News

Stumbling Toward the Playoffs: Loons Not Alone in Late-Season Woes

by on 10 October 2016

It has been over a month since the last Minnesota United win; they are on a six-match winless streak; and yet, they are not alone in struggling toward the end of the season. Last weekend, Tampa Bay and Miami — the two teams best-poised to overtake the Loons — both lost, allowing Minnesota to actually gain a point on them.

No team in the NASL is currently running a hot-streak except for Puerto Rico FC, who are on a seven-match unbeaten streak with three wins and four draws. So what gives? Does any team actually want to clinch the last playoff spot?

For each team, the answers are quite different. The Rowdies have perennially struggled despite their free-flowing pocket book. Up until this weekend’s loss at Edmonton, they were carrying a seven-match unbeaten streak, including the last-minute draw with Minnesota midweek. Despite that run, Tampa Bay are sitting ninth in the fall season with 21 points.

The Rowdies still look like they can make a run for the playoffs since they are only one point off Minnesota’s pace with a game in hand. They are coming up against Miami FC this weekend in what should be one of the most important matches of the season. After that, they play an Indy Eleven who will have far less to play for, a checkered-form Ottawa Fury, and close their season at Jacksonville. As far as stumbling paths, the Rowdies may have the easiest.

In one of their easier matchups, Miami FC lost at home to Rayo OKC on a penalty over the weekend. Though Miami has been resurgent in the fall, of late they lost to Puerto Rico FC and Indy Eleven, checking their growth. All of Miami’s matches since their impressive 0-2 victory at Edmonton have been tightly contested.

The aforementioned Tampa Bay match-up will prove pivotal for Miami. Miami FC also faces a tougher run ahead with Jacksonville and New York Cosmos away before closing out the season at home to Edmonton.

The last time Minnesota had a run this bad was in 2011 when NSC Minnesota Stars went from August 10th through September 6th with one point from seven matches. That season, they snuck into the playoffs and went on a title-winning run with wins over Tampa Bay and Carolina before beating Fort Lauderdale in the final.

The Carolina RailHawks are a surprise addition after their resounding 3-0 thumping of Fort Lauderdale over the weekend. Like the Rowdies, the RailHawks sit just one point off the Loons and have a game in hand. What Carolina is exactly doing is not quite clear: they beat Indy Eleven back in August only to suffer a 6-1 humiliation in New York. Since then, it has been a see-saw of tight results, most notably with a 1-0 victory over Edmonton. Before this past weekend, the RailHawks earned only four points in their last five matches and yet, they’re resurgent. Ahead for the RailHawks are: Rayo OKC, Indy Eleven, Minnesota United, and Puerto Rico, none of which will prove an easy opponent.

This brings us to Minnesota United, who — despite being on one of their worst runs in history — are still somehow holding on to the last playoff spot. Speaking of that history, the last time Minnesota had a run this bad was in 2011 when NSC Minnesota Stars went from August 10 through September 6 with one point from seven matches. That season, they snuck into the playoffs and went on a title-winning run with wins over Tampa Bay and Carolina before beating Fort Lauderdale in the final. That terrible run ended with three matches remaining, from which the Stars earned seven points.

But any bit of optimism must be immediately tempered by the task at hand: Minnesota have to secure points from Edmonton, New York, and Carolina if they want to see the post-season. They have one less match than their rivals and by far the most difficult schedule.

More importantly, they look dangerously mediocre on the pitch. Whether it is luck or motivation, Minnesota comes out in most matches looking to dominate and dictate possession. But when the opposition steps up and reasserts itself, the Loons are paper tigers.

The important thing to remember is that nothing seems to make sense in the NASL right now. No one, except the league’s worst team seems capable of putting together a decent run. It makes for an exciting end to the season for neutrals, but most fans are watching with eyes peaking through their fingers.

Tags: , , , ,