By EVAN REAM
This weekend’s North American Soccer League action kicks off Saturday with a classic six-pointer as the fifth-place Fort Lauderdale Strikers host the fourth-place Carolina RailHawks in a match-up that could determine the only playoff spot that is still seemingly up for grabs.
Though the RailHawks lead the Strikers by five points in the combined standings, the Florida-based side has a game in hand, meaning that a win will put them in the driver’s seat for the final playoff berth in the second division league.
The Strikers are relying on star striker Fafa Picault to get back into playoff contention. The former Haitian youth international has nine goals on the season, including two goals in the Strikers’ last four games, to power the team as a lone bright spot during a middling run of form.
Meanwhile, the RailHawks have proven to be one of the hottest teams in the NASL, winning their last three matches which have included victories against the second-place San Antonio Scorpions and third-place New York Cosmos, in which the side scored a combined eight goals.
Here’s a look at the rest of the action this weekend in NASL:
TAMPA BAY ROWDIES vs. FC EDMONTON (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)
With just four points in five games, the once-promising Rowdies are in danger of missing the playoffs for the second year in a row after winning the NASL in 2012.
Making the long journey east is FC Edmonton, who defeated the Rowdies, 1-0, just two weeks ago in their first match-up of the fall season thanks to a strike from midfielder Lance Liang.
With the season winding down, both team are in need of a crucial three points to hold on to hopes of making the four-team playoff format known as The Championship.
MINNESOTA UNITED vs. ATLANTA SILVERBACKS (Saturday, 8:00 p.m.)
While Minnesota United comes into this weekend’s match already having clinched a playoff spot and leading the combined championship, the Atlana Silverbacks have disappointed just one year removed from finishing as the runners-up in the league.
NASL Player of the Week, Player of the Month, and reported USMNT call-up Miguel Ibarra will look to help United in securing the No. 1 seed in The Championship with help from current Golden Boot-leader Christian Ramirez.
Sitting on just 21 points in 22 games, Atlanta is all but mathematically eliminated.
NEW YORK COSMOS vs. INDY ELEVEN (Saturday, 8:00 p.m.)
With a 20 point gap between the two teams in the combined standings, this match-up will be about gaining momentum for the New York Cosmos, and playing for next year for Indy Eleven.
Despite strong crowds at home, Indy has garnered all three of its wins on the road, showing that this could be somewhat of a trap game for the Cosmos, who have the Carolina RailHawks lurking just behind in the playoff race.
SAN ANTONIO SCORPIONS vs. OTTAWA FURY FC (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.)
In the nightcap of the NASL action, the San Antonio Scorpions continue their, fight for the No. 1 seed while Ottawa Fury FC fight for the right to play soccer after the conclusion of the regular season.
With three wins in four games, the Fury are one of the hottest teams in the league. However, the Canadian side remain l eight points out of a playoff spot and a loss to the always-formidable Scorpions will all but end the postseason possibilities in their inaugural season.
Five points is also the margin that separates first-place Minnesota with the second-place Scorpions. The Texan side will need a few wins and other results to go their way if they hope to gain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.