It was a terrific week for fans of NASL. Viewers were treated to the sublime (another golden Lance Laing free kick, Simone Bracalello taking aim from a block away), the grotesque (John H. Owngoal leading scoring in Tampa Bay v. Atlanta, San Antonio conceding a four spot in the land of 1-1 ties), and the pulse pounding (Cosmos gonna Cosmos). In the end the Railhawks won the battle of the birds, Thomas Rongen’s knitted bowtie carried the Rowdies to victory, and Canadian teams showed that they are here to play. It’s the NASL Fall Season Power Rankings – Week 1.
1st. New York Cosmos
Unbeaten in league play, the Cosmos find ways to grind points out of each week even when it seems their luck has run out. This week, Walter Restrepo played the hero, scoring the equalizer in the 78th minute that would ultimately be the final word. That the Cosmos remain unbeaten is a significant accomplishment. However, the goodwill of that run may not last much longer where the Power Rankings are concerned. New York has tied five of its last six games and has watched first place in the combined table slip from its grasp with so many conceded points. New York may be in The Championship already, but needs to steady its ship and start to look convincing.
2nd. Tampa Bay Rowdies
The Rowdies are winners of four of their last five league games and unbeaten since April. If form were the only consideration, Tampa Bay might have the top spot. On Saturday, they beat the Atlanta Silverbacks for a second consecutive game at home (they were not the only team to be playing a team a second consecutive time at home – miracle scheduling). The 2-1 scoreline belied just how dominant the Rowdies were with possession, rarely allowing Atlanta a sniff. If Tampa Bay is to hoist silverware at the end of the season they will need to learn to beat the best teams, though. Their current unbeaten run features wins against Atlanta, Edmonton, and Ft. Lauderdale, but draws against Indy, Ottawa, and Carolina with its last loss coming from New York.
3rd. Carolina Railhawks
The train whistle had plenty of exercise in Cary Saturday afternoon. Limiting the bunker and counter approach seen in the past, Carolina played smart, proactive soccer. Shipalane has MVP quality this year if the Railhawks continue to ascend. Kupono Low got forward often. Austin da Luz created havoc. The team’s primary striker, Nacho Novo, served a red card suspension and the team showed they can weather such misfortune. Carolina, though, has had a much more uneven run through the spring season. The team lacks the depth on the bench to consistently provide a solution when spelling a player like Shipalane or Albadawi. But until they must face those questions, fans of the orange should enjoy watching a team that has the muscle to make it to The Championship and beyond.
4th. Minnesota United FC
It must be said that awarding Minnesota a fourth spot in the Power Rankings feels generous. Fourth implies a likely playoff contender, and Minnesota have looked like anything but that. Minnesota handed back late leads in three of their last four, and never played well enough to even do that in the other game during that time. But Minnesota earns this place not because of what they have achieved recently, but because there is a dearth of obvious contenders for this spot. Indy and Ottawa have had good runs but seem to be punching above their weight in that time, while Minnesota feel like they are punching well below theirs. Look for Minnesota to toil at fixing a leaky defense, and possibly add a speedy attacker to replace departed hero Miguel Ibarra. A stiff test against Ottawa this week will show whether United are for real.
5th. FC Edmonton
FC Edmonton continues to baffle. For every 4-0 blowout, there is a 3-0 collapse. For every incredible Lance Laing free kick, there is a Matt Van Oekel blunder. There is no such thing as “form” where Edmonton is concerned; there is only the here and now. That type of inconsistent play has put them within two points of a playoff berth in the wild and parity-prone NASL. The backline continues to be a liability, and the Eddies will need to grow past the need to outscore their opponents to be consistent contenders. Until they do that, they do still have the offense to cover for their defensive woes on any given day. Lance Laing will be missed as he leaves for Gold Cup duty, but this may open a slot in the starting squad for youngster Hanson Boakai, who has looked bright in the few minutes he’s been given and could be a huge asset to the team down the stretch.
6th. Ottawa Fury
With apologies to the Fury, they are not a lot of fun to watch. The team closed the Spring Season with four 0-0 ties out of their last five games. But their brand of soccer has rewarded them with an unbeaten run of six and tied on points for the final spot in The Championship. Credit Romuald Peiser and Ottawa’s back four, who now own the record for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal at 616 minutes. This weekend, Ottawa found a way to get the job done at the other end of the field as well. If Ottawa can find a way to build from the back consistently and successfully, with 6’4″ bulldozer forward Tom Heinemann contributing hold up play and distributing well from that position, the Fury may have it solved at both ends. Which means trouble for the rest of the league.
7th. Indy Eleven
Indy supporters may feel hard done seeing their team in lowly seventh place, but must know their team suffers from a bit of an FC Edmonton complex. An extended unbeaten streak opening the year gave way to three straight losses (and a difficult fourth in Open Cup play) in the middle of the Spring. But the club has found its form lately, securing draws against tough teams like Tampa Bay and New York and wins against Ft. Lauderdale and Edmonton. Dylan Mares is creating chances, and the team rarely concedes a big number on defense. Of concern is where the goals are coming from. No player has more than two goals so far this year, and only one player – Marco Franco – has started all eleven games this season. The team needs consistency, and it needs Charlie Rugg or Brian Brown to catch fire soon.
8th. Jacksonville Armada
Jacksonville has done well for an expansion club, keeping themselves in contention on the season, putting in several stellar performances, and building a great supporters culture. But the team will need to demonstrate it is multidimensional to be taken seriously throughout the year. An injured Alhassane Keita spelled trouble for the club in their final games of the spring, and he will just be getting back into form early in the fall. The team’s overreliance on strong players like Keita, Jemal Johnson, and Pascal Millien means the team’s fortunes will turn on their performances. If they hit a stride, the team can be dangerous on any weekend. But if they are injured or having an off day, we might see more of what happened against the Railhawks or the Fury.
9th. Ft. Lauderdale Strikers
The Strikers have a lot to prove this fall. Ft. Lauderdale had easily the most tumultuous break of any NASL team, saying goodbye to star Leo Moura as well as squad players Aly Hassan, Ryan Adeleye, and Stephane Guillaume. No players have been added to the squad, though the team did (very surprisingly) reintroduce Gunter Kronsteiner as its new head coach. Kronsteiner led the club to the 2014 final on what he described as very limited means. It appears that he will again need to contend with tapped resources, and it will be interesting to see if he can duplicate his effort from last year and add some consistency to Ft. Lauderdale’s performances this year. Being active in the upcoming transfer window may be his best chance at doing so.
10th. San Antonio Scorpions
Last year’s other finalist, the reigning NASL champions, also find themselves languishing toward the bottom of the table and the bottom of the Power Rankings. The Scorpions have scored more than one goal exactly twice so far this year, and the latest 4-0 loss to FC Edmonton was a brutal way to open the Fall Season. As concerning as the result was the manner in which it unfolded, with the club committing foolish, preventable mental mistakes rewarded with red cards within three minutes of each other. The defense does not have the talent to withstand a high pressing offense, and its offense lacks star power and the organization to put the ball at such a hypothetical star’s feet. Major changes needed in San Antonio.
11th. Atlanta Silverbacks
A dumpster fire must burn brightly to eclipse the work of the Scorpions, but Atlanta delivers to firmly belong at the bottom of the list. Losers of their last four league games, the Silverbacks are tied on the lowest goal differential in the league and have only earned the points they have on an ugly-if-effective opening run of five games without a loss. Those days seem a long time ago. The club has not won in NASL competition since mid April, and several of the losses since then have been ugly, including the most recent to Tampa Bay in which they barely earned a touch until the Rowdies had a comfortable lead. The team recently signed Kosuke Kimura, an MLS veteran, to start at right back, a position for which they had a good solution in Kyle Miller before releasing him. In short, a team with many weak spots has only addressed one of its few strengths. There is no reason to believe this team will turn it around, though Silverbacks faithful, already with enough on their mind with the upcoming Atlanta United FC MLS franchise, deserve to see a greater commitment to the product on the field.
Disagree with our rankings? Looking for rotting vegetables to throw at us? Let us know in the comments.