PRWeek15

NASL Power Ranking – October 20, 2014

As the NASL season comes to its conclusion, three of the four playoff spots have been wrapped up. Minnesota United, the San Antonio Scorpions, and the New York Cosmos will play in for the 2014 Soccer Bowl. United will be the #1 seed. San Antonio and New York will probably play one semi-final in Texas.

The remaining drama focuses on that final playoff spot. Three teams could win it. We might know after this week, or it might come down to the final game. Either way, all eyes will be on Fort Lauderdale and Edmonton. You might not have pegged that match as a must-watch at the beginning of the season, but you’ve gotta love it all the same.

#1. Minnesota United FC (16-3-6,  54 points, No Change)

MinnesotaUnitedFC150

How to judge the Loons’ week?

Two games, four points, and one USMNT cap for Miguel Ibarra. With their home draw against the Cosmos on Saturday, Minnesota clinched the Woosnam Cup. On paper, not so bad.

But on the field, things were a bit mixed. There was the good, (the second half vs Tampa, the suffocating defense vs New York) and the bad (the first half vs Tampa, the missed chances vs New York). Things seemed to even out in a weird way, as United benefited from two debatable refereeing decisions at midweek and were sabotaged by the referee over the weekend.

In all, Minnesota heads into the playoffs with home field throughout and a long unbeaten streak at home. The team played their best ever game against the Cosmos and were extremely unlucky to not take the win. Their point total of 54 is tied for the most ever in the modern NASL. Miguel Ibarra is clearly critical to the team’s attack. Michael Reed may have played his way into a more regular starting/subbing role. Brian Kallman and Juliano Vicentini got their first assists and goal of the year respectively. The Loons didn’t dominate, but it’s been clear all year that they have the quality to grind out results even when not at their best. The disappointment of only netting a point vs New York should be tempered with the confidence of comprehensively beating the Cosmos in just about every aspect of the game.

This week, Minnesota’s “rivals” San Antonio come to down. United have won both meetings this season 2-0 and the Scorpions have faded of late. Lets see if the script changes up North.

#2. San Antonio Scorpions (14-7-4,  46 points, No Change)

SanAntonioScorpions150

For the second time in two weeks, a top team went to Indiana and was upset by a suddenly buoyant Indy Eleven. Last week, it was #1 Minnesota, this week, it was #2 San Antonio. Soccer is a weird, weird sport sometimes.

Like the Loons, San Antonio played pretty well against the Eleven, but they couldn’t turn the run of play into goals either. The Scorpions have had a great season, but they’re limping into the playoffs. They have not won consecutive games since July, and from August onward their record of five wins, five defeats, and two draws really isn’t good enough. Last week, we saw what the Scorpions could do in their 7-0 thrashing of Tampa. This week, we saw what they couldn’t do.

The Scorpions were undefeated in league play in July. That was the month that Rafael Castillo won Player of the Month, and when Billy Forbes was probably the runner up. But as we’ve consistently noted, neither has been as good for San Antonio as they were in the summer, and the Scorpions have waited in vain for someone else to step up. Cesar Elizondo only ever shows flashes, Tomasz Zahorski has done nothing, and Eric Hassli is Eric Hassli.

The Scorpions don’t intimidate anybody in this league. They may win quite a few games, but when they come to town, they never feel unbeatable. They’ve never dropped out of the top two in this ranking only because nobody else has stepped up.

#3. FC Edmonton (9-9-7,  34 points, Up 1)

FCEdmonton150

You can pinpoint the exact moment at which FC Edmonton’s season turned around. Sunday, July 27th. Just about 4:00 PM MDT. 0-0 score between the Montons and visiting Indy Eleven. Stoppage time. A scrum in the box. The ball squirms out to Kléberson. The Brazilian pounces, slotting the ball into the corner. The Edmonton players fall to their knees.

After that shock defeat, in the third week of the NASL Fall Season, Edmonton had just nine points through twelve games (2-7-3) and were last place in the combined NASL standings. We ranked them dead last in our Power Ranking.

Since then, Edmonton have been the second best team in the league, short only to Minnesota United. They have 25 points (7-2-4), and a +7 differential. Their only losses came away at the Loons and at the Scorpions. They won their home fixtures against both teams. Besides Minnesota, there may be no scarier team in the league right now.

It’s astonishing, given this run, that Edmonton may not actually make the playoffs. That’s how terrible their start to the season was. But with their decisive win at Ottawa this past weekend (check out this corner kick), and the stumbles of their rivals, the Montons now improbably control their own destiny. It looks as though it will all come down to this week’s match against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Who would’ve guessed that this game would prove so crucial? Edmonton has won their last two, with a combined score of 5-0. The Strikers are at home. Both teams are fast and predisposed towards the counter-attack. It should be a great game.

#4. Fort Lauderdale Strikers (10-9-6,  36 points, Down 1)

FortLauderdaleStrikers150

While Edmonton took care of business this past weekend, Fort Lauderdale blew a critical chance to all but lock down the final playoff spot. While their draw against Carolina lengthened the RailHawks’ odds considerably, it also opened the door to the surging Montons. Now, as advertised above, the Strikers face a second must-win match in a row against playoff rivals.

For a long time, we’ve pegged the Strikers to be the fourth playoff team, based on the ease of their end of season schedule. But with Edmonton playing so well, we’re not so sure anymore. The Strikers have been one of the most consistent teams in the league, but they lack a certain ruthlessness, and it has really cost them of late. In the last two weeks, they drew Atlanta (thanks to a late own-goal), and then drew Carolina (and were bailed out by a blind referee). Three points from either game would’ve all but secured the final playoff spot. Instead, Fort Lauderdale are still having to fend off their rivals.

The Strikers are a dangerous squad. Their veteran goalkeeper, Kamil Čontofalský has been excellent (as was Ola Nikolov in the Spring). Their attack is spearheaded by three very different players; the speedy Fafà Picault, the technical Martín Núñez, and the artillery captain Mark Anderson. Their coach, Günter Kronsteiner, is the league’s most experienced and perhaps its best. Considering their budget and level of support, it’s remarkable how well they have done. With the new ownership, they should be a huge threat next season. But there is still work to be done this season, and the Strikers must step up to prevent this year from falling out of their grasp.

#5. New York Cosmos (11-6-8,  41 points, No Change)

NewYorkCosmos150

With their squad “the healthiest it has been all season” the Cosmos headed to Minnesota and got thoroughly worked. The green and white never mustered a real threat to their host’s goal. A late Christian Ramirez penalty miss spared them defeat.

At this point, there’s really nothing left to be said about the Cosmos that hasn’t already been said. This is a team that has lost the spark that made them so unbeatable last year (and in the Spring). Whether it’s locker room chemistry, poor play, age, luck, or a combination of all those factors, the Cosmos are just an ordinary team this season. They may still #RallyToRepeat, and few teams will feel confident against this team in the playoffs. But nobody will count themselves out either.

The Cosmos welcome Tampa Bay to Hofstra next week. If there’s any cure for what ails them, it’s probably beating up on the current league whipping boys. Then, on the final week of the season, a free playoff preview against San Antonio.

At least they’ve got Raul?

#6.  Carolina RailHawks (10-11-4,  34 points, No Change)

CarolinaRailhawks150

To their credit, the Carolina RailHawks showed a lot of fight this weekend after going down 0-1 with their season on the line against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. It just wasn’t good enough. Thanks to a bit of class from Nacho Novo, they drew level. But with just a bit more class from others, (Ty Shipalane comes to mind) they could well have gone up a goal.

The final nail in the coffin was hammered in by the referee, who didn’t see a foul in this play.  While it seems as though every NASL team had a complaint about the refereeing this week, Carolina have the best case. With that penalty non-call, the RailHawks playoff hopes are probably done. They are now two points back of Fort Lauderdale and tied with Edmonton in points. But the RailHawks must play Minnesota to end the season, while the Strikers and Montons play each other, then relatively easy opponents at home to end the year. It’s not looking good.

What a weird team the RailHawks are. As Neil Morris wrote this past week:

Anytime the RailHawks appear on the verge of falling out of a possible berth in the NASL’s four-team postseason tournament, the team will reel off two or three unexpected victories to again grab the reins of their destiny. Then, just as promptly, Carolina will squander their reacquired fortunes, placing themselves back on the precipice of heartbreak.

The RailHawks have been as high as third and as low as eighth on these rankings. Only Tampa and Edmonton have swung more violently, but it was mostly one way traffic (pun not intended) for both teams. For the RailHawks, it’s been up and down, up and down, since the beginning.

#7. Indy Eleven (5-12-8,  23 points, Up 1)

IndyEleven150

Indy!

After twelve games winless at home to start their existence, the hapless Eleven have suddenly won twice in a row at home. Even better, both wins have been clean sheets against the two best teams in the league.

Why the hell couldn’t they have done this earlier?

Well, never mind, Indy fans probably won’t want to question the success. In both games, the Eleven didn’t have the run of play, but it didn’t matter. Charlie Rugg, on loan from the LA Galaxy is the team’s newest signing, but he might have earned a statue in Indianapolis after assisting Indy’s winner vs Minnesota and scoring the winner against San Antonio (thanks to Mike Ambersley). Meanwhile, Indy’s porous defense has suddenly firmed up, (possibly thanks to NASL-reject Cory Miller, of all people) and they are now riding a streak of 307 minutes without conceding a goal.

The Eleven have been at the bottom of the NASL standings almost uninterrupted since the start of the year (with one jump early in the Fall where they passed Edmonton, see above), but now they are ahead of Atlanta in the combined table and on their way to a respectable finish in the Fall.

Not a bad way to go out.

#8. Ottawa Fury (7-13-5,  26 points, Down 1)

OttawaFuryFC150

The Fury are a decent team, and we’ve sung their praises in the past, but they too are limping towards the finale. After a heartbreaking loss to New York the past week, they were soundly beaten by Edmonton at home this weekend.

The playoffs are out of reach, and like Indy, this is now about building for the future. The two teams will meet this coming week, a match-up that should be pretty loose and hopefully fun. Last time the Fury defeated the Eleven at home, but this time the Eleven come in with the momentum. In that prior meeting, both teams were in the league basement. This time around, they’re getting off the mat.

Also neat: FIFA has produced a nice video about the perspective of the Fury coaching staff, front office, and players towards their first year. You should give it a watch here!

#9. Tampa Bay Rowdies (7-11-7,  28 points, No Change)

TampaBayRowdies150

The Rowdies have played five games in the past two weeks, and at the worst possible time. Before, Tampa controlled their playoff destiny. Then, the Rowdies were outscored 6-15 during that stretch. Now they are eliminated from playoff contention and have a small chance of placing last in the league.

We’ll see what happens the Tampa during the offseason. The Rowdies are too expensive a team to perform so poorly. There will doubtless be an inquest. Even before their collapse over the past two weeks, the green and gold were struggling. They haven’t won since August and have three points in eight games during that stretch. The team has gaping holes all over the field. Ricky Hill’s seat is surely the hottest in the league, and General Manager Perry Van der Beck will have much to answer for as well. With likely stadium renovations next season, the Rowdies ambitious ownership will demand success next season. Will this season be a blip, similar to how Minnesota struggled last season? Or is it the canary in the coal mine for a larger failure.

#10. Atlanta Silverbacks (6-14-5,  23 points,  No Change)

AtlantaSilverbacks150

The Silverbacks have tied their last two games, which is improvement when you consider that they had lost six straight and not scored in four before that. New Head Coach Alejandro Pombo has had what surely qualifies as a dream start with a team this dire.

It probably won’t last. Atlanta hosts Carolina next, and then they travel to Edmonton. The goal for the Silverbacks will be to just avoid last place in the table. It’s been a long, hard fall from the 2013 Spring Season championship.

Why, oh why did they fire Brian Haynes?


Last week’s rankings: October 13, 2014

Post Game Interviews with Manny Lagos, Nick Rogers and Michael Reed

Minnesota was unable to get the win this week against a very chippy and physical Cosmos team. Even with the draw, Minnesota still was guaranteed to come in first in the Combined Table thanks to a San Antonio lose away to Indy Eleven.

After the game we caught up with Manny Lagos, Nick Rogers and Michael Reed to discuss the game.

Manny Lagos

Manny Lagos spoke of having more goals still to accomplish this season and talking to the team about continuing to play their game instead of getting drawn into the game the Cosmos wanted to play.

Nick Rogers

We asked Nick about what it means to win home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the best signings this season for Minnesota, and if there would be any more extensions announced this fall.

Michael Reed

We spoke to Rocket Reed, a player who has worked hard for Minnesota all season, but hasn’t seen the pitch much. With the 3rd game in 8 days, Vicentini saw the bench while Reed played the holding midfield position for much of the game against the Cosmos. We asked him what changed for him this game and how he stays sharp even when he doesn’t see the pitch every game.

 

Value of a Goal, Week 15 Midweek Edition

Editors Note: Thanks to Steve Lilly (@backtozerouk) for the report! 

Happy Days are Here Again

Last week I asked “where have all our goals gone?” Well, this week,  they are back. Only 6 goals in the five NASL games last week were replaced by 29 in seven this week a huge jump from 1.20 to 4.14 per game.

Fafa Picault is the undoubted star of the week putting in 3 goals over two games moving him up to 2nd in overall goals and value. Tom Heinemann from Ottawa also added to his tally enabling him to climb one place in the table. Also in the top ten Georgi Hristov scored first for Tampa against Minnesota only to see Christian Ramirez put one in either side of half-time to move his season total up to 19 and keep that safety cushion between himself and Fafa.

With Miguel Ibarra on international duty for the US there was a chance he might not survive in 10th place and it was touch and go; San Antonio, who does not currently have a player in the top ten tried their hardest with seven goals including 3 braces against Tampa Bay but they have to be content with Zahorski, Hassli, and Castillo sitting in 11th to 13th.

Name

Club

Goals

Total Value

C. Ramirez

Minnesota

*19

83.53

F. Picault

Fort Lauderdale

*12

46.65

T. Shipalane

Carolina

5

44.50

G. Hristov

Tampa Bay

*8

38.93

T. Heinemann

Ottawa

*6

36.50

Kleberson

Indianapolis

8

34.57

D. Mendes

Minnesota

9

27.73

J. Chavez

Atlanta

7

27.50

S. Guenzatti

New York

4

27.20

M. Ibarra

Minnesota

8

27.10

Fun Stuff

  • Etienne Barbara had a goal value of 78.23 in 2011 for Carolina
  • There still has not been a goal scored in the 2nd and 35th minutes. We only have 18 games left so NASL please work on this!
  • San Antonio’s 7 goal drubbing of the Rowdies was the second largest aggregate win in modern NASL History
  • San Antonio won 8-0 against Carolina in 2012
  • Juliano Vicentini became the 114th goalscorer in the NASL this season with Minnesota’s 3rd against Tampa and the 269th overall
  • At 342 goals to date there is still an outside chance to hit 400 for the season
  • Last week I mentioned Fafa Picault being booked in the 90th and sent off in the 93rd. This week Tom Heinemann was booked in the 94th and sent off in the 95th that is pretty special.
  • Georgi Hristov has now tied Mike Ambersley as the Rowdies leading scorer in the modern NASL with 20
  • There are now 6 players with 20 for one club.
  • There have also been exactly 20 Own Goals
  • Carolina have benefited from 5 of these
  • Christian Ramirez at 19 only needs 1 more goal to tie the 6 players with 20 for one club and the most goals in a single modern NASL season by one player.
  • My money says he is the first to 21 in both before the end of the regular season.

Goals and Value by Club

This is the NASL listed by the team goal value after 24 of the 27 games this season. The top three are in the exact same order they appear in the combined season NASL table.

Club

Goals

Value

MNU

45

167.10

SAS

41

150.08

NYC

35

139.95

OTT

32

126.12

FTL

35

119.68

IND

30

118.83

CAR

33

110.65

TBR

31

108.20

ATL

30

98.77

EDM

30

87.37

NASL History Trivia

The final table for the value of a goal in the 2012 NASL season

Name

Club

Goals

Value

Pablo Campos

San Antonio

20

70.58

A. Herrón

Fort Lauderdale

8

53.50

M. Horth

Atlanta

10

47.00

N. Addlery

Peurto Rico

9

45.00

N. Zimmerman

Carolina

14

35.02

M. Anderson

Fort Lauderdale

11

33.75

Own Goals

CAR 3, EDM 2, TBR & ATL

7

32.67

S. Saiko

Edmonton

7

30.93

D. Antoniuk

Tampa

7

30.70

T. Shipalane

Carolina

7

28.67

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Post Practice Interview with Kevin Venegas

It was great talking with these Kevin Venegas, a player who doesn’t always get the accolades that Miguel Ibarra and Christian Ramirez get but has been an integral part of Minnesota United FC’s success.

We spoke about how his role has changed for Minnesota United FC in the years he’s been with the team, his experience in youth and college soccer playing midfield versus his professional experience as a fullback. Thanks to Kevin Venegas for taking the time to meet with me after practice and for his great responses.

training

Loons Training Report 10-17

Minnesota United returned from a two game road trip to train in the main stadium at National Sports Center on October 17th. The team spent most of the morning in the classroom reviewing video of Wednesday night’s 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies and video preparing for Saturday’s match up with the New York Cosmos.

When they emerged, they had a shorter training session that began with short passing drills to get their heart rates up. The team had a short scrimmage and then worked on set pieces. No iron skillets were present at the training.

You can listen to part of my conversation with Head Coach Manny Lagos on youtube.

Changes from Wednesday

Head Coach Manny Lagos said there would likely be changes from the squad who lined up to face Tampa Bay on Wednesday. That squad saw several significant changes from Lagos’s regular line up, including fullback Kevin Venegas moving forward to midfield, Omar Daley starting in Miguel Ibarra’s position on the left, and Floyd Franks starting the place that Greg Jordan has most recently occupied.

Training finished today with a brief scrimmage that saw Lagos moving back to what has become his regular first eleven with the exception of Michael Reed playing in Juliano’s holding Midfield position.

Facing the Cosmos

Minnesota will be facing a New York Cosmos squad who they have not beaten since Netflix decided to bring back the once-dominant New York franchise back after cancellation. (Note to TV producers, you don’t strike gold twice in the same spot). In 2013 Both matches against the Cosmos ended 1-0. In spring of 2014, Minnesota again fell to the Cosmos 1-0 and finally fought to a 1-1 draw in their fall match-up.

Since the Cosmos will likely be in the NASL Championship that looks remarkably like a play-off, Minnesota will want to make sure they get the monkey off their back before single elimination comes around.

Lagos said that “It’s important for us that we let the Cosmos know that we’re the top of the table” and stressed the need to control the game.

Ibarra Returns

Miguel Ibarra returned from national team duty on Wednesday, catching a flight to rejoin his teammates in time to make the bench (and play 30 minutes) against the Rowdies. Though Jamie Watson posted a photo on twitter indicating otherwise, I can confirm that Ibarra took off his USMNT jacket long enough to train with his Loons teammates.

Manny Lagos and Assistant Coach Carl Craig traveled to Boca Raton, Florida to watch the USMNT and Ibarra play. Lagos said they were excited to watch Ibarra play and said they heard Ibarra’s training stint had gone very well.

Injury Report

While midfielder Juliano Vicentini did not train for the entire session, Lagos said that there were no injury concerns on the team. “We have three games in seven days, we’ve got to be smart about it,” adding that they needed to try to balance focus on the last few games while also looking forward to the Championship (NASL-speak for playoffs).

Pablo Campos continued to train fully with the team and, while it is still unclear if he will see minutes this season, it is a remarkable recovery from his preseason injury to his ACL and MCL.

Image courtesy of Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC Fall Behind, Rally to Defeat Tampa Bay 3-2

When I said that the lineups and match this week might be weird, I never imagined what happened last night. Minnesota United FC has defeated another opponent, and has put themselves further atop the tables.

It’s easy to forget that Minnesota has had a game-in-hand this whole time over top of their largest challengers, the San Antonio Scorpions. They made good on their advantage, and sit 4 points atop the Fall Table, and 7 atop the Combined Table.

First Half

Manny Lagos fielded a slightly modified side, with Brian Kallman starting at Right Back, Venegas moving forward to the Right Wing. Omar Daley played the left, with Aaron Pitchkolan, Floyd Franks, and Juliano Vicentini in the center. Christian Ramirez led the attack, as expected. Van Oekel started in goal.

The match began with Minnesota pressing forward and earning chances. Unfortunately, they were unable to convert, and in the 28th minute some fancy passing led to a Georgi Hristov breakaway that Van Oekel was unable to save. The Rowdies took the lead, 1-0.

Just before the half, however, Brian Kallman took a throw-in for United. The ball ping-longed its way through the box, and Christian Ramirez found it to level the match with his 18th goal of the season (2 more to tie the record). It’s worth noting that Ramirez’s strike was a half-bicycle-kick-half-side-volley monster. That guy soccers well. Err. Footballs. He’s good.

Second Half

United came out of the half loaded for bear, and it didn’t take long for them to take the lead. Just 13 minutes in, Brian Kallman cut towards the goal, found Ramirez at the top of the 6 yard box, and Ramirez fired past keeper Matt Pickens for his 19th of the season (1 more to tie the record).

8 minutes later, Juliano Vicentini decided to break his drought. After another ping-ponging ball through the box found Juliano ready and waiting, and the midfielder fired home his first goal of the season.

With a 2-goal lead, United likely felt sure of their victory. With only stoppage time remaining, Lucky Mkosana’s cross found Casey Townsend with only Van Oekel to beat, and the Rowdie pulled the lead down to 1.

United held the lead through stoppage time and earned the full 3 points on the road. Miguel Ibarra saw his first action in almost two weeks after becoming a National Team Player.

Manny Lagos and company have almost no time to think about their accomplishment (or Batman’s, for that matter). New York comes to town this Saturday, so be watching for the game preview later this evening! Full highlights are below

Recaps:

Tampa Bay

Minnesota

Updated ELO Table, Week 23 Edition

Editor’s note: Thanks again to E.L. for sending us the most recent ELO table. 

While Minnesota continues to lead the league, they can’t lose more games to bottom of the table teams if they still want to be there when the playoffs begin. This was a period when most teams at the top of the rankings consolidated points, while most at the bottom dropped more points. Carolina picked the worst team in the season to drop consecutive games, and now they find themselves on the outside of the playoff chase. Indy’s big win sees them move out of the cellar and within striking distance of Tampa, who got absolutely destroyed by San Antonio.

2014 Season ELO Table

Minnesota United 1090.40
San Antonio 1056.36
NY Cosmos 1029.84
Edmonton 1018.62
Ft. Lauderdale 1010.04
Carolina 986.32
Ottawa 977.40
Tampa Bay 958.34
Indy 11 942.88
Atlanta 929.81

Since 2013 Combined ELO Table

Minnesota United 1083.44
NY Cosmos 1067.74
San Antonio 1043.17
Edmonton 1012.37
Carolina 1000.86
Ft. Lauderdale 988.82
Ottawa 978.27
Tampa Bay 964.12
Indy 11 942.43
Atlanta 918.78
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