Photo by Atlanta SIlverbacks
By RYAN TOLMICH
Week Four of the NASL campaign provided plenty of answers to some of the league’s lingering questions, with some of those answers coming in emphatic fashion.
Perhaps the most impressive performance came from a formerly abysmal Atlanta Silverbacks side, whose renaissance continued with a draw with the Cosmos.
Elsewhere, the league continued to display the spectacular via Zourab Tsiskaridze’s 60-yard missile, providing the second must-see highlight in as many weeks.
Overall, the Spring Season continues to heat up with teams continuing to jockey for position as we approach the halfway mark.
Here’s a look at some of SBI’s takeaways from this past weekend’s round of games:
SMITH DESERVING OF PRAISE AS SILVERBACKS CONTINUE TO SHINE
Unbeaten through four games after serving as last season’s bottom-dwellers, the Atlanta Silverbacks are the surprise of the early season.
Featuring a rebuilt roster, the Silverbacks entered 2015 as an unknown commodity but have gelled quickly under the leadership of Gary Smith. The former MLS Cup winning coach constructed his roster with a vision, one that has come to fruition in spurts in the early weeks.
On the attacking end, Smith has gotten the best out of forward Shaka Bangura through the opening few weeks, but this past weekend showed a defensive discipline that is uncommon from teams still working to figure one another out. Led by veteran Simon Mensing and goalkeeper Steward Ceus, the Silverbacks fortified their home field, holding the league-leading Cosmos scoreless.
In just a few months, Smith has assembled a Silverbacks roster from scratch and gone toe-to-toe with the league’s best team and held serve. The Englishman deserves plenty of credit for getting the best out of his team during a time where they should be struggling mightily.
NASL CONTINUING FLAIR FOR SPECTACULAR
The past two weeks have showed the NASL’s penchant for providing goals of the spectacular variety.
This week it was Zourab Tsiskaridze, who absolutely uncorked a 60-yard free kick up and over Sammy Ndjock to open the scoring in the San Antonio Scorpions’ eventual 2-2 draw with Minnesota United.
Tsiskaridze’s monstrosity of a goal follows Sergio Pena’s long-distance smash from last week, ensuring two highlight reel finishes for the NASL in as many weeks.
While goalkeeping in both situations leaves a little to be desired, the pair of goals served as a major statement for the NASL, one that shows that that the league can produce some highlights to compete with the best of them.
ROWDIES DEMONSTRATE ABILITY TO BOUNCE BACK
Down a goal against the Jacksonville Armada and one week removed from a humbling loss to the New York Cosmos, the Rowdies were certainly up against it.
Thomas Rongen’s side responded admirably, bouncing back to score a pair of goals and seal a 3-2 victory after what was a calamitous first half.
The win was one that contenders are made of, one that saw the Rowdies snatch three points in a game that certainly could have yielded none. Led by a brace from Maicon Santos, the Rowdies showed that they have the mental strength and fortitude to continue their run as a threat to the rest of those vying for a Spring title.
STILL PLENTY OF RACE LEFT IN SPRING SEASON
The NASL Spring Season is a true sprint, with just 10 games deciding which team locks up a spot in the fall’s postseason. However, through 40 percent of the opening campaign, the field remains as clouded as ever.
Going by the eye test, the New York Cosmos have established themselves as the league’s top side. Unbeaten, having allowed only one goal, the Cosmos appear to be the favorites if form continues.
However, the eye test counts for exactly zero points in the standings, a place where the Cosmos have yet to truly separate themselves. With a pair of draws to their name, the Cosmos sit just one point above the Tampa Bay Rowdies, while the triumvirate of the Atlanta Silverbacks, Indy Eleven and Fort Lauderdale Strikers lurk just behind.
Stationed toward the bottom of the table, preseason favorites Minnesota United and San Antonio Scorpions could easily run the table through the remaining games, ensuring that even the bottom twosome are well within the race.
The Spring Season is living up to design, providing a quick dash toward the top that has each and every team within striking distance as we approach the midway point.