As the postseason approaches on this final week, we know the names of three playoff contenders and their seeds (essentially we’ve known these three had it in the bag since the Spring Season). The fourth and final seed will be determined on this last week, but we suspect we know who’s going to win it too (and it’s the team we’ve backed all year long). Thanks to this past weekend’s results, we have a new #1 for the first time in a while. Drama abounds in the upper echelons of the league.
But as the season winds down, the drama at the bottom is compelling as well. One unlikely team is making a massive push for respectability and a number of once-contenders are wondering what went wrong.
Let’s jump in:
#1. San Antonio Scorpions (15-7-4, 49 points, Up 1)
For much of this season, the San Antonio Scorpions have failed to measure up to Minnesota United. But this isn’t a power ranking about the whole season, this is one that counts what’s happening now, and on Saturday, the Scorpions made a big statement with a scrappy, physical away win over their league rivals.
It wasn’t jogo bonito—the Scorpions clearly had a plan to break up play as much as possible and Minnesota fans were furious that the pliant referee played along. But it was effective, and that’s the only thing that matters. The Scorpions now have a meaningful chance of winning the Fall Season if the Loons stumble again, and will head into their back-to-back meetings with the Cosmos (both at home, with the latter being a playoff semi-final) with a good deal of confidence. San Antonio are the only NASL team to have won at least once against every other team in the league. They will have the first playoff game at home, and the second one will either be at home or in Minnesota. Either way, Scorpions fans and players have every right to be optimistic.
#2. Minnesota United FC (16-4-6, 54 points, Down 1)
After blowing away the competition for much of the season, Minnesota United is now mired in a stretch of four games with only four points. That’s not good enough for the Loons, and warning signs abound. The team has not scored in 180 minutes at home, the center backs have been spit on several crucial occasions (none more so than Cristiano Dias’ poor positioning on the San Antonio winner), and the passing, especially in the final third, is all out of whack.
Head Coach Manny Lagos and his staff have just one more match to turn this late season skid around, because there will be no room for error in the postseason.
In fairness, Minnesota still is a strong team. In this recent bumpy stretch, United had the run of play against Indy and New York but failed to finish golden opportunities. It was only in this most recent game against San Antonio that the Loons looked particularly lost. Throughout the year, this Minnesota team has responded well to adversity. Perhaps it was necessarily that they got another reminder of their mortality before the big moment.
#3. Fort Lauderdale Strikers (11-9-6, 39 points, Up 1)
Fort Lauderdale spent much of the season battling with Carolina and Tampa Bay for the fourth position in the league table. Having seen both of their rivals off, the Strikers had to stay sharp to contend with one final challenge from a surging FC Edmonton team. It was a close affair, but in the end, the Strikers have seemingly dispatched their final threat, and are poised to secure the final playoff spot on the last week of the season with a win or (almost certainly) a draw at home against the Fury. (If Carolina loses or draws against Minnesota, the Strikers will also be through).
The interesting thing about the Strikers is how much they’ve been a barometer of quality in the league. They are 1-6-2 against the three teams confirmed for the playoffs. Against the rest of the league, they are only 10-3-4. It has long seemed fitting to us that Fort Lauderdale should be the fourth team in the postseason, since they have been so consistently better than their rivals for that spot, and so consistently worse than 2013’s long established “big three”.
#4. FC Edmonton (9-10-7, 34 points, Down 1)
Saturday’s game against Fort Lauderdale was a literal win or go home for FC Edmonton. Sadly for our neighbors to the north, the latter option has become their fate, as the 0-1 loss to the Strikers doomed the Montons to their third straight season without making the playoffs.
But even if they fall short, Edmonton should be commended for the remarkable run they put together in the stretch run of the season. We detailed their achievement last week, but it bears repeating. In last place in the Fall Season’s third week, the Montons moved into position to control their playoff destiny with just two weeks to spare. That they ultimately dropped it in a close away match is a credit to their opponents, and no real discredit to the black and blue.
It’s hard to really guess at what will happen in Alberta next season. With a handful of weird “home” matches in the oil sands town of Fort McMurray (thanks to the Women’s World Cup), it’s already going to be a bit of a tumultuous year for the Montons off the field. Do they have the talent to contend on the field? This team has plenty of talent, and if they can hold onto their best players, especially 17 year old Hanson Boakai, then they could be a threat in years to come.
#5. Carolina RailHawks (11-11-4, 37 points, Up 1)
By virtue of their casual victory over an awful Atlanta team, the RailHawks are the only team remaining to challenge Fort Lauderdale for the fourth and final playoff spot. The odds are against them. Not only will Carolina need to beat Minnesota United next week, but they will need the Strikers to lose. If the Strikers draw, then Carolina would need to beat the Loons by at least four to hold the tiebreaker edge.
We don’t think it’s particularly likely to happen. But we’re not ruling it out on account of the RailHawks being the downright least consistent team in the league. The record says it all. Eleven wins and eleven losses. Hardly any draws to speak of. Carolina has beaten the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA this season. They’ve also lost 1-6 to Edmonton and 0-4 to Ottawa. Betting on the result of the Carolina game is like lighting your money on fire.
#6. New York Cosmos (11-6-9, 42 points, Down 1)
For the first time in what feels like forever, the Cosmos recorded a huge win in the stands, drawing 8,565 to Shuart Stadium for the final home game of the year (unless they and the #4 seed win the playoff semi-finals). Unfortunately for the green and white, the team on the field was not as successful, stumbling to a late 2-2 draw against the hapless Rowdies thanks a downright shocking goalkeeping performance from Jimmy Maurer.
We’ll save yet another stab at explaining what’s wrong with the Cosmos for our playoff preview. Instead, we’ll just point out that with one game left in the Fall Season, the Cosmos, a team that has known nothing but success in their short history, are just a single point ahead of Indy Eleven, a team already synonymous with futility. If it weren’t for New York’s tremendous Spring Season effort, the defending champs wouldn’t be getting a second chance at another Soccer Bowl.
#7. Indy Eleven (6-12-8, 26 points, No Change)
The hottest team in the NASL right now is Indy Eleven. Yep, Indy Eleven.
The league attendance darlings have finally found success in the one place that has eluded them so far: on the field. With two incredible wins (and shutouts) against Minnesota and San Antonio to close out their remarkable home season, the Eleven took their traveling wrecking crew on the road to Ottawa and compellingly beat their expansion buddies for the first time in their history.
That’s three wins in three games, and with the Eleven’s season finale being played against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, there is a serious likelihood that Indy finish with a remarkable four game winning streak. If that occurs, the Eleven could place as high as fifth place in the Fall Season and as high as seventh in the overall table.
What a world we live in.
#8. Ottawa Fury (7-14-5, 26 points, No Change)
Sports is littered with cliches about winning. One of our favorites is “good teams find a way to win”, which is used in the context of a favorite undeservedly winning against an underdog. It applies to basically all of Minnesota United’s games against the Fury this year.
In fact, the Fury have waged a yearlong campaign to legitimize that statement. How else to explain a team with a fairly decent -4 differential that sits a full 13 points behind a team (FTL) just three goals better? No team has been more gallant in defeat, more often than Ottawa. Unfortunately for them, that hasn’t really done them much good. The Fury are well out of the playoff picture, and tooling around the bottom of the league.
In the final week, Ottawa will travel to Florida to play the Strikers in a match that should, on paper, be well matched. But just as they did in their two previous meetings this season, the odds are that the Strikers will find a way to win. Or should we say, the Fury will find a way to lose?
#9. Tampa Bay Rowdies (7-11-8, 29 points, No Change)
The Rowdies actually mustered a fairly impressive result this past weekend, earning a draw against the Cosmos thanks to Evans Frimpong’s two interventions and some comically bad goalkeeping from Jimmy Mauer. But placed in context, it’s a rare “bright” spot in a dark dark series of weeks for Tampa.
Big questions will be asked of this Rowdies team in the offseason. For the present, we’ll stick to questions like: how the hell does Matt Pickens get beat here?
#10. Atlanta Silverbacks (6-15-5, 23 points, No Change)
The 0-2 loss to the Carolina RailHawks wasn’t the worst part of the week for Atlanta Silverbacks fans.
On Thursday, the team publicly released a statement confirming that they face an uncertain future as a club. The history of the Atlanta side traces back to 1994, and despite recent mismanagement, it would be sad to seem them go extinct. But the NASL is a league that continues to pretend that the Virginia Calvary and Oklahoma City FC are things that actually exist. If the league is admitting that the Silverbacks may be on the verge of disbanding, chances seem reasonably high that this Sunday’s trip to Edmonton will be team’s final competitive game.
As fans of a team that just two years ago was facing a similar fate, we feel the same gut punch for Atlanta fans. We hope that a future path for the Silverbacks can be found.
Last week’s rankings: October 20, 2014