By J. MAC DALY
This could be a big week for Minnesota United FC. They can clinch an automatic bid in the newly formatted NASL playoffs with a win or draw this weekend in Tampa Bay against the Rowdies.
The New York Cosmos sit 3 points behind first place, but will have to hope for Minnesota to stumble in the final game. The Cosmos take on Ottawa Fury FC in the Big Apple and will need a win to put themselves in contention. However, the Cosmos are equal with Minnesota on goals scored and ahead in goal differential, giving them a chance.
Other notable games include third-place San Antonio Scorpions hosting fifth-place Fort Lauderdale Strikers and last-place Indy Eleven hoping to climb out of the basement against the Atlanta Silverbacks.
Here is what’s on tap for the NASL this week:
Atlanta Silverbacks vs. Indy Eleven (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
Atlanta will look for a win against last place Indy Eleven to help them climb through the tightly packed mid table standings. Currently only three points separate fifth-place Fort Lauderdale and eighth-place Atlanta. The Silverbacks are coming off a 2-1 loss to Minnesota and will try to enter the mid-season break on a high note.
For Indy, the game marks the last chance to claim a victory in their inaugural half-campaign. In their opening season, they have managed to tie three games and lose five but have stayed close in each match, never being defeated by more then two goals.
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Minnesota United F.C. (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
Tampa Bay, tied on points with the Atlanta Silverbacks will also look to end the season with a memorable win. The Rowdies are currently on a two-match losing streak and will need to be at their best to take on Minnesota United FC in the ESPN3 NASL Match of the Week.
Minnesota United look to cap off their best finish in NASL regular season play since the leagues inception. The clubs only loss of the season came against the Cosmos, a competitor for first place. United will look to NASL-leading scorer Christian Ramirez to step up and assure its spot in the Soccer Bowl playoffs.
San Antonio Scorpions vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.)
In his first full season as head coach, Alen Marcina has helped lead the Scorpions to a third-place standing, tied on points with the second-place Cosmos. However, their goals scored and goal differential make them a long shot for a chance at the spring title. The club are currently on a three-match winning streak and have 13 points in their last five.
Fort Lauderdale leads the league in goals scored with 16 in eight games. The club is coming off three consecutive losses and will hope midfielder Martin Nunez will build on his four goals. The Strikers lead the mid-table pack and with multiple teams in hot pursuit a win would help see them remain in the top half of the table.
F.C. Edmonton vs. Carolina Railhawks (Sunday, 4 p.m.)
With one goal in their last three NASL games, Edmonton will need to get on the score sheet to enter the break with their heads held high. Their 5 points in eight games so far in the season is second-to-worst and a loss could see newcomers Indy leap frog them in a battle to avoid last place.
The Railhawks have won seven of the club’s 12 meetings, outscoring the Canadian club 20-13. Carolina, currently sitting in fourth, will look to capitalize on an away game that could help their playoff push at the end of the year. The club had three players selected for last weeks NASL team of the week after defeating Tampa Bay and will hope another team effort will secure 3 points.
New York Cosmos vs. Ottawa Fury F.C. (Sunday, 5 p.m.)
By the time New York takes the field on Sunday, they will know if they are playing for a chance at the spring title. The historic club is coming off a big 3-0 victory against the Strikers but only managed a point at home against last place Indy Eleven in the previous game. The Cosmos may be playing for a title, but could use a win to maintain their first half momentum going into the break.
The sixth-place Fury have had some success in their inaugural season. A win could see them climb into the top half of the table, an impressive accomplishment for such a young club. Top scorer Tony Donatelli would do well to add another to his four goals, in the clubs first visit to New York. With the last game of the season, the Fury could play a major role in last-minute drama.