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NASL Week 18: A Look Ahead

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By JOHN BOSCHINI

As most NASL teams enter their final 10 games of the season, here's a taste of how dominant Carolina has been since the beginning of April.

The Railhawks have racked up an incredible +25 goal differential over their opening 18 games. That's followed by the NSC Minnesota Stars. With +3. 

Ruling out a catastrophic fall from grace, Carolina will claim the regular-season title and earn a first-round bye for the playoffs. In fact, the Railhawks can wrap up a playoff berth with a win or if Montreal loses or ties against Minnesota. Who will join them is a less certain, as teams near the bottom of the playoff ladder fail to seal the deal. Fort Lauderdale currently holds on to the last playoff spot, six points clear of Montreal, but only 10 points separates third place from seventh.

Puerto Rico currently holds onto second place — and a first-round bye of their own — by only four points, but the Islanders can now focus solely on their league campaign after exiting the CONCACAF Champions League. A 3-1 win at home against Isidro Metapan was insufficient to overturn a first-leg deficit and advance into the group stages, as the Islanders lost out to away goals.

Here is a look ahead at all the action coming up in the NASL:

FC Tampa Bay at Atlanta Silverbacks (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)

If the Silverbacks are to hold on to the slim chance they have of making the playoffs, this weekend is vital.

Atlanta takes on fifth-placed FC Tampa Bay at Silverbacks Stadium in the teams' third meeting of the season. Atlanta picked up its first point of the season with a 1-1 draw with Tampa Bay before losing a 3-2 thriller last month. The Silverbacks notched seven points last season after managing only five in the first three months.

FC Tampa Bay finally found some offense in July, scoring 11 goals and should have an easy time with Atlanta's notoriously bad defense.

Carolina Railhawks at Fort Lauderdale Strikers (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)

At a time when the Strikers really need a few points to feel secure, Carolina is not the team they want to be facing.

The Railhawks posted four goals on Fort Lauderdale when the teams met in April, and the Strikers defense has yet to show many signs of improvement. If Fort Lauderdale plans to pull the upset, Eduardo Coudet will likely need to continue his goal-scoring form. The Argentinian has scored six goals this season.

NSC Minnesota Stars at Montreal Impact (Saturday, 8 p.m.)

Despite being one of the worst teams in the league this season, Montreal isn't out of the playoff picture.

That being said, a six-point deficit could be difficult to make up if the Impact don't see a dramatic upturn in its performance. Montreal has scored a league-low 15 goals this season with a lack of a true goal-scoring threat its most prevalent problem. A stingy defense could keep games close down the stretch, but draws won't be enough for Montreal.

Puerto Rico Islanders at FC Edmonton (Saturday, 9:30 p.m.)

FC Edmonton is in third place but is coming off a winless July that saw the newcomers fall completely out of the regular-season title picture.

Edmonton was outscored 14-5 in July, while the Islanders found form after a mid-season stumble. Puerto Rico lost only once in July and can move seven points clear of third place should Minnesota lose.

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What do you think of this weekend's games? Can Atlanta knock off Tampa Bay? Is Carolina vulnerable against a Fort Lauderdale side that has a lot to play for?

Share your thoughts below.

Comments

  1. Good point about rapid MLS expansion diluting the player pool (hadn’t thought of it, but it makes sense). Hopefully, better attendance and ratings makes up the difference … eventually.

    My suspicion about the Impact is that they’re saving their 2011 payroll money with the specific intention to “buy 14 new players who can gell in the offseason.” And why not – as crappy as they’ve been, they’re still drawing well.

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  2. Jeff:

    Point well taken. I am not saying institute promo/relegation now as USL/NASL are not on safe financial footing (yet). But this has got to happen down the road.

    I saw the Montreal Impact here in Tampa twice this season. They are worse than a Sunday beer league team. I mean, unless they buy 14 new players who can gell in the offseason, this would be embarassing.

    MLS doesn’t have the pool of players to expand that quickly and maintain some quality of play.

    In what universe is the worst team in division 2 promoted to division 1 just because uncle Saputo has money to spend for a franchise fee? Only in the make-believe universe of Don Garber. How does this “promotion” bring any legitimacy to MLS?

    Re: comment below; yes, I remember that Rowdies last lost to the Silverbacks. Both times Silverbacks came to Tampa, they did very well. Very open, attacking team. The 3:2 game here at Al Lang was probably the most entertaining game I’ve sean this season. Credit to the Silverbacks; 1st year back in pro soccer; their place in the table doesn’t necessarily reflect their quality this season.

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  3. FCTampa on a decent run of good play. Finally just about the whole team is healthy.

    Fear the Hobbit. He’s on a roll.

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  4. Ivan, that was downright cold.

    Can you imagine the following: Montreal misses the playoffs and then moves to MLS … while Carolina dominates all year, and due to ownership issues, has to move to USL?

    “Is Carolina vulnerable?” … well, they are still scheduled to play the game, BUT with an opportunity to lock up a playoff birth …

    Reply
  5. Tampa Rowdies need the win at the Silverbacks. Much needed 3 points in the quest for 3rd spot…

    F FC FC Tampa Bay

    Curious to see if the Montreal Impact can avoid relegation to USL…oh, wait…

    Reply

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