NASL Weekend Recap: Scorpions Win Regular Season Title, Playoff Matchups Set
The last weekend of NASL regular season play saw the expansion San Antonio Scorpions finish the regular season with the best record in the league on a weekend where all four matches ended in draws. On Saturday, the Atlanta Silverbacks continued their improved play, finishing out the season with a 1-1 draw in Puerto Rico, while the Carolina RailHawks and the Tampa Bay Rowdies played to a scoreless draw at WakeMed Soccer Park. On Sunday afternoon FC Edmonton rallied late for two goals to draw with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers while the regular season champion Scorpions ended their season with a 1-1 draw with the Minnesota Stars.
San Antonio Scorpions 1-1 Minnesota Stars FC
The San Antonio Scorpions finished off their regular season with a 13-8-7 record, as they finished the regular season in first place with 47 points. Tim Hankinson’s Scorpions also finished with a goal differential of +19, almost three times as much as the league’s second best team in goal differential, Puerto Rico, who were a +7 for the year.
Scorpions forward Pablo Campos capped off a great season with his 20th goal in the eighth minute of the match as he won the league’s scoring title. His shot from near the penalty spot beat a charging Mitch Hildebrandt, the Stars’ backup goalkeeper. Hildebrandt was making his second consecutive start for Manny Lagos’ side.
The Stars got their equalizer in the 69th minute, when player-coach Kevin Friedland knocked in an attempted clearance by the Scorpions’ defense. Lagos rested many of his starters, while Hankinson went with his regular lineup.
“Both teams are preparing for the playoffs, so I was disappointed with our display in the first half,” Stars head coach Manny Lagos said after the game, “but I thought our performance in the second half was much better, much more indicative of the kind of soccer we’ve played all year.” The NASL defending champion Stars finished with a 8-9-11 mark, five points ahead of the Silverbacks for the league’s last playoff spot.
For a full match report see Andrew Arellano’s earlier post.
Puerto Rico Islanders 1-1 Atlanta Silverbacks
The Atlanta Silverbacks ended the season in a positive manner, as they extended their unbeaten streak to five games Saturday in Bayamon against the Islanders, although their good play came too late to earn a playoff spot. The Islanders finished in third place with an 11-8-9 mark.
The Silverbacks were first on the scoreboard, when midfielder Danny Barrera, one of the players brought in by interim coach Eric Wynalda, unleashed a long shot in the 25th minute that beat Islanders backup goalkeeper Cody Laurendi. The Islanders’ Hector Ramos, who missed a great chance late in the first half, helped get the Islanders’ equalizer when his shot off the crossbar rebounded to teammate Justin Fojo, who shot past Atlanta goalkeeper Eric Ati. The game ended 1-1 with the Islanders having a slight edge in shots, 12-10.
While the Silverbacks’ season is over, the turnaround the latter third of the season bodes well for the franchise. The Silverbacks lost only once in their final eight games of the season, demonstrating a much improved defense under coach Brian Haynes.
Islanders coach Adrian Whitbread rested several of his starters in preparation for the Islanders’ quarterfinal match next Sunday at Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel against the Minnesota Stars.
Carolina RailHawks 0-0 Tampa Bay Rowdies
A crowd of over 7,300 were on hand at WakeMed Soccer Park Saturday to see the RailHawks close out their regular season on a rather flat note, as they played a scoreless draw with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The result left the Rowdies in second place for the season, and gave the regular season title to the San Antonio Scorpions before they played their match Sunday against the Minnesota Stars.
Tampa Bay coach Ricky Hill left a couple of his key players, including Mike Ambersley and Luke Mulholland, back in Tampa but otherwise fielded a full-strength side while Carolina coach Colin Clarke rested many of his regulars prior to next Saturday’s quarterfinal match against Fort Lauderdale. Each team fielded its regular goalkeepers, Ray Burse and Jeff Attinella, in a match where both earned clean sheets. Each team took 13 shots during the match.
FC Edmonton 2-2 Fort Lauderdale Strikers
FC Edmonton came back with two very late goals to draw with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers 2-2 in front of 1,392 fans at Clarke Stadium Sunday afternoon. The Eddies ended the season in last place with a 5-10-13 record, while the Strikers ended the season at 9-9-10 to take fifth place, one point ahead of the Minnesota Stars.
Daryl Shore’s Strikers were the first to draw blood in Edmonton when player-coach Abe Thompson converted a 12th minute penalty kick following a Kevin Hatchi foul. Thompson’s goal, his fourth of the season, remained the only number on the scoreboard until the 78th minute. Thompson played provider with a through ball to young striker Aly Hassan, who notched his sixth of the season shooting over Edmonton goalkeeper Lance Parker.
But Harry Sinkgraven’s Eddies showed some character, coming back with two late goals to earn a point. Croatian-born Elvir Gigolaj, 20, who grew up in London, Ontario, pulled a goal back just before injury time with a strong shot that beat Strikers’ backup keeper David Martin. Gigolaj was a surprise starter, having spent most of the season with the Eddies’ reserve squad. Fellow striker Paul Craig found the equalizer three minutes into stoppage time to end the Eddies’ season on something of a bright note, particularly in a week that saw NASL Commissioner David Downs visit Edmonton to discuss stadium issues and community support for the team.
For the Strikers and Coach Shore, giving up two late goals didn’t feel good. “It was disappointing on our end because we should have left here with three points, but give Edmonton credit for two good goals,” said Shore. “Getting ready for the playoffs, we felt we had a good week of practice and plan on having another good week coming up. We feel like we have a good group and you have to beat the best teams to make the finals, so it doesn’t matter who we play, we just hope to have a successful run like we did last year.”