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NASL Power Rankings 2016: Week Twenty

by on 30 August 2016

The past week in the NASL was a curiously quiet one, thanks to two teams going on bye weeks (didn’t even know we had those this year) and just a single midweek game. But the action picks right back up this coming week, with two (really important) midweek matches and a full slate the following weekend.

Last week, the Power Rankings began to pivot towards the home stretch of the season, with an eye towards each team’s playoff chances. In the past two years, the cut-off for the playoffs has been 40-41 points and with two extra matches this season, I’m betting that 42 points will be enough to secure the postseason. The current fifth place team, Tampa Bay, is on track for 41 points.

When you put it that way, the situation becomes quite stark. Indy (38 points) have already clinched the postseason. New York (41) and Edmonton (40), are less than a win away from passing the marker. I’m no statistics whiz, but staring at the table, it seems to me that there’s an overwhelming chance that three of the four playoff spots have already been claimed, with a third of the games yet to be played.

What is yet to be determined is the seeding and the identity of that fourth team. The Fall Season isn’t out of reach either, but both New York and Edmonton have a decently-sized lead over their contenders, while Minnesota holds the league at arms-length on the combined table. There’s a lot more soccer to be played, but there is at least a respectable chance that this year’s playoff drama may be more smoke than fire.

PRCosmos
#1. New York Cosmos – (13-2-6, 41 pts) – No Change

New York took a while to get going against the visiting Carolina RailHawks, but once they took the lead they never looked back, pulverizing their guests to the tune of 6-1. That five point goal differential edge could prove important. Suddenly, the Cosmos lead the league decisively in that measure, with a +18 score. It’s same old, same old for the green and white.

In the past few weeks, I’ve not hesitated to note that the Cosmos did not seem to me to be playing their best soccer, even at home. I still think they had more to give this past weekend, but I can’t complain with the second half effort. Against a RailHawks team that had completely given up, New York were sharp and alert to the opportunity. When they’re not playing well, the Cosmos still find ways to win. When they’re playing well, the Cosmos simply murder you.

The Cosmos look to be in an excellent position at the moment, especially after the decisiveness of their last result. But I’m yet waiting to truly see the mettle of this team. The schedule has been extremely favorable to New York as of late. They’ve played the league’s worst teams and they’ve played them at home. The toughest part of the Cosmos season is around the corner. The Cosmos have five of their remaining eleven matches against Indy, Minnesota, and Edmonton. They also play six of their last eleven (and five of their last seven) on the road. This midweek, New York plays host to their bogey team, Indy. On the weekend, they travel to Fort Lauderdale (where they lost in the spring). After that, it’s Minnesota and Edmonton at home.

All of this to say: let’s not get lost in the lights. New York are deserving of this top spot. But they have a tougher road to come. It’s possible that the Cosmos end the season on a slump and have to fight to keep the #1 seed. Watch for it, this team isn’t clear of the pack yet.

PREdmonton
#2. FC Edmonton – (12-4-4, 40 pts) – No Change

Edmonton have to consider Sunday’s draw against Puerto Rico as two dropped points. The Eddies won the reverse fixture and now had the opportunity to take advantage of hosting The League’s Longest Road Trip (TM). Instead, they squandered a host of chances and had to settle for a 0-0 result.

This is something of a worry for Edmonton. I say this with hesitation because the Eddies have been very, very good this year. But as incredible as this team has been defensively, goals sometimes are hard to come by. There is no one player who Colin Miller can count upon to get it in the back of the net. That’s in many ways by design; Edmonton are a defense-first team. But the net result of that is occasional results like this one, where an opponent was there for the taking and couldn’t be taken.

The Rabbits have a game in hand over the field, though it is an away game. It will not be used up this week. Edmonton play just once, away at Canada’s capital. The Fury are a frustrating team to play against and Edmonton are also frustrating to play against. So a 0-0 or 1-1 draw here seems especially appropriate.

PREleven
#3. Indy Eleven – (10-8-3, 38 pts) – No Change

Indy took a point away from a match in Ottawa that was halted in the final ten minutes, thanks to storms, and concluded in sleepy fashion an hour or so later. The damage had already been done. The hosts took advantage of a turf-inspired Jon Busch mistake to go up a goal and Indy came right back a few minutes later in the aftermath of a set piece. It was all very scrappy, more or less exactly what you’d have expected.

It’s tempting to call this two dropped points for the Eleven, though it’s never wise to pooh-pooh a result on the road. But what it does mean is that Indy are now a couple of points behind both New York and Edmonton and, as such, a couple of points behind securing the league’s #1 seed. Just like the Cosmos and Eddies (and Loons and Rowdies), Indy have more road games (six) than home games (five) in their end-of-the-year schedule. Basically, there’s no built-in advantage to the schedule, from where we are now, for any of the top contending teams. So it should be a good battle for seeding, but the Eleven are just a bit behind right now.

They could make it all up this week. Midweek, Tim Hankinson takes his show on the road to Hempstead, where the Eleven will hope to make it an eighth straight non-defeat against the otherwise dominant Cosmos. On Saturday, Indy return home to face the Tampa Bay Rowdies. These are pivotal matches against decent teams and critical to the playoff race.

PRUnited
#4. Minnesota United FC – (9-5-7, 32 pts) – No Change

Minnesota didn’t exactly get revenge against Miami for their embarrassing loss earlier in the fall, but they did get a point from a 1-1 draw. The Loons continued to struggle to score, but there were some positives overall, especially in the goal scored by Lance Laing. The marquee offseason signing had struggled to make an impact and spent significant minutes on the bench. He wasn’t stellar on Saturday, giving the ball away plenty. But he is a different type of player entirely on this United team — good at chasing down long balls, not one to hold possession or take the safe option. Maybe that’s the kind of player the Loons could use once in a while.

It’s not entirely clear whether the Loons are in a good stretch or a bad stretch right now. They’ve won once, lost once, and drawn twice in their last four, of which three were away. But their win against Tampa was unconvincing, their draw against Miami came through a remarkable goal, and they failed to score in the other two matches. They also held their opponents scoreless twice in that stretch and allowed just one goal in the other two matches. All told, it’s been a slow, grinding, not-entirely-bad, not-entirely-good period for Minnesota. Still: points on the road.

This coming week, Minnesota will play at Fort Lauderdale in the middle of the week, in a road game they absolutely can win. Then, they will host Oklahoma City on the weekend. The Loons could come out of the week with two wins and feeling much, much better about things. But it’s hard to be confident that they’ll take care of business quite that efficiently.

PRRowdies
#5. Tampa Bay Rowdies – (7-6-8, 27 pts) - Up One

It was looking like a vintage Tampa Bay Rowdies evening when the green and gold got an early penalty kick and Joe Cole took one of the worst penalties I’ve seen this year apart from Messi. The Rowdies absolutely dominated Oklahoma City in the first half and yet failed to score. Really, everything was set up perfectly for a 0-1 loss after a dodgy foul call and a Michel free kick.

But then!

Luck suddenly went the Rowdies’ way (funny how that happens). Joe Cole took a shot that was deflected in and later he tapped in his second after the OKC defense completely left goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes (who was excellent) out to dry. Just like that, the Rowdies have three points and are back up to fifth in these rankings and on the combined table.

The overall picture is still tricky for Tampa. They are five points back of Minnesota and the Fall Season is basically not an option at this point. They have no advantage in home games in the remaining schedule, although they do host the Loons in early October. There’s a lot more ground to catch up, and the essential issues with this team have not been addressed. Joe Cole is now the team’s leading scorer. With all due respect to Joe Cole, he would not be leading this team in goals if they had a decent striker.

Anyway, this was a match that Tampa really had to win. The Rowdies have been through a very tough part of the schedule, with matches against the league’s top four teams in five games. Getting three points from the one game not against a league-leader is a good start. Next, Tampa face Indy in Indianapolis. Expectations are low, so any result is golden. Regardless, the Rowdies will have an easier schedule after this week.

 

PRMiami
#6. Miami FC – (5-8-7, 23 pts) – Up One

The teal and tangerine (how has this not caught on yet?) grabbed a draw away in Ottawa over the week and got another one in their weekend home match against Minnesota. Two cagey matches, two deserved draws.

These results are good enough for Miami to tread water, but the team has to continue to improve if they’re going to make a run for the playoffs. As good as this team could be, time is rapidly running out. Injuries are also an issue. Richie Ryan has been often hurt. Jonny Steele took a hard fall in Ottawa and will be out for a bit. Michael Lahoud has also had to miss time. It’s been rough. Poku, though, has been a gem, he got his fourth goal against the Loons.

Miami travel south to Puerto Rico this weekend.

PRRayo
#7. Rayo OKC – (6-7-8, 25 pts) – Down Two

Fiasco.

This is easily the most embarrassing thing that has happened to the NASL in the past few years and that includes a player being traded for rides from Shark Limos and a coach being fired at airport baggage claim. A co-owner just making off with half of a derpy turf field in the middle of the night? Yeah, that’s going to be hard to top.

I’m not going to say that this episode and this disaster alone should cost Bill Peterson his job (though I think that his reign has been terrible for the league and that he absolutely should go). But the NASL needs to arrive at an explanation for how this catastrophe was allowed to occur and how a club with so many transparent faults was admitted into the league. If the answer is “desperation,” then the league must give a full accounting of how it came to that position in the first place.

The success of the USL during this same period makes it clear that excellent expansion opportunities were out there for the taking and the NASL needs to come to understand why those ownership groups took their business to the USL and not to the NASL. The NASL needs to determine how its own expansion process could be so stingy, and also so disastrously lax as to let Rayo OKC into the league.

The NASL owes this to the fans of the league, because while Rayo OKC is not enough to bring the NASL down, several other bad decisions of similar magnitude will be.

OKC lost this week to Tampa Bay and they play Minnesota this coming weekend, if they’re even a team at all by that point.

PRRailHawks
#8. Carolina RailHawks – (7-5-8, 26 pts) – No Change

One week after defeating Indy in impressive style, the RailHawks were mauled 6-1 by the New York Cosmos in New York. Only Carolina can go from good to bad and bad to good so quickly.

The RailHawks still aren’t out of the race, as bad as that one result was. They have seven of their remaining twelve games at home, tied for the most of any team. If Carolina want to turn it on at any point and achieve their potential, things are at least set up for them to be able to do so. But they’re probably not going to.

Carolina host Jacksonville this week, which would (in theory) be a great time to start that comeback. I am completely incapable of predicting how Carolina will play at any given time, so idk, this team is so confusing.

PRStrikers
#9. Fort Lauderdale Strikers – (7-5-8, 26 pts) - No Change

The Strikers had a bye this week, which is kinda odd for a league with an even number of teams. They return to action Wednesday at home against Minnesota, then host New York on the weekend. They have seven of their remaining twelve matches at home, so there’s an opportunity for the red and gold. But this week and these two upcoming home fixtures will be tough.

#10. Ottawa Fury - (5-5-10, 20 pts) – No Change

Ottawa recovered slightly from two horrible losses in the previous weeks, earning two grinding draws against better opposition this past week. That’ll do for a morale booster, but the Fury are just three points clear of Jacksonville in the NASL basement, and their chances for making the playoffs are basically done by this point.

I’m running out of new things to say about this team. This has been the team in the league that has most consistently met my (admittedly low) expectations all season. They host Edmonton this coming weekend.

PRPuertoRico

#11. Puerto Rico FC - (1-5-5, 8 pts) – No Change

Puerto Rico earned an impressive point on the road in Edmonton. But once again, Los Naranjas are having real difficulty doing more than just matching their opposition. Five draws is respectable, one win is poor.

After some blunders the week before, the Melos replaced David Meves with Trevor Spangenberg in goal and the debutante got his first clean sheet. With a name like that, it’s only what he deserves.

Puerto Rico have the week to recover from their travel, and host Miami next weekend.

PRArmada
#12. Jacksonville Armada – (3-8-10, 17 pts) – No Change

Mercifully, nobody had to watch the Jacksonville Armada play soccer this week, as they were on a bye. They travel to Carolina for a weekend match.

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