Okay, I might’ve been wrong.
Two weeks ago, I called the NASL playoff race over. One week ago, I doubled down. But this week, I’m not so sure anymore. Three of the four spots are all but secured. But that fourth spot…
The Cosmos were held scoreless at home by FC Edmonton, in what could be an NASL Cup preview. But despite taking only a point at home, this result was a good one for New York. They held off their only serious rival for the league #1 spot. In this case, denying the Eddies two points was more important than winning the one.
I don’t think the green and white should be too worried after scoring just once in back to back home fixtures. They peppered Matt Van Oekel with shots and looked solid overall. But I do think there might be some reason to be concerned about New York against the other playoff teams. The Cosmos are 2-1-4 against the league’s current top four. The good news? All four losses came away, and the two wins and the draw came at home. Barring a late collapse, which seems increasingly unlikely, the Cosmos won’t have to worry about playing away at all.
Don’t start writing the name on the trophy juuuuust yet, though. The Cosmos head to Indy next week. Just two of their last seven matches are at home. If there is a be a comeback, the groundwork is laid.
Edmonton were rolling until a few weeks ago, but with four draws and a loss in their last five matches, they’ve fallen off the pace at the worst time for their title chase hopes. Two draws this past week, one in Oklahoma and the other in New York, while obviously better than losses, comes close to sealing their fate as the unlucky #3 seed. The Eddies were lucky to hold the Cosmos off especially. Matt Van Oekel had another good game, leading Colin Miller to praise his goalkeeper as the best in North America (he’s not lol, and also, why do I get the sense that Miller is forgetting about Liga MX here…). What MVO is, however, is the clear goalkeeper of the year winner, and a contender for the league MVP. After last year’s semi-disastrous campaign, he’s found his feet in Edmonton.
Alright, so here’s the math for Edmonton. The combined table doesn’t matter, really. What matters is that the Eddies win the fall. They have a game in hand on the Cosmos, but are five points behind and behind 11 goals in differential. With eight games left, the Eddies have only three at home, which is not much better than the Cosmos. If I had to give odds, I’d give Edmonton a 10% chance of sneaking in and grabbing the #1 seed. Otherwise, given the dopey NASL system, it’ll be the #3 seed and a low chance of playing the championship at home.
Having been through troubled times on the road, Indy knew they could count on The Mike. Back home, the Eleven reverted to form, dousing a hot Miami FC team and getting their mojo back. Good things just happen for Indy at home. The opposing goalkeeper makes a calamitous mistake. A deflected shot goes in. It’s been this way all year, a constant reminder that good, hard working teams tend to create their own luck.
There is an outside chance that Indy could roar back and take the #1 seed in the closing weeks. They are seven points back of the Cosmos on the same number of games. They have seven games left in the season, and three of them are at home. But critically, the next one is at home against the Cosmos. If the Eleven can win next weekend, then they’re in the hunt. I’d give them about 10% odds as well to chase down New York, but I might favor them in the upcoming head-to-head match-up.
Do I have to write this entry?
Two straight losses. One was understandable—away at New York last week. But this week’s full-team howler against Ottawa was not. The Loons shipped two goals in the final ten minutes against an awful road team. It was a performance on par with the 0-4 defeat to Miami, and a crushing defeat that felt like last season’s home loss to a Fort Lauderdale Strikers team with an interim player-coach. What a disaster.
Unbelievably, Minnesota still control their own destiny in the league, thanks to some clutch slip-ups from their league rivals. But in visiting Ottawa this coming week, the Loons have an absolutely massive point to prove to their fans and to the league. The pressure is on, and the lead for the #4 seed has shrunk.
Miami got a big win midweek with their late 1-0 win over Carolina. But on the weekend, they whiffed on a big, big chance to get in the NASL drivers seat, losing 1-2 to Indy. It was a preventable loss. The first Indy goal came after goalkeeper Daniel Vega inexplicably gave the ball to Indy’s best player, Dylan Mares, at the top of the box. The second goal was the result of a tricky deflection. Miami have some right to feel hard done by the result.
Still, there’s no doubt that the the teal and tangerine are a force to be reckoned with. They are breathing down Minnesota’s neck for the 4th spot. Even crazier, there’s the not-impossible scenario that it’s Miami who sneak past New York and Edmonton to win the fall season and the #2 seed. Alessandro Nesta’s men have eight games remaining in the year, and five of them are at home. As I wrote last week, this team hasn’t been as lights out at home, so that may not be an automatic advantage. But just six points back of the Cosmos in the fall race, with a much better goal differential (+9) than Edmonton, Miami legitimately have a shot. Only problem? Their season ends with an away trip to New York and a home match vs Edmonton. Give them a 10% chance as well. (The darkest timeline for Minnesota involves beating Miami in the overall standings, but having Miami win the fall.)
Miami play Puerto Rico on Friday.
Tampa Bay actually managed to score a goal this week, thanks to Eric Avila, and a staunch defensive effort kept the lead intact against Carolina. I’ve been mumbling on this page about Tom Heineman probably being the best of bad options for Tampa up top, but after this weekend, I think I was wrong. They might as well play Diego Restrepo up there.
The Rowdies are also just four points behind Minnesota with a game in hand. But the problem for Tampa, as I wrote last week, is that they’re not alone in the chase. In this case, Miami have two plausible routes to the playoffs, both of which preclude Tampa. And Fort Lauderdale are on the same number of points, and just behind them on goal differential. Tampa Bay have to catch the Loons, and be better than these other teams. With four games at home and four games on the road, their schedule isn’t quite as favorable as their foes. Tampa do host Minnesota once, but should they win, they could end up benefiting Miami and Fort Lauderdale just as much.
Anyway, what’s key for Tampa is that they win, outright win, against those other Florida teams. The green and gold play away in Fort Lauderdale this coming weekend, and at home against Miami the next week.
The third Florida team with an auspicious 8-8-8 record, Fort Lauderdale are the least likely to make the playoffs, thanks to their inferior differential. But it’s not inferior by much. The bigger issue for the Strikers is mainly that they’re just not as good as they could be. This weekend, they missed a big, big opportunity, drawing on the road to Oklahoma City. That said, it’s mighty impressive that this club who isn’t getting paid on time, keeps having their best players sold, and may not even exist next year, is hanging in there. Good for them.
If the Strikers are to make a run, it has to start by putting away some of their Florida rivals. Tampa Bay head down to Lauderhill this coming weekend. If the red and gold knock off their green rivals, then I’ll have to take their playoff push much more seriously.
Also, Bruno Cardoso has been pretty darn good since returning to the line-up, but he was lucky, lucky, lucky against Rayo. He made several mistakes that could’ve cost him, but didn’t.
#8. Ottawa Fury - (6-8-11, 26 pts) – Up One
Ottawa played a tough match against Minnesota, and found two bolts of lighting in the final ten minutes to grab the win. I’ve wanted to believe in this team all year, and its really frustrating that they showed one of their rare flashes of potential against the team that I root for. Here, I’ll repeat myself. I like what Paul Dalglish is doing. I don’t think he has many good players. I think if they spend some money, or just drop a league (which seems to be more likely) then they’ll be a pretty good team.
This coming weekend, Ottawa play against Minnesota again, but at home. They’ve done well against the Loons this year, with a draw in the spring and this win in the fall. Can they shut Minnesota out on the season? Stay tuned…
Classic Carolina. Just when they’re in decent position to actually do something, they lose two games in a week and all but rule themselves out of the race. The only departure from their classic form is that they lost both games 0-1, displaying surprising skill in defense. Normally, you can count on the RailHawks for back to back 0-3 blowouts, or something like that.
(I’m running out of things to say about a lot of these teams, can you tell?)
Carolina host Edmonton this coming week, so if they were going to make some kind of miracle recovery, they better get started right about now.
Seven games remain in the sorry history of this club, but like with Fort Lauderdale, you’ve got to give credit to the players for sticking through it and putting together some respectable showings. Perhaps playing for a new contract somewhere else is a more powerful motivator than previously supposed…
Oklahoma City notched two draws this week, playing a 0-0 affair against Edmonton (that I had completely forgotten about when I wrote this PR, and had to go back and edit in), and a 1-1 comeback against Fort Lauderdale. Even if the playoffs are fading over the horizon, the Scissortails can still play spoiler!
OKC play Jacksonville at home next weekend. Don’t watch that match, there will be better options.
The Armada aren’t good, but at last, I’m fairly confident that they are, in fact, slightly better than Puerto Rico. Also, I’m taking pity on this city after the Jaguars game this past weekend.
The game in Puerto Rico was one of the funniest games in the NASL this year. Neither team is any good, so naturally it was the best game of the week. Even better,Jacksonville especially have a habit of taking awful, awful shots from distance, so of course, the game became a shootout of exquisitely placed shots from distance. All of the players who I thought in preseason would really lead a powerhouse Armada offense stepped up and delivered. Charles Eloundou, who leads the league in field goals, started off the scoring. Mechack Jérôme, the defender who takes all the good free kicks, scored the second (not from a free kick). And Alhassane Keita (remember him?) scored third. One night, 15% of the goals the Armada have scored all year.
And they only got a point, because of course they did!
Jacksonville host Oklahoma City next.
#12. Puerto Rico FC - (1-8-6, 11 pts) – Down One
Puerto Rico somehow managed to look Jacksonville’s attack look elite, but they compensated by exposing their defense as bad. What’s especially nuts is that Las Naranjas scored three goals without a single one coming off the foot of Pito Ramos! It’s like it was two completely different teams out there.
At this point, it seems inevitable that Puerto Rico will finish last. Catching Jacksonville looks impossible after this weekend. Lo siento, hombres. Siempre hay el próximo año.
Puerto Rico travel across the sea to play Miami this Friday.
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