NASL Week 13 Recap: 4th of July Fireworks
The 2011 NASL season reached its halfway point this 4th of July weekend with plenty of fireworks on the pitch. The weekend action, which included the unveiling of the new retro NASL official soccer ball, consisted of plenty of holiday fireworks as the Carolina RailHawks won their 10th straight match Sunday by shutting down the visiting Montreal Impact 2-0. On Monday, the Puerto Rico Islanders snatched victory in the last moments of their match against the Atlanta Silverbacks while FC Tampa Bay won the Florida derby in a weather-delayed rematch over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The last game of the weekend saw NSC Minnesota come back to draw with FC Edmonton 1-1. The NASL weekend featured 17 goals in four games.
Carolina RailHawks 2-0 Montreal Impact
The RailHawks lengthened their unbeaten streak to 13 matches by beating the limping Montreal Impact Sunday at WakeMed Soccer Park before over 4,600 fans. Although the Impact enter MLS next season, the RailHawks are the NASL team that currently looks to be able to compete at a higher level on the field. Carolina now holds a 13 point lead halfway through the NASL season over 2nd place FC Edmonton and have an incredible +22 goal differential after 14 games. The punchless Impact stand seven points outside the final NASL playoff berth and now are the lowest scoring team in the league with 11 goals in half a season.
Not that Montreal didn’t have chances to score. Early on, forward Ali Gerba had a golden chance but he fired directly at RailHawks’ keeper Brad Knighton, and later a scramble following a Montreal corner kick looked sure to find the back of the net but didn’t. Carolina midfielder Jonny Steele made a great run up the right flank and delivered a deft ball to Matt Watson, who was unable to beat an alert Evan Bush. But Carolina finally broke through at the half hour mark, as Chris Nurse chipped a beautiful little flick from near the 18-yard box that found Pablo Campos running free close to goal. Campos easily rolled the ball in the net for his sixth score of the year.
The insurance goal that was never needed came for the RailHawks four minutes later. A lofty Jonny Steele pass found Nick Zimmerman beating Montreal’s offside trap and in alone with GK Evan Bush. Bush was beaten by Zimmerman’s header which rolled by and the oncoming forward followed up to guide the ball into the net for his fifth goal of the year.
Bush kept Montreal in the match as he stoned NASL leading scorer Etienne Barbara early in the second half, but between Brad Knighton’s quality goalkeeping and some just-missed chances, Carolina’s three-forward attack was too much for the Impact to handle. Montreal has played good defense this season, allowing only 15 goals in 14 matches, but until they can begin to find the back of the net their woes will continue. The Impact actually led Martin Rennie’s Carolina side in shots, 14-10.
Congratulations to the Carolina RailHawks on their tenth consecutive victory. As Zimmerman stated after the game, “It’s rare in any professional sport that you win 10 in a row, especially soccer. It takes a long time to get where we are. Credit to everybody in the organization. It’s been a fantastic run, and we’re looking to get number 11.”
Atlanta Silverbacks 3-4 Puerto Rico Islanders
During the month of May, the Atlanta Silverbacks couldn’t buy or steal a goal as they were shutout in five consecutive matches. Now, Coach José Manuel Abundis has the Silverbacks knocking in goals but the defending has fallen apart as the last-place club surrendered another lead and lost to the visiting Puerto Rico Islanders 4-3. The Silverbacks have allowed 12 goals in their last three matches. The win put the Islanders’ season mark at 6-4-4 and pushed them into third place past NSC Minnesota, and only two points behind second place FC Edmonton.
The Islanders’ Aaron Pitchkolan opened the scoring in the 27th minute from a David Foley free kick. The Silverbacks found the equalizer shortly afterwards, though, as a penalty kick from a Logan Emory handball in the box was converted by Ciaran O’Brien for a 1-1 score. But the game didn’t stay knotted for long, as in the 38th minute Pitchkolan played provider, finding Matt Bouraee who beat Atlanta goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer from six yards out to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead going into halftime.
More goal-scoring action followed an intermission lengthened by bad weather. Another Islanders’ handball gave O’Brien a chance from the spot, and again the former UC-Santa Barbara Gaucho beat goalkeeper Ray Burse to tie the game at 2-2. Near the hour mark the Silverbacks took the lead as Junior Sandoval scored his first professional goal from an O’Brien cross. But unfortunately for the Silverbacks, there were 30 minutes yet to play.
Colin Clarke’s Islanders came back to tie when they were awarded a penalty kick in the 65th minute, with Foley converting. As the game wound down, a draw looked imminent, but knowing the Silverbacks’ season, one figured something would go wrong for them. And it did. Jonathan Faña, the league’s second-leading scorer, continued his fine form with a dramatic 90th minute goal that earned La Tropa Naranja all three points and continued the legacy of frustration for Atlanta players, staff and fans.
It’s been a tough season for the Silverbacks, but give them credit for putting in a good effort after being flattened by Carolina 5-1 last time out. They outshot the Islanders 16-13 and led in corner kicks 4-3. For the Islanders, three points on the road look mighty good. The Islanders aren’t always the most impressive team, but they are total professionals and know how to get results.
FC Tampa Bay 4-2 Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Chapter two of the Florida derby played out Sunday in Tampa, with Coach Ricky Hill’s men earning bragging rights with a 4-2 win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Just last Wednesday the two clubs played to a 1-1 draw at Lockhart Stadium, but FC Tampa Bay midfielder Pascal Millien made sure that the 4th of July would not repeat the earlier draw.
Although Florida soccer fans clamor for this derby, Mother Nature seems to have her doubts. After the first 2011 matchup between the two clubs was postponed because of bad weather in south Florida, Monday’s game also suffered interference from bad weather, as the game was suspended for almost an hour at the 31st minute mark. FC Tampa Bay had already taken the lead at that point, on the first Tampa Bay goal for Andres Arango, who headed in a Millien corner kick in the 15th minute.
Play resumed and it wasn’t long until Eduardo Coudet evened the score for the Strikers. The Argentine converted his fifth penalty kick of the year to knot the score in the 38th minute. But FC Tampa Bay, playing before over 4,200 fans at Al Lang Stadium, took the initiative and the lead ten minutes into the second half when Millien beat the Strikers’ hot goalkeeper Matt Glaeser. It was Millien’s 2nd goal of the season, with an assist by fellow midfielder Tsuyoshi Yoshitake.
FC Tampa Bay added another goal in the 63rd minute, with Millien again involved. He got the ball to forward Aaron King, who pushed Tampa’s advantage to 3-1. But Daryl Shore’s Strikers, who were enjoying a six-game unbeaten streak, are not quitters and Mike Palacio cut the Tampa lead to one goal five minutes later. Any nervousness then felt by Tampa fans subsided a few moments later, as FC Tampa Bay’s leading scorer, Mike Ambersley, gave his team breathing room with his seventh goal of the year. The fireworks on the field lifted FC Tampa Bay to a tie in the standings with Fort Lauderdale, each having 17 points.
“I’m grateful that we could give our fans a victory on the Fourth of July,” said FC Tampa Bay head coach Ricky Hill. “Our team showed great character tonight.” It was his team’s highest goal-scoring output of the season. After a slow offensive start to the season, FC Tampa Bay have surely found their scoring boots.
NSC Minnesota 1-1 FC Edmonton
Closing out the holiday weekend, the NSC Minnesota Stars staged a comeback to draw 1-1 with FC Edmonton. The draw keeps the Stars unbeaten at home. In the three meetings so far between the two clubs, there have been two draws in Minnesota while the Eddies got the victory in Edmonton in May. The series wraps up on Labor Day weekend in Edmonton.
Both NSC Minnesota’s Joe Warren and FC Edmonton’s Rein Baart kept shutouts in the first half, as the two veterans weren’t tested often. First half chances by Edmonton’s Daniel Antoniuk and Shaun Saiko went right to Warren, whereas Minnesota opportunities by Simone Bracalello and Devin Del Do missed target.
NSC Minnesota picked up after intermission, challenging the Edmonton goal as Ely Allen forced a Baart save and Del Do again threatened but was off-target with a header. But it was the Eddies’ Alex Surprenant who gave the lead to Harry Sinkgraven’s side. In the 63rd minute, the Quebec native took a routine shot that deflected past Warren for a 1-0 Eddies’ lead. FC Edmonton looked to double the score immediately, but a Shaun Saiko ball to Kyle Yamada was shot straight at Warren.
NSC Minnesota earned their point in the 85th minute. Second-half sub Tino Nunez took a shot which Baart handled, but Devin Del Do scored on the rebound for a 1-1 tie, his fifth strike of the year. Edmonton had one more chance for the three points, but Warren came up big when he dove to reject an Alex Semenets shot late in the game.
Stars’ Coach Manny Lagos had these remarks after the game, ““Credit to Edmonton. It’s the second time at our place that they didn’t give up a goal when I thought we should have scored, and I thought at points they did really well with possession,” Lagos said. “I thought their goal was kind of a fluke and a little against the run of play, but our guys came back, found the energy and said, ‘We want to get a result out of this.’” The draw was NSC Minnesota’s seventh of the campaign, leaving them with a 4-7-3 mark, while FC Edmonton hold onto second place with a 7-3-4 record.
The NASL season begins its second half next Saturday with three matches lined up. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers will look to begin a new unbeaten streak as they host the Atlanta Silverbacks, while the Puerto Rico Islanders tangle with FC Tampa Bay at Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium. Also on Saturday night, the NSC Minnesota Stars remain at home for their tussle with the seemingly-invincible Carolina RailHawks.