We’re down to the last few weeks of the Spring season and the games are heating up too. With two games left, Carolina has control of the league, but Atlanta can control their own destiny too, and two other teams have an outside shot at the Spring spot in the Soccer Bowl. But before playing out the scenarios, let’s look at Saturday’s matches.
Atlanta Silverbacks 1-2 Tampa Bay Rowdies
A tough home loss knocked Atlanta out of first place. Tampa Bay took a two-goal lead from the penalty spot, with both Georgi Hrisotv and Mike Ambersley converting early second-half opportunities to put the Rowdies in control. Pablo Cruz pulled a goal back for Atlanta at 62′ with a free kick, but the Silverbacks weren’t able to find the equalizer and Tampa Bay got the away win.
Implications: Atlanta are now two points from first place — a definite setback but one they can fix next weekend. Despite the win, Tampa Bay are eliminated from contention, as they still have a bye week coming up; with only one match left, they’re currently four points from the top spot.
Carolina RailHawks 3-2 Minnesota United FC
In a season with many exciting games, the match that propelled Carolina to the top spot might be the pinnacle. Minnesota took early control of the match at Wake-Med Park thanks to (who else) Simone Bracalello at 4′ and Pablo Campos at 10′. The RailHawks pulled a goal back at 24′ when Floyd Franks was fouled in the box and converted the penalty himself.
Minnesota kept their advantage until the last 5 minutes of the match, but then Carolina finally broke through, thanks to (again, who else?) Brian Shriver. Shriver leveled the score at 86′ off a pass from Kupono Low, and then gave Carolina the lead at 88′ from an assist by Ciaran O’Brian. The goal gave Shriver the goalscoring lead at 8 goals this spring, but I’m sure the RailHawks will be happier that it gave them first place in the NASL.
Implications: Carolina have control of the league and the two-point advantage might just see them home. They also have a 4-goal advantage in goal differential, which will help in any tiebreaking scenarios. And finally they have the home field advantage in the key match with Atlanta next week. The one complication for the RailHawks is their long trip to Salt Lake City for the Wednesday match in the US Open Cup; with the Atlanta match just 3 days later, it’s going to be an exhausting week for Carolina.
Minnesota’s heartbreaking loss hasn’t completely eliminated them from contention just yet, but they’ll need a lot of help. On 14 points with two games left, they have to win out to even have a chance, they’ll need other results to fall just right, and they’ll need to make up ground on goal differential. It’s not likely, but this season, anything is possible…
San Antonio Scorpions 2-1 FC Edmonton
San Antonio rode the hot play of Hans Denissen to the victory over Edmonton. Denissen started the scoring at 6′ with a chip over Eddies keeper John Smits. But Edmonton continued the tenacious attitude they’ve shown all year, equalizing at 8′ through a rasping shot from Daryl Fordyce from the right side of the penalty box. Both sides missed good chances through the rest of the match, which remained tied into second-half stoppage time. But — who else? — Denissen got his second goal, a header off the post, to give all three points to the home team.
Implications: Edmonton is out of contention, with 11 points and only one match remaining. San Antonio find themselves in much the same situation as Minnesota: technically in the race, but needing a lot of help. They have a -1 goal differential, so they have slightly more ground to make up than Minnesota. Still, there’s a not-crazy scenario that could see Minnesota, San Antonio, and Atlanta or Carolina all tied at 20 points at the end of the season.
Tale of the Table and Up Next
|Tampa Bay Rowdies||11||4||3||4||1||15|
|Minnesota United FC||10||4||2||4||0||14|
|San Antonio Scorpions||10||4||2||4||-1||14|
|Fort Lauderdale Strikers||10||2||2||6||-7||8|
So, before discussing the table, let’s look at what’s up next:
Wednesday 26 June: Carolina at Real Salt Lake (US Open Cup). Surely Carolina will put out a strong squad for this match, but traveling across the country and playing twice in four days is going to be a bit rough. Still, it’d be great to see a NASL team make the semifinals — good luck to the RailHawks!
Saturday 29 June: Atlanta at Carolina, San Antonio at Fort Lauderdale, Minnesota at Edmonton. (Bye for Tampa Bay.) Obviously the Carolina-Atlanta game is key, and Carolina is fortunate to have the match at home. San Antonio and Minnesota both have difficult road games that they must win to stay in contention. But if Carolina wins, it’s all moot anyway.
So if Carolina wins, they’re the Spring champions. If it’s a draw, or if Atlanta wins, then things get really interesting. And while it might be a big ask for both Minnesota and San Antonio to win on the road, it’s very reasonable to imagine at least one of them getting the three points. And then…? What does the final week look like?
Friday 4 July: Atlanta at Minnesota, Carolina at San Antonio, Fort Lauderdale at Tampa Bay. (Bye for Edmonton.)
The Floriderby is just for instate pride. But the other two matches could easily decide the league. With both Minnesota and San Antonio at home — at Atlanta and Carolina on the road — the Fourth of July matches could really be a tense affair if the RailHawks haven’t sewn things up. The Minnesota match kicks off 30 minutes before San Antonio, so four teams could be watching the other score as intently as their own match. And while Carolina would be a deserving champion, I’d love to see the half-season come down to a last gasp on the Fourth.
It’s up for grabs now…!