|MLS you can kiss my ass!|
There are still some teams who have only played 3 games, and for some teams this week will see them reach the half way point for spring. Still to early to see anyone take a hold on the table, I suspect after the next two rounds we will have a clearer picture of who the main contenders are and also which teams have tripped up too many times and took themselves out of the running.
At the beginning of the season I thought the teams to look out for would be New York and Tampa, I still think they will be the teams to topple if you want a shot at Spring Championship, but there is a dark horse coming into it now who are starting to look very impressive. That would be FC Edmonton. Their comeback game against FTL at home was most impressive and beating Ottawa twice by three goals to one in the Amway Cup pretty much showed them as the biggest threat out of Canada. Albeit those were not NASL games, Edmonton have scored 9 goals in their last three competitive matches now. Several teams are starting slow and a few are looking like false promises to me, but it's early. I am going to also share a team rating system later, after each team has played four games, explain that later.
All KO times are based on Eastern Standard Time, check local listings in your area.
New York Cosmos V Ottawa Fury (5/2 7.00pm KO)
I wouldn't want to be the Fury this weekend, they look very weak, possibly even weaker than last year. They got a lucky win over Minnesota which surprised a lot of people, but otherwise they are not going to make a dent on the table, at least not in spring. In the last week they have had to play two games in the Amway cup and lost both of them 3-1 home and away to FC Edmonton. New York look easily the strongest team right now and its a special night for them, for this match only they will play at MCU Park in Coney Island so they will likely be out to impress. Cosmos have dropped points so far to Indy Eleven, who can probably now be named as their bogey team, and to Atlanta Silverbacks, both games on the road and they have two wins at home and sit atop the table with 8 points. I can't see anything other than a home win in this and also likely a Cosmos clean sheet. Also, because as everyone knows the Cosmos are more special than anyone else, you will not be able to see this game on ESPN3. I'd say 2-0 home win if it's not more.
Carolina Railhawks V Tampa Bay Rowdies (5/2 7.30pm KO on ESPN3)
If you're an Indy Eleven fan, I am sure you are not in a hurry to see Carolina again, but honestly this would be my game to watch if you have nothing better to do during the bye week. In last weeks round Indy Eleven did not really make Railhawks look good, we made ourselves look terrible. I am not going to say Carolina are a bad team, but I do think they are one of those false promises to me as mentioned above. They have a very slim squad, only 20 players at the start of the campaign, they added one last week but are now riddled with injury and their bench has very little depth anyway. Three players were hauled off with hamstring or possible groin problems last week, Bracalello, Danso and Albadawi. They only had 4 outfield players on the bench, and are also missing almost all of their forward player. If all of those players have not recovered you could be looking at a home team with only 2 or three subs on the bench. They have already played a game this year with only four subs. The last thing you want in a situation like that is Tampa coming to town. I am sure Tampa are a little disappointed with how they fared in New York going down to Cosmos 2-0, outside of that they have looked very impressive, probably their biggest signing off season has been coach Thomas Rongen, he is a very experienced coach and despite totally overhauling the squad Tampa has a pre season of some 11 games, that paid dividends when they totally destroyed reigning champions the Scorpions in the opening game at San Antonio. Tampa are for sure a team to watch and are still adding to their deep squad picking up Salvadorian midfielder Richard Menjivar from San Antonio in a trade this week, from everything I have read from Tampa fans, this is an exciting player. Watch this game because I feel there will be at least 4 goals in this game, Tampa will most likely do what Indy should have done last week. I expect an away win possibly 3-1 or 4-1.
Ft. Lauderdale Strikers V Atlanta Silverbacks (5/2 7.30pm KO ESPN3)
I didn't know what to expect of Atlanta this season, as most people are aware the team is now being controlled by NASL, the announcement of an MLS franchise for 2017 has been in the works for a while, and it doesn't favor the Silverbacks in anyway unless they somehow strike a deal in the future to go USL Pro and be a reserve team for the incoming MLS team, this could be the final year for the Silverbacks in the NASL, remains to be seen, for sure it's at least the second to last. Atlanta installed a very good coach in Gary Smith, a former MLS Cup winner with Colorado Rapids, he was tasked with the job of building a squad with some 6 or 7 players remaining from 2014. Atlanta is a wild card, it's very hard to gauge them at the moment, but I have no doubt Smith's experience will help him get the best out of whatever he has to work with. So far they still remain only one of 3 unbeaten teams alongside Cosmos and Indy Eleven. So it is impossible to underestimate them at this early stage, but my gut tells me they will not be in the running for Spring Championship or a play off spot this year. They may prove me wrong, but I don't think so. Fort Lauderdale as I witnesses last year can be very erratic as far as form goes from one week to another, there is either going to be a ton of goals in their games or none at all. Last years Soccer Bowl runners up, they have new Brazilian ownership who before long ousted the coach that brought them to the final and applied their own regime, including money from Brazilian star Ronaldo. As expected so far this year they look decent, not all results have gone well for them, including losing 3-2 to Edmonton up north after being 2-1 up, there is always a chance of 3 or 4 or more goals in their games. I still expect Strikers to be a major player if not in Spring but over the long haul. Strikers have let in 5 goals in 4 games so far, and I expect again for them to concede this week, but I do expect them to win, it's going to be tight, the unpredictability of Atlanta may see us getting a 1-1 draw. But my prediction is home win 2-1.
Jacksonville Armada V San Antonio Scorpions (5/2 7.30pm KO ESPN3)
I'll have to admit, JAX are the team I have watched the least so far, and this is probably the game I will watch for research purposes as Indy plays them next. I did watch their pre season game against Philadelphia Union and was very impressed at their fluidity and attacking skill, especially Keita, that's a player I am sure a lot of teams would like to have in their arsenal right now. As a new franchise team they are fairing a little better then Indy Eleven did last year, they sold some 16,000 tickets for their home opener and won their very first NASL game against Edmonton 3-1 which is no mean feat even if it was opening night. They have subsequently lost their last two games, both road trips to Florida rivals the Striker and Rowdies but only by the single goal and they put up 3 goals over those two games against very competent sides. So we have a competent looking freshman team against the reigning champions who have to be hurting badly, San Antonio suffered a humiliating 3-1 defeat in their home opener against Tampa followed by losing to Indy Eleven at home 2-1 after being a goal up. Their only other game to date, a 2-2 draw in Minnesota against a United side that are matching them as far as very poor starts go. The Scorpions are going to come good, they will click, whether it will be this week or the next round it's hard to tell, both teams have only played three games, but San Antonio are the team with a point to prove against a team that will no doubt draw a large home crowd. This is probably the most unpredictable games of the week, given the attacking options and ability of both sides I have no doubt we will see several goals, possibly either a high scoring draw or a one goal win. I have to go gut instinct on this one, combining experience and a desperation to turn a bad start around, I am going to predict two totally different results because... bloody shambles.. and I can't make my mind up, it will be a 2-3 win to San Antonio, but if I am wrong it will be a 2-2 draw game!
FC Edmonton V Minnesota United (5/3 4.00pm KO ESPN3)
The "Flyover Cup" as it is called, two teams separated by a 17 hour drive and and international border, I mean who is going to drive to that, the name is kind of apt. Edmonton is a team I have a lot of respect for, I should say Colin Miller is a coach I have a lot of respect for. Any man that can build what has to be said is a very competitive team from a support that only brings on average about 2500-3000 attendees per game has to be commended. As long as I have watched Edmonton, Miller likes to build a team that is large and physical but at the same time combining great playing ability. They made a strong push last year for a playoff spot and were a very hard team to beat, I remember Indy winning up there 1-0 and scratching my head at the end and asking myself how in the hell did that happen, that should not have happened. if your team is in any way feint of heart or shy of a physical challenge, you'll never enjoy playing Edmonton. This year is no different, their last NASL game against Strikers was probably one of the best games this season, coming from 2-1 down Edmonton played some beautiful passing football and came back to win 3-2. They have some very dangerous players to watch including Laing, Nyassi and Ameobi, if you take your eye off them they will tear your defense apart. They are coming off the back of three games in ten days, but they have scored three goals in each of those, the Strikers game as I mentioned and destroying Ottawa Fury 3-1 in each leg of the Amway Cup meetings winning 6-2 on aggregate. I don't believe tiredness will be a factor, this is a tough physical team. Minnesota United, arguably the strongest team in the league last season that did not win the Soccer Bowl (still can't believe the shambolic refereeing in the playoff against Fort Lauderdale) have had the worst possible start in the 2015 campaign next to San Antonio. I shouldn't really get personal, but outside of Indy Eleven, I have a lot of respect for Edmonton as a team, but I have big soft spots for Minnesota and Tampa, I love their supports and have made some friends in both, but I am not going to let it cloud my judgement. Minnesota are a really good outfit, I can't explain their bad start, and wouldn't even try to explain losing to Ottawa, but like San Antonio they are hurting and they need to start winning or at least scoring goals soon. The depth in their squad is unquestionable and we are all aware of their attacking threat through Ramirez and USMNT international Ibarra. They will come good, but considering their stuttering start, Edmonton at home is not really a good choice of destination right now, it is impossible to underestimate either side right now, Edmonton have shown their form, shown their ability, honestly they are badass right now, but Minnesota are consistently good season to season. It's going to be a great game I feel but my heart tells me it has score draw written all over it. I expect a hungry MNU to come out the blocks early and take the lead, maybe take the lead twice, but Edmonton are the comeback kings and I can't see them losing? Can't explain why but this is has a 2-2 draw written all over it!
If anyone is curious about the title of this blog, yes I am an Indy Eleven fan, it is our bye week, so I'd be happy for a bloody shambles this week and would accept 5 draws right now before a ball is kicked! Good luck to all teams and enjoy your week, I will be in the Caribbean drinking as much cheap rum as I can get my hands on. Preview of Jacksonville Armada V Indy Eleven will be written from the beach. See you next week...