By JOHN BOSCHINI
Just when it looked like no one would catch the Carolina Railhawks, the NASL leaders lost their first game since April 9 over the weekend and followed it up with a 1-1 tie with FC Edmonton on Thursday night.
The departure of captain Brad Rusin has obviously had an effect on Carolina, but the Railhawks still maintain a 13-point lead over second-place Edmonton. Minnesota is in fourth place but is only three points adrift of the runner-up position after its victory over Carolina.
Almost as significant as Carolina's loss was the Atlanta Silverbacks finally getting their second win of the season after nearly four months of play. A 3-2 victory over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers moved Atlanta to eight points overall and three points away from moving out of the bottom of the table for the first time all season.
The Puerto Rico Islanders and FC Tampa Bay held on to their respective spots in the standings with a 1-1 draw over the weekend. Puerto Rico is in third place, two points behind Edmonton, while FC Tampa Bay holds on to the final playoff spot in sixth place.
Oddly enough, the one of the more intriguing matchups of the weekend features the two lowest teams as far as point totals go when Atlanta meets Montreal.
Here is a look ahead at the matchups this weekend in the NASL:
Atlanta Silverbacks at Montreal Impact (Sunday, 3:30 p.m.)
The Impact is not off to a great start under new coach Nick De Santis, with a loss to Carolina and a 1-1 draw with Fort Lauderdale. Montreal is a whopping 10 points off a playoff spot and welcome an Atlanta side that has scored six goals in two games. Montreal's offense, which has averaged than a goal per game, should have an easier time against an Atlanta defense that has conceded 33 times in 2011.
FC Tampa Bay at FC Edmonton (Sunday, 6 p.m.)
Edmonton is coming off a dramatic draw with league-leading Carolina on Thursday and it will be interesting to see if there is any hangover against FC Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay is coming off a preseason exhibition against the Bolton Wanderers of the English Premier League on Thursday so neither team will have much rest. Edmonton can open up some distance on Puerto Rico and Minnesota with a victory and feel secure in its runner-up position.
Puerto Rico Islanders at NSC Minnesota Stars (Sunday, 8:30 p.m.)
Merely one point separates third-placed Puerto Rico and fourth-placed NSC Minnesota, and both teams are enjoying a decent run of form. Minnesota has lost only once since May 28, when the Stars lost 2-1 to FC Edmonton in Canada. This time, the Stars play at home, where they are still unbeaten.
What do you think of this weekend's games? Excited to see if Atlanta can win another game? Who will win between Puerto Rico and Minnesota?
Share your thoughts below.