There is no rest for the weary and no one knows that better than the quarterfinalists in the NASL playoffs.
Combine the physical toll of a long season with the pressure cooker of a win or go home match-up and fans are in for something special come Saturday. Florida will be the host for both quarterfinals as #6 Minnesota travels to #3 Tampa Bay and #4 Fort Lauderdale plays host to #5 Edmonton. #1 Carolina and #2 Puerto Rico have already booked their places in the semifinals and get an extra week of rest. The Atlanta Silverbacks and the Montreal Impact were the odd men out in the six-team league.
The quarterfinals are a one-game round with extra time and penalty kicks coming into play. The semifinals and final are home-and-away taking place during October. Teams will be re-seeded after the quarterfinals based on regular-season points total so the Railhawks would face semifinalist with the worst record no matter what.
Here is a look ahead to the first round of the NASL playoffs:
#6 NSC Minnesota Stars at #3 FC Tampa Bay (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
The NSC Minnesota Stars made it difficult on themselves but a win over Carolina on the final weekend avoided an epic late-season collapse and Minnesota is in the playoffs. However, if Minnesota doesn't find some form immediately, their season could be over very soon.
Minnesota's biggest problem has been scoring goals. The Stars have only found the back of the net 30 times this season, the second fewest in the league. Simone Bracalello leads Minnesota's attack with six goals scored while Devin Del Do has contributed five. On the other side of the ball, FC Tampa Bay boasts two of the hottest offensive commodities in the league with Mike Ambersley and Aaron King.
It's difficult to see Minnesota winning in a shootout so goalkeeper Joe Warren will likely need to come up big for the Stars. The native Minnesotan holds a 1.11 goals against average and will go up against Jeff Attinella, who has a stellar rookie season in goal for Tampa Bay.
#5 FC Edmonton at #4 Fort Lauderdale Strikers (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
No one expected much from the expansion FC Edmonton but a surprising amount of discipline instilled by manager Harry Sinkgraven led the Canadians to mid-table.
The Fort Lauderdale Strikers used a hot streak in September to book a place in the playoffs but overall, Fort Lauderdale has been fairly unremarkable this season. The Strikers are in the bottom half of the league in both goals scored and goals conceded. Brian Shriver and Eduardo Coudet lead the Strikers attack with six goals each.
Shaun Saiko leads Edmonton's attack with nine goals on the season. If the newcomers can avoid a defensive collapse like the 5-0 loss to Montreal earlier in the season, Edmonton has a great chance of advancing.
What do you think of the first round? Which teams do you see advancing? Carolina and Puerto Rico fans, any teams you're looking to avoid?
Share your thoughts below.