By JOHN BOSCHINI
The Carolina Railhawks' lead at the top of the NASL is now up to double digits thanks to Etienne Barbara's offensive dominance.
The Maltese striker scored once and provided two assists in Carolina's 3-1 victory over FC Tampa Bay in front of 4,000 fans in Cary. The Railhawks winning streak is up to eight games with an average of over two and a half goals per game. FC Tampa Bay remains in sixth place with only 13 points from 12 games.
The two closest challengers to Carolina failed to keep pace as FC Edmonton and the NSC Minnesota Stars drew 1-1 in Minnesota. The Stars dominated play but had trouble finishing in the final third with their only goal coming from the penalty spot.
The Puerto Rico Islanders used a late surge to put away a pesky Atlanta team that can't turn its improved performances into victories. The Islanders are back up to fourth in the NASL standings, only three points adrift of second place despite a difficult string of results since April.
The Fort Lauderdale Strikers goal-scoring form dried up against what has usually been a porous Montreal defense in a 0-0 draw. The draw ends a two-game losing streak for Montreal but the Impact stay in seventh place, four points adrift of the playoffs.
Here is a look back at the weekend's action in the NASL:
Carolina Railhawks 3, FC Tampa Bay 1
FC Tampa Bay took an early lead but couldn't hold off Carolina's offensive pressure, eventually losing 3-1.
Warren Ukahh took advantage when Brad Knighton couldn't hang on to a hard shot from Tsuyoshi Yoshitake and made no mistake on the rebound. The lead last 18 minutes before Matt Watson put a shot past Jeff Attinella to level the score before halftime.
Barbara gave the Railhaws the lead early in the second half with his league-leading 13th goal of the season. Allan Russel put an exclamation point on the victory with a goal in added time.
FC Edmonton 1, NSC Minnesota Stars 1
Minnesota looked dominant early on, forcing several saves from Edmonton goalkeeper Rein Baart but the Stars over-committed and allowed Shaun Saiko to score in the 14th minute. Edmonton pressed a reeling Minnesota defense but narrowly missed on several chances to double its lead.
Minnesota equalized early in the second half when Kyle Altman was tripped in the box by Alex Suprenant. Neil Hlavaty drove the spot kick into the right-hand corner, giving Baart no chance. Edmonton was reduced to 10 men just before the end when Saiko was sent off with a second yellow card.
Puerto Rico Islanders 3, Atlanta Silverbacks 1
Jonathan Fana put the Islanders up in just the second minute for his sixth goal of the season. Fana is now a distant second to Barbara in the NASL goal-scoring table. The Silverbacks answered just before halftime with Lucas Paulini's penalty kick.
The game remained scorless until the final 10 minutes when Hansen and Foley scored to give Puerto Rico the victory.
Montreal Impact 0, Fort Lauderdale Strikers 0
The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are unbeaten in three games but were lucky to escape Montreal with a scoreless draw. The Impact, despite struggling mightily all season, got off 13 shots and forced several good saves from Strikers' goalkeeper Matt Glaeser. Montreal played in front of 13,304 fans in Saputo Satadium and is still unbeaten against the Strikers in eight games.
What did you think of this weekend's results? When do you expect the Railhawks to lose again? Can Montreal mount a playoff charge? Who does the draw between Minnesota and Edmonton hurt more?
Share your thoughts below.