By JOE PANTORNO
Even after only playing each other two times, the New York Cosmos and San Antonio Scorpions have developed quite a nice rivalry.
Last season, the Cosmos beat the Scorpions twice, with the second win clinching the Cosmos a berth in the NASL Soccer Bowl. In the offseason, the Cosmos paid big bucks to sign Scorpions striker Hans Denissen, much to the ire of Scorpions management. The Scorpions, however, reloaded by signing former MLS forward Eric Hassli and former Fort Lauderdale Strikers midfielder Walter Restrepo.
Heading into the third week of the spring season, these two big-spending franchises now face off in a battle at James Shuart Stadium that could help shape the rest of the standings.
Here is what’s on tap for the NASL this week:
Ottawa Fury vs. Carolina Railhawks (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
The Railhawks are trying to keep the good times rolling after the 4-1 victory over Fort Lauderdale. They will have to do so on the road, though, where they have not nearly been as successful as they have been at home. Carolina has not lost at home in their last 17 games. Striker Zach Schilawski has sparked the Railhawks offense with three goals in two games.
Ottawa is one of two teams with no points through the first two weeks of the season. With one goal in 180 minutes of NASL regular season play, the Fury are desperate to find continuity up front. Vini Dantas, who has the club’s only goal this season, might have to shoulder the pressure of production up front.
New York Cosmos vs. San Antonio Scorpions (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
The league-leading Cosmos have enjoyed their time in the NASL since their reboot in the fall of 2013, to say the least. With two wins in their first two games of the 2014 spring season, the Cosmos boast a well-rounded squad. Captain Carlos Mendes has led by example this season with two goals.
The Scorpions grabbed their first three points last week with a win over Atlanta. Earning a first win on the road could provide a confidence boost as a trip to Shuart Stadium has been an insurmountable trek for any NASL side. The Cosmos have never lost at home.
Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. Indy Eleven (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
Indy Eleven have already shown that they are a quality-laden side despite being newcomers to the NASL. A pair of draws to quality sides make way for their first road match of the season against a solid Strikers squad looking to redeem themselves.
Fort Lauderdale’s opening day win over Ottawa was muffled by last week’s loss to Carolina as the defense will look for some consistency. There is plenty of potential in attack. To complement the likes of midfielders Chris Nurse and Darnell King, each with a goal this season, 36-year old striker Marius Ebbers will surely be a threat up front. Ebbers spent 15 years playing in Germany, including a season in the Bundesliga after leading St. Pauli to promotion for the 2010-2011 season.
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Atlanta Silverbacks (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
Last year’s fall season champions have yet to register a point in two games this season heading into a visit to a Rowdies squad that, like Indy, has drawn its first two games.
A late comeback attempt fell short last week for the Silverbacks, though the offense finally found the back of the net after 172 minutes of being kept scoreless.
After a pair of 1-1 draws, Tampa Bay will be hoping to snag its first win of the season. Brian Shriver, last year’s golden boot winner with Carolina, has one of the Rowdies’ two goals this season and is always a threat to make his way onto the score sheet.
Minnesota United FC vs. FC Edmonton (8:00 p.m.)
Taking maximum points from their first two matches, Minnesota United have issued an early statement that they mean business in the NASL’s spring season. With their home opener to come on Saturday night, Minnesota will look to feed off the friendly confines of National Sports Center Stadium.
FC Edmonton have one point in its first two games and will return to NASL action on shortened rest after a midweek scoreless draw with Ottawa in the Amway Canadian Championship. It’s their third game in seven days.