By JOHN BOSCHINI
Major League Soccer's next franchise is going through some hard times in U.S. Soccer's second division.
The Montreal Impact is reeling from the sudden resignation of coach Marc Dos Santos earlier in the week. The Impact is off to an atrocious start, winning only twice in 11 games and sitting seventh in the standings, well outside a playoff spot.
"This is too important a year to let it go on like this," Montreal president Joey Saputo said in a statement released by the club. "It's important to finish our journey in the second division in order to start MLS on a high."
Sporting director Nick De Santis has been named the interim coach, and his first task is dealing with the high-flying Carolina Railhawks, winners of nine straight games. Carolina has also opened up an 11-point lead over FC Edmonton in the NASL table.
Edmonton takes on third-place Minnesota as both teams try desperatly to stay relevant in the chase for the regular-season title. The Atlanta Silverbacks are still looking for a second win but face a stiff test against a Puerto Rico side that is beginning to find its feet after a mid-season slump. Finally, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers put their six-game unbeaten streak on the line against sixth-placed Tampa Bay.
For the first time this season there will be no NASL games taking place on Saturday with the league instead opting for a trio of games on July 4th.
Here is a look ahead to the long weekend in the NASL:
Montreal Impact at Carolina RailHawks (Sunday, 7 p.m.)
Anyone who has watched sports for any length of time knows a team's reaction to a coach's departure tends to be a bit extreme. Montreal could crumble over the chaos of the past week or finally come together and put in a performance that has eluded them all season.
Also standing in Montreal's way is the dominating form of Carolina. Etienne Barbara continues to be far and away the most dangerous offensive threat in the league, and goalkeeper Brad Knighton and his backline quietly hold the league's top goals-against average.
Puerto Rico Islanders at Atlanta Silverbacks (Monday, 5 p.m.)
If Barbara wasn't on a nearly unbelievable scoring tear, the mid-season offensive accolades may very well be going to Islanders' striker Jonathan Fana. The Dominican Republic international has seven goals, which is good for second in the league.
The Silverbacks are in dire need of a turnaround on both ends of the field. They have the lowest-scoring offense with only nine goals scored and the league's worst defense with 27 goals conceded. They are nine points off the pace for a playoff berth and are running out of time to make up some ground.
Fort Lauderdale Strikers at FC Tampa Bay (Monday, 6 p.m.)
This a matchup of remarkably similar teams. Both sides have three wins, occupy the final two playoff spots and rank near the middle of most statistical categories. FC Tampa Bay is having trouble on defense, relying too heavily on the form of rookier goalkeeper Jeff Attinella.
FC Edmonton at NSC Minnesota Stars (Monday, 7:30 p.m.)
FC Edmonton has been far from impressive this season with only a +3 goal differential, but the newcomers have learned how to squeak out narrow victories. Edmonton has won four games by a single goal while only losing one by that margin.
Minnesota has won only once in its past six games and is looking to mount a challenge on the top two. The Stars are winless in two meetings with Edmonton this season.
What do you think of the Impact's coaching change? Do you see any possibility of Carolina being knocked off? Which other game this weekend has your attention?
Share your thoughts below.