put up a spirited performance in a 1-2 loss. The goat was midfielder Adrianinho, who took a late penalty (why not Maicon Santos?) and was saved. But goalkeeper Bruno “Butterfingers” Cardoso also deserves some shade, as he mishandled a lightly deflected shot and it went for Tampa’s second. The sooner Diego Restrepo gets back in net, the better.

The Strikers are knee deep in a three-week touch’em all Florida road trip. Next up comes a crosstown trip to Miami, followed by a match in Jacksonville the week after. The Miami match ought to be a serious challenge, and the Jacksonville match has the potential to be basically unwatchable. The away run will end when they return to a new home, Central Broward Stadium. They better hope that the new digs have some good juju, because the fall has been a disaster for the red and gold. With fall seven games played, they have the league’s lowest point total. Even Jacksonville have more at this point in time.

To make matters worse, the Strikers announced the transfer of dynamic winger/fullback PC to the Rowdies this week (something which we had reported on two weeks ago), and then PC came into the match against them. How’s that for timing?

PRPuertoRico

#11. Puerto Rico FC - (1-3-4, 6 pts) – No Change

Puerto Rico had a week of strong showings against good teams, even if they only took one point from it. But they ought to be heartened. A 1-1 draw against Minnesota on the road, then a 0-1 loss to Edmonton aren’t results that will light the world on fire, but they’re indications of progress. Puerto Rico aren’t going to capitulate. They’re not a free three points. They will play hard and are capable of going up against the league’s better teams. That’s better than I thought they’d be, so credit to the players and coach Adrian Whitbread.

Still, the Melos need to actually do a bit more than come close, if they want to move further up the power rankings. The team’s scoring is still nearly 100% reliant on Héctor Ramos. The defense is organized, but not imposing. It’s nice to be competitive, but that doesn’t mean “good”.

Puerto Rico travel to Carolina for next weeks match, and given how difficult it is to predict the Carolina RailHawks, this Orange vs Naranja match-up could go either way.

PRArmada
#12. Jacksonville Armada – (2-6-10, 12 pts) – No Change

After a 2-5 loss away in Indy and a 2-2 draw at home against Carolina, owner Mark Frisch pulled the plug on the Tony Meola experiment, nine months after he said “I have no doubt in his ability to find and develop the very best roster year in and year out.” But you can hardly blame him for the reversal. There’s no question that the team Meola built, from back to front, wasn’t working properly. The glut of attacking options were all misfiring. The midfield was a mess. The defense wasn’t well organized. Three different players have spent time in goal. And it only seemed to be getting worse.

Interim Head Coach Mark Lowrey will now be the Armada’s fourth (or fifth, it’s not entirely clear) head coach in less than two years of play. The team has now failed to win on the road in all twenty six opportunities. They have a franchise record of 10-13-25, for 43 points in 48 games. Their overall goal differential is -31.

At least Meola went out with something of a bang. Going into the week, the Armada hadn’t scored in 423 minutes. But with two goals in each of their games, there is now some hope that Jacksonville are aware of the objective of a game of soccer. Charles Eloundou, who leads the league in field goals, scored two actual honest-to-goodness soccer goals against Carolina. It wasn’t enough for the win, (conceding seven goals in two games has that effect) but hopefully it harkens a return to the Armada team we saw last year, which was still bad, but infinitely more entertaining.

***

Comment! By the way, I think the photo that I’ve used for the header this week is my favorite this season. There’s so much going on. The faces are fantastic.

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