A week after I called the NASL playoff hunt more or less over, but the seeding race heating up, we got a battery of results this weekend that narrowed the contest significantly at the bottom and lengthened it at the top. Three of the league’s top four teams lost, and three of the chasers won, while the other two drew. There is a pack of five clubs between 31 and 28 points all looking hungrily up at Minnesota. Meanwhile New York moved into the position where they now basically control their own destiny for the fall season and the #1 seed.
So was I wrong? I’m not convinced. This week’s matches featured teams in the top half of the league against each other. While the results are meaningful because the points still count, I wouldn’t draw any larger conclusions about form, at least from a couple of the matches.
On that note, let’s just get to it.
The Cosmos did what the Cosmos do best on Saturday. They found a way to win at home. It wasn’t easy against a tough Minnesota team, but they did it all the same, thanks to a single tremendous goal from David Diosa and the superb goalkeeping of Jimmy Maurer. This team just finds a way.
This coming week, New York host FC Edmonton, in a match-up that might just decide the league’s #1 seed. But it might not, and I’d caution anyone from assuming the race for the title is over now, or even after a potential New York victory (though that would make a comeback pretty daunting). The Cosmos have been incredible at home this season, with a 12-1-0 record. But they’ve been poor away, going just 3-2-6. After hosting the Eddies this coming week, Gio Savarese must take his men on the road for five of the final seven matches of the year. New York have 48 points already. But if they continue to achieve the same points per game at home and away, they’ll end the year with just 57-58 points. So even if there are eight weeks left in the season, the available evidence suggests New York are still catchable. But only just.
Edmonton were the week’s biggest losers, dropping only their second home match of the year. What makes the defeat to Miami FC worse is that the Eddies absolutely handed their guests the game. Reigning player of the month Matt Van Oekel made two weird errors out of his goal, and his defense deserved the other half of the blame. It was a strange and damaging performance from the league’s best defensive team.
Edmonton no longer really control their own destiny in the NASL fall season title chase. With two games in hand over New York, the Rabbits are six points back (seven points back in the combined table). That can obviously be overcome, but the decider is the goal difference. Edmonton are eleven goals back from New York. They’ve scored eleven goals total this fall season so far.
This being said, see the Cosmos’ entry above. They’re due for a run of road games. So are the Eddies, but it’s a bit less severe. They play six of their final ten away, including this coming week’s match against New York. An upset win in that contest would put the #1 seed right back in play. Even if they draw or lose, Edmonton still could narrow the gap. But they cannot afford any more bumbling errors.
Minnesota fans put their finger over the #PANIC! button following Saturday night’s 0-1 defeat in New York. They shouldn’t press it. The Loons played well, creating most of the game’s golden-edged chances. Only some incredible goalkeeping kept them off the scoresheet. They only conceded a wondrous goal that I’m also fairy sure was accidental. If they play like they did on Saturday, United have nothing to worry about.
The remaining schedule is also more favorable to Minnesota than it is to many of their competitors. The Loons have already gone through their run of away games; that was it, just now. they emerged with a solid defense, a series of draws, and their lead in the standings very much intact. Four of their remaining eight matches are at home, including the return legs against Edmonton and New York. The fall title is almost certainly out of reach now, thanks to the loss on Long Island. But Minnesota more or less control their own destiny for the #4 seed. Fort Lauderdale are five points back with a game in hand. Carolina are six points back with two games in hand. Both teams are miles behind the Loons in goal difference.
This coming week, Minnesota will host the stubborn but beatable Ottawa Fury. A win, and it’s like the loss this past weekend never even happened.
Indy have been on a kick of road games, and it’s been tough sledding, much tougher than we’d come to expect from this team. The Eleven are now winless in five, including three losses. They lost 2-3 to Carolina, 0-3 to New York, and now 1-2 to Fort Lauderdale. That’s a serious concern. Indy don’t have to worry about the playoffs, and they’re far back in the race for the #1 seed. But it’s probably not a good thing to hit your worst form of the year in the league’s final weeks.
There’s still plenty of time to turn things around. Indy have five of their final nine matches at home, including two in a row this weekend and the next. Those will be tough games. Miami come first, and New York come second. But The Mike has been a fortress for the Eleven this year. They have yet to lose in its friendly confines, and the home-heavy home stretch is the perfect tonic for Indy’s recent woes.
I haven’t been as high on this team as the standings have been. Still, they’ll deservedly make the playoffs this year, and despite the recent blip in form, they’re a force to be reckoned with.
With their 2-0 win over Edmonton on Sunday, Miami FC got a huge three points in their quest to complete a turnaround and make the playoffs. It’s still probably not enough. The teal and tangerine played well in Alberta, too be sure, but they can’t take much credit for creating their two goals. Both were essentially gifts from their hosts. It’s too much to say that Miami are really moving into another gear. I’m more confident in saying that they’re a good team who are roughly even with the top group. And that’s not a pace that’ll be good enough to get them into the playoffs.
Miami still have tough dates on their upcoming schedule, even if they emerged from the Edmonton trip with a surprising haul. They travel to Indy this weekend after a midweek home match against Carolina. They end the season by traveling to New York and hosting Edmonton. On paper, their biggest advantage is in their home-tilted schedule. Six of their final ten matches will be at FIU Stadium. But the evidence is that they are actually worse there (2-1-2 in the fall) than elsewhere (4-3-0). All of this to say, I think it’s still too late for Miami, as well as they’ve done so far.
Tampa’s draw away at Indy last week was excusable (if unhelpful) because Indy are a good team. But the green and gold’s scoreless draw away at Puerto Rico this weekend is much worse, because Puerto Rico are not good, because they were a bit outplayed, and because the Rowdies really do not have more time left.
Here’s the situation. Tampa Bay have nine games left on the schedule. Five are at home, four on the road. The Rowdies are seven points behind Minnesota for the final playoff spot, with a game in hand and a home match against the Loons on their schedule. That sounds doable. The problem is, there are three other teams between Tampa Bay and Minnesota on points. So while if it were just a two horse race you could see the Rowdies overcoming the Loons somehow. But even if the Minnesota collapsed and Tampa passed them, they still might not pass Miami, or Fort Lauderdale, or Carolina. That’s the biggest issue right now.
And let’s not kid ourselves, Tampa Bay don’t seem likely to go on a crazy run anytime soon. They’ve been strong defensively, but woeful in the attack. That wouldn’t be so bad (Minnesota, for example, have had similar results recently) if they weren’t so far behind already.
Maybe we shouldn’t mock Fort Lauderdale’s new cricket stadium. The Strikers got a huge 2-1 home win on Saturday night against the visiting Indy Eleven. The win puts the red and gold in fifth place in the overall table, which is really remarkable considering how the team’s front office has been seemingly actively sabotaging their squad for months. This week, the club announced the transfer of Diego Restrepo to Tampa Bay. As good as Bruno Cardoso has suddenly been, getting rid of the goalkeeper who turned your season around doesn’t seem like the kind of move a team with championship aspirations makes.
Despite being in the fifth place position, Fort Lauderdale don’t have the advantages that a few of the other clubs in the chasing pack have. They have just a game in hand on Minnesota, and are five points back and ten back in goal difference. The Strikers also cannot count on a home field edge. Only four of their final nine games are at Central Broward Stadium.
This coming weekend, the Strikers travel to Oklahoma City. They host Tampa the week after, then play three straight on the road. They might be out of the playoff picture by the time that they return to play three straight at home.
Carolina are hanging in the playoff hunt, but they’re not doing much to convince anyone that they’re serious contenders. This, even though, with two games in hand and six points back, they’re the only team that could catch Minnesota on points by winning out (the 16 goal difference between the two clubs is another story).
The issue for the RailHawks is that they’re just not taking their chances, in more ways than one. This weekend, the fictional birdies drew at home to Ottawa. That’s really a match they need to be winning if they want to make the postseason. They just couldn’t get past Ottawa’s defense and get the goal they so desperately needed. It’s so weird finding a balance between attack and defense with this team.
Carolina’s remaining schedule looks like this: five at home, four away. This week, it’s two matches in Florida; one in Miami and the other in Tampa. Neither of those contests will be easy. The RailHawks host Edmonton and New York the weekend and midweek after. Those aren’t easy either. These four games ought to more or less decide Carolina’s season. The goal ought to be at least six points.
#9. Ottawa Fury - (5-8-11, 23 pts) – No Change
The best of the teams who have no chance at the playoffs, I’ve long ago run out of things to say about the Fury. This past week, they played to two scoreless away draws, which is a decent result in isolation, but is kinda just sad at this point. They’ve got some useful players, but overall they don’t have the personnel. This offseason, a lot of eyes will be on the club to see what changes they make, and whether they go for an easier league as well.
Ottawa travel to Minnesota this coming weekend.
Well, the turf was back. Those of us who had hoped to see two professional soccer teams attempt to play on a turf field missing forty square pieces were sorely disappointed. But happily, Oklahoma City’s 3-2 win over Jacksonville at least provided some entertainment of the slapstick variety. There was a horrible penalty kick, a nice free kick, a comical own goal, and more! In the end, the Scissortails came out on top. They’re still technically in the playoff race, but I think things are winding down in OKC. This isn’t a playoff team. This is a club marching to its grave, with players putting on a good show because they’re professionals and looking for their next contract.
This coming week, OKC travels away to Edmonton midweek, then hosts Fort Lauderdale on Sunday. That’s a lot of travel.
#11. Puerto Rico FC - (1-7-6, 10 pts) – No Change
Poor Puerto Rico. Los Naranjas just can’t get the three points they’re looking for, despite seven draws. This week, the Melos gave a spirited performance against Ottawa, then a spirited performance against Tampa, but came away empty handed each time, conceding and scoring 0 goals.
The drama for Puerto Rico is whether or not they will pass Jacksonville, despite playing ten fewer games. They are currently seven points behind, but they host the Armada this coming weekend. If there’s any team who should be good for three points at home, it’s Jacksonville.
The Armada lost in Oklahoma City this past weekend, but you knew that already. As noted above, the question here is whether Jacksonville will be passed by Puerto Rico in the combined standings. So far, they’re even on the fall table, with ten points each, so the odds are in the Armada’s favor. Still…
This week, Jacksonville travel to Puerto Rico, and a loss there could set them on the path to a second straight bottom of the table finish.
Sound off on this week’s rankings below!