NASL Week 23 Recap: Scorpions Continue First-Place March
This week in the NASL saw the controversial announcement by the league office that the NASL would be going to a split season format next year. As far as this week’s action Saturday, the San Antonio Scorpions pushed their claim to be the league’s regular season champions with a 1-0 win over the Carolina RailHawks. Single points gained by the Fort Lauderdale Strikers against the Puerto Rico Islanders and the Tampa Bay Rowdies against the Atlanta Silverbacks helped clarify the playoff picture, with five of the six playoff teams set, while the Minnesota Stars and FC Edmonton also played to a draw, keeping the pulse of the Eddies’ playoff hopes faintly beating.
Carolina RailHawks 0-1 San Antonio Scorpions
The San Antonio Scorpions were able to eke out an important 1-0 road win in Cary, North Carolina Saturday evening to give them a six point lead over the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the NASL standings, practically assuring them of the 2012 NASL regular season title with only three matches remaining in the schedule. Even though they lost the match, the RailHawks also clinched a playoff spot as the teams below them in the standings failed to pick up victories.
Jeff Cunningham, the MLS’ leading all-time goal scorer, acquired by the Scorpions in late July, opened his NASL account in the 84th minute of the until-then-scoreless match in Cary, a goal that meant that San Antonio, at the very least, will receive an opening round bye in the first round of the upcoming playoffs. Goalkeeper Daryl Sattler registered his 13th clean sheet of the season for the Texas club. The 36-year-old Cunningham scored just minutes after entering the match as a substitute for Esteban Bayona.
“Seeing Jeff [Cunningham] score that goal was an exciting moment,” Scorpions head coach Tim Hankinson said. “Strikers need to get into a rhythm and we believe this is the start of great things to come.”
Bad weather delayed the start of the match for two hours. The first half saw the Scorpions outshoot their hosts 8-5 while garnering three corner kicks, but chances by Pablo Campos, Ryan Cochrane, Kevin Harmse and Bayona went for naught. The second half saw the RailHawks step up their attack, leading the visitors in shots, but Cunningham was the player to break the deadlock in the 84th minute, assisted by midfielder Walter Ramirez for his sixth assist of the season.
RailHawks coach Colin Clarke was not pleased with the final result. ”Tonight’s result was disappointing. We didn’t play the way we had the last three matches. Now we must refocus and turn our attention to our remaining four games and prepare for playoffs.” The RailHawks are the only team that has four games remaining to be played – all the other NASL teams have three matches left.
Fort Lauderdale Strikers 1-1 Puerto Rico Islanders
Coach Daryl Shore’s Strikers clinched a playoff spot at home before 4,700 Striker Likers with their 1-1 draw with Adrian Whitbread’s Islanders. The draw keeps the Islanders in third place, two points ahead of their south Florida rivals.
Both clubs totaled twelve shots each in a match where the goals came early. The blue-clad Islanders grabbed a lead in the third minute when forward Nicholas Addlery scored his ninth goal of the campaign. Addlery scored from distance after taking advantage of a Strikers turnover, catching Strikers keeper Matt Glaeser completely by surprise. But the Strikers equalized quickly when a deflected Hosman Ramos pass fell to Brazilian Pecka, with the 23-year-old notching his first ever NASL goal from within the box on a well-placed high shot.
“I thought we played well tonight, and obviously we’re pleased to be in the playoffs for the second year in a row,” said Shore. “We know we have to play two tough road games and we’ll go into these games with a playoff mentality to stay focused and work together.”
Neither team could find the winning tally despite efforts by the Strikers’ veteran forward Andy Herron. Fort Lauderdale will try to catch up with the Islanders next Saturday away to the Atlanta Silverbacks while the Islanders have a quick turnaround, playing at the Minnesota Stars’ Blaine field Tuesday evening.
Tampa Bay Rowdies 1-1 Atlanta Silverbacks
The Tampa Bay Rowdies broke a two-game home scoring drought as they came back to gain a point against the Atlanta Silverbacks Saturday at Al Lang Stadium. The result keeps the Rowdies in second place in the standings, three points ahead of the Islanders, in the race to secure a first round playoff bye.
Despite some good opportunities early in the match for the home side, it was the visiting Silverbacks who got on the scoreboard first. Matt Horth, Atlanta’s second-year pro, surpassed his rookie total of eight goals last season by notching his ninth tally of the year. Horth took advantage of a poorly aimed backpass at the half hour mark to storm onto Jeff Attinella’s goal. The Tampa Bay keeper came out to get a piece of the ball but Horth was not to be denied.
The Rowdies came back to equalize eleven minutes later. A fine free kick from Luke Mulholland resulted in a powerful header from Daniel Scott that hit the Silverbacks’ crossbar, with former J-League veteran Takuya Yamada knocking in the rebound in the scramble in front of Atlanta keeper Eric Ati. The former Silverbacks’ reserve team keeper, a native of Cameroon, was making his second consecutive start of the season. The 23-year-old was credited with seven saves against the Rowdies, including a late diving stop of another quality Mulholland free kick. Coach Brian Haynes’ Atlanta side has now allowed only two goals in its last five matches, a dramatic turnaround from generosity earlier in the season.
Coach Ricky Hill’s Rowdies outshot their counterparts 19-14 in the match while also holding an 8-3 advantage in corner kicks. They will try to secure their second place position next Sunday in Edmonton.
Minnesota Stars FC 1-1 FC Edmonton
The Stars came within a hair of breaking their eight-game winless streak Saturday at NSC Stadium and clinching the NASL’s final playoff spot, but a late goal by Edmonton’s Shaun Saiko left the Stars with only a point earned in their 1-1 draw. Forward Amani Walker had given Manny Lagos’ team a 19th minute lead on his sixth goal of the season, assisted by Justin Davis, and the Stars were able to hold off the Eddies until the final seconds of the match. For more on the contest, see Megan Ryan’s earlier IMSoccerNews recap.