By JOHN BOSCHINI
For the first time since the beginning of June, the Carolina Railhawks' lead is back to single digits.
The Puerto Rico Islanders have emerged as legitimate contenders after a 3-1 victory over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers on Wednesday took their unbeaten streak to seven games. Puerto Rico is now in second place, nine points back of Carolina having played a game more.
Looking to retake second place is FC Edmonton, which squares off against Carolina in the two teams' fourth game of the season. Carolina has won twice and drawn once with the expansion side. A loss by Edmonton would move it 16 points off the lead and effectively extinguish any regular-season title hopes.
More worryingly for Edmonton is the threat of NSC Minnesota Stars. The Stars are just three points behind Edmonton and face an under-performing Montreal side on Friday. Montreal has not won since June 4 and is averaging a league-worst 0.875 goals per game.
The Atlanta Silverbacks put their season-long two-game unbeaten streak against the six-game unbeaten streak of FC Tampa Bay.
Here is a look ahead to all the action in the NASL this weekend:
Montreal Impact at NSC Minnesota Stars (Friday, 8:30 p.m.)
Minnesota lost last weekend to the Puerto Rico Islanders but should have no trouble with a Montreal side that has won only once on the road this season.
Devin Del Do and Simone Bracellelo have combined for nine goals to lead Minnesota's offense, but it has been the form of Joe Warren that has kept the Stars in contention. Warren has a paltry 1.00 goals against average, good for second in the league. The Impact need to get over their offensive troubles if they are to mount a charge on sixth place.
FC Edmonton at Carolina Railhawks (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
It has been a poor month for FC Edmonton. After emerging as Carolina's main challengers Edmonton has yet to win in July.
The Railhawks had their lengthy win-streak snapped two weeks back but still top the league's statistical charts on both the offensive and defensive end. Carolina striker Etienne Barbara leads the league with 14 goals but is going through a bit of a drought and has not scored or registered an assist in the past two games. Edmonton will rely on Kyle Porter for a desperately needed offensive kick.
FC Tampa Bay at Atlanta Silverbacks (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
For a team in last place, the Silverbacks are scoring a lot of goals. Atlanta has not been shut out since June 4 and has scored 13 goals in seven games.
The Silverbacks take their offense against FC Tampa Bay Jeff Attinella, who leads the NASL with 80 saves, 13 more than any other goalkeeper. The reason Atlanta is still in last place is due to a horrendous defense that has allowed 35 goals this season.
What do you think of this weekend's games? Can Carolina pad its lead? Will Minnesota overtake Edmonton? Will Atlanta get another win?
Share your thoughts below.