By JOHN BOSCHINI
With only two weeks to go in the NASL regular season, the postseason picture is pretty much set. Five of the six teams headed to the playoffs have already clinched their spot while Carolina and Puerto Rico have wrapped up byes to the semifinals.
That precious final spot will be contested down the stretch by the NSC Minnesota Stars, who have imploded during August and September, and the Montreal Impact, who have turned their form around after an atrocious opening half of the season. Minnesota holds a three-point lead over Montreal but the Impact have a superior goal difference. The two teams split their four regular-season meetings.
Three teams vie for a home opener in the playoff as Tampa Bay, Fort Lauderdale and Edmonton are secure in their playoff future. Edmonton is likely to be on the outside looking in with only one game left to play but a date with Canadian rival Montreal should provide plenty of incentive to stay competitive. The expansion side finally notched a win against the Impact in June after getting blow in the first two meetings by a combined score of 7-0.
The Atlanta Silverbacks have been out of the playoff picture for a long time so Fort Lauderdale should be able to wrap up a home game with a win. Carolina and Puerto Rico meet for a game with literally nothing on the line for either team.
Here is a look ahead to all the fixtures in the NASL for this weekend:
NSC Minnesota Stars at FC Tampa Bay (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
As bad as Minnesota has been over the two months month at home, the away form hasn't been much better.
The Stars have picked up only one point from four games on the road over the past month and face an FC Tampa Bay side that has played well at home as of late. Tampa's offense has made up for a few defensive frailties with the superb play from Mike Ambersley and NASL offensive player of the week Mozzi Gyorio.
Atlanta Silverbacks at Fort Lauderdale Strikers (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
The Strikers should have plenty of offensive practice heading into the playoffs as they come up against an Atlanta team that has allowed 58 goals this season. The Silverbacks actually managed to nab a win against the Strikers back in July, but since being eliminated from playoff contention the Silverbacks have been dismal. Atlanta hasn't picked up a point since July 23.
Carolina Railhawks at Puerto Rico Islanders (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
Under normal circumstances, the Islanders taking on the Railhawks would be the marquee matchup of the season, but with both teams assured of their playoff positions, this might be little more than an exhibition. Carolina and Puerto Rico each dropped their last game, and both want to avoid heading into the playoffs on a losing streak.
FC Edmonton at Montreal Impact (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
Early in the season, it seemed like the only team the Montreal Impact could beat was their cross-country opponents. The Impact have rebounded impressively since then but have ironically struggled against Edmonton. This is the expansion side’s final game of the season and a win gives them an outside shot of a home playoff game.
What do you think of this weekend's games? Can Montreal pull level with Minnesota? Will Puerto Rico and Carolina play a competitive game despite the low stakes? Who do you see getting a home playoff game?
Share your thoughts below.
It’s been while since the last home match for the team and fans. Seems like it’s been a month! Should be a very nice night in downtown St. Pete for the match. Still hot, but the humidity’s dropped a bit. $5 brews. Watch Minnesoooooota get slapped around.
Only 2 more chances for us beloved Silverbacks supporters to see our team. An impressive comeback, in my view, for a team that did not play last year. Only 2 more chances to see our young talent, Matty Horth. What a find this kid has been. It’ll be a shame when the season ends and we can’t enjoy his class every weekend.
The NASL tie-breaker formula that John alludes to are
1) Head to head (Minnesota and Montreal split … each going 2-2)
2) Goal differential in head to head games (Montreal scored 5 to Minnesota’s 4 in their games)
The Carolina vs. Puerto Rico game will be competitive, just not expecting it to be interesting (both will likely try out 2nd string players and some different tactics).
Expecting to see TB and Ft. L finish 3rd and 4th.
Article states: “Atlanta hasn’t picked up a point since July 23.” No, Atlanta beat PRI 2-0 on 9/3.