Monday, May 16, 2016

NASL 2016 Spring Championship Final Sprint! - Teams Close In On Playoff Spot!

Who will be next to stumble and drop out of the race?
By: James Cormack

For some teams only three games remain and for some four. We are nearing the eleventh hour (sorry had to go there) and each round between now and June 11/12 will likely see some teams slowly lose sight of the Spring title and others tighten their grip around it.

For one successful team winning the Spring Championship trophy means an automatic playoff spot and home field advantage, effectively allowing that team room to breath and work on their team without fear of non-qualification.

Outside of the speculative opinion below, it should be noted that every one of these teams will play a US Open Cup tie amongst their final games on June 1st. There may be injuries incurred, tired legs or even just squad rotation to rest players. Cup games can also bring extra time and penalties further increasing the physical pressure on squads. Some teams may rest players for the Open Cup, some may not.

The 2016 Spring Championship race is extremely close. There are only nine points between 1st and 10th place, it's about to get very intense, hearts will be broken every weekend for the next four weeks. Let's take a look at the teams from bottom to top.

Current NASL 2016 League Table

11. Miami F.C. - [eliminated] It's been a rough start for Alessandro Nesta and Miami, sparse crowds, very few points. They have shown a willingness to spend and bought Richie Ryan from Jacksonville for $750,000 last week, they may come good in the fall, but for now they are the first team mathematically eliminated from the Spring Championship. However, this does not mean they can't influence the ultimate outcome. Miami FC are the bye team this coming weekend.

MIA Remaining games - FC Edmonton (H) Indy Eleven (H) Minnesota Utd (A)

10. Jacksonville Armada - The new boys of 2015 not giving a good showing in their second season. Their only win this season has come against the hapless Miami FC. After gaining one other point against the Strikers they are now on three straight defeats. JAX still have four games remaining, but even if they win I don't think 16pts will be good enough to win spring, their current form definitely isn't!

JAX Remaining games - Ottawa Fury (A) Indy Eleven (H) Carolina (A) Tampa Bay (H)

9. Ottawa Fury - Ottawa could be a big spoiler in this race, but I doubt they have any chance to win Spring. Although they won't play any of the current top five teams they could put a dent in Tampa or Rayo OKC's chances of staying in the race for Spring. A draw in their next game against JAX could potentially kill both teams chances, a loss definitely will.

OTT Remaining Games - Jacksonville (H) Strikers (H) Tampa Bay (A) Rayo OKC (H)

8. Fort Lauderdale Strikers - For a while the Strikers looked to be making sure nobody else takes that bottom spot from them, a surprise win over Carolina Railhawks and a point at home against Indy Eleven has lifted them into 8th. Three of their final four games are away from home, their only remaining Florida fixture being against New York Cosmos. Safe to say they won't be in the reckoning, but they could cause problems at the top for New York and Edmonton.

FTL Remaining Games - Rayo OKC (A) Ottawa Fury (A) Cosmos (H) FC Edmonton (A)

7. Rayo OKC - Rayo have been the surprise package from the two new teams this year, two wins and two draws have them on 8 points after six games, with a game in hand over some teams they still have to be considered. A win over the Strikers next round would put them on 11, but they have a tough run in with the Cosmos and Minnesota in their final three. Still a dark horse, and definitely a team that could be a spoiler for NYC and MNU.

OKC Remaining Games - Strikers (H) Cosmos (A) Minnesota (H) Ottawa Fury (A)

6. Tampa Bay Rowdies - Tampa are at the top of an underperforming Florida pile. No team in the sunshine state appears to have got a handle on things yet. Despite a formidable roster and adding Joe Cole in a big news signing, Tampa continue to stutter after dropping two points at home to Rayo. Tampa though I think could be the the biggest upsetter in this race, they need better performances and they need points and their next two games are away to the Cosmos and Minnesota! With their final home games against Ottawa and JAX, their chances hinge on pegging back those above them, which of course could benefit themselves and others.

TBR Remaining Games - Cosmos (A) Minnesota (A) Ottawa (H) Jacksonville (A)

5. Indy Eleven - Still the only undefeated team in the NASL, but have dropped 8 pts in 4 of their 6 games, 4 of those points at home. Indy is still a work in progress but they have proven they can rise in the big games as they did by defeating New York Cosmos. Next game for Indy at home to Minnesota is pivotal for both teams. Indy really needs to win. If Minnesota wins you'd have to think that they go on and win overall if they reach 16 pts with a game in hand over others.

IND Remaining Games - Minnesota (H) Jacksonville (A) Miami FC (A) Carolina (H)

4. FC Edmonton - I am not sure why I am ever surprised by FC Edmonton, always tough and good for a positive run in at least one part of the season. A win over the Cosmos at the weekend has put them in amongst the front runners. They only have three games remaining, but they have the potential to win out on all three of them which would leave them on 20pts, which is the total New York won with in 2015.

FCE Remaining Games - Carolina Railhawks (H) Miami FC (A) Strikers (A)

3. New York Cosmos - Changed days from 2015 when the Cosmos went undefeated throughout Spring and won the first playoff spot. Three defeats now from Minnesota, Indy Eleven and Edmonton leave Cosmos on 12 pts, meaning of course they are the only team in the league to have not drawn any of their games. They have three games left, I wouldn't say they were easy, but two at home and finishing away at Ft Lauderdale, they also have the potential to win all three and finish on 21pts.

NYC Remaining Games - Tampa (H) Rayo OKC (H) Strikers (A)

2. Carolina Railhawks - After a storming start in the first round defeating Minnesota, the Railhawks won four straight games to sit atop the table. After a loss in New York they have not won since, losing at home to the Strikers and taking one point against Miami FC. The run in for them is tough, finishing up in Indianapolis, can't write them off but I wouldn't make them favorites either.

CAR Remaining Games - FC Edmonton (A) Jacksonville (H) Indy Eleven (A)

1. Minnesota United - Minnesota are definitely the in form team and probably now the favorites. After an opening game defeat they have won four and drawn one achieving top spot in the table after week seven. Their final four games are far from easy, but they should be able to get 6 to 9 points if their current run of form continues.

MNU Remaining Games - Indy Eleven (A) Tampa (H) Rayo OKC (A) Miami FC (H)

Week 8 Fixtures - May 21st to May22nd 2016 (EST)

  • Indy Eleven v Minnesota United 5/21 7.30pm
  • Rayo OKC v Ft Lauderdale Strikers 5/21 8.00pm
  • Ottawa Fury v Jacksonville Armada 5/22 2.00pm
  • FC Edmonton v Carolina Railhawks 5/22 4.00pm 
  • NY Cosmos v Tampa Bay Rowdies 5/22 6.00pm

The most interesting scenario that could happen this weekend would be Indy Eleven to win, Rayo OKC to win, Edmonton and Carolina to draw and Tampa Bay to win (see table below). This would put Carolina back on top of the table but it would create a situation where there is only three points separating the top seven teams! I am not going to lie, I would actually like that, and definitely would not bet against it.

Just one possible outcome after this weeks matches - Holy Smokes!

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