Jacksonville Sports Day

NASL Spring Season Championship Race To Be Decided In Final Week

Photo by Carolina RailHawks

The Jacksonville Armada played to a tie and The New York Cosmos left the door open in the North American Soccer League (NASL) Spring Season title race after falling to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in Saturday’s early game, but the clubs chasing them in the standings failed to take advantage of their stumble, leaving the defending champions in a favorable position going into Week 11.

Indy Eleven, Minnesota United, and the Carolina RailHawks all had opportunities to pull closer to the Cosmos, who are idle in the final week of the Spring Season, and put themselves in a position to capture the Spring Season Championship, but Saturday’s results either eliminated them from the race (Minnesota and Carolina) or piled the pressure on for a big result next weekend (Indy Eleven).

With 15 points, the Strikers, Eleven, and Tampa Bay Rowdies all remain in contention and trail the league-leading Cosmos by three points.

Since New York holds the advantage on goal differential (plus-7), which is the first tiebreaker to determine the winner, Indy needs to defeat the Carolina by four goals next Saturday to clinch the Spring Season Championship. For Fort Lauderdale and Tampa Bay, even bigger blowout wins are needed.

Carolina RailHawks 0, Jacksonville Armada FC 0

Jacksonville’s defense stood tall under late pressure and the Armada FC held Carolina to a scoreless draw at WakeMed Soccer Park, ending the RailHawks chances of finishing in first place in the Spring Season.

After a lengthy delay to the start of the match because of lightning in the Cary, N.C., area, Carolina (4-2-3, 14) nearly jumped in front before a quarter-hour of the game had elapsed when Billy Schuler’s header from a corner kick was swatted clear by Jacksonville goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo.

Carolina came close in the 89th minute when the substitute Jonathon Orlando dribbled to the end line and crossed to an open Austin da Luz. The right-footed shot by da Luz was smothered by Gallardo.

With the draw, Jacksonville (1-3-5, 6) set a Modern Era league record by failing to win on the road for the 20th consecutive game spread over two Spring Seasons and one Fall Season.

Fort Lauderdale Strikers 2, New York Cosmos 1

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers sent New York to their fourth loss in five road games, topping their old NASL rivals, 2-1, and ending their hopes of clinching the Spring Season title at Lockhart Stadium on Saturday night.

The Strikers (4W-3D-2L, 15 points) took a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute when Jose Angulo planted a header into the back of the New York net from a corner kick. Coincidentally, it was Angulo’s hard left-footed shot that forced a Jimmy Maurer save and a Carlos Mendes clearance for the corner, which was flicked on by Dalton to a determined Angulo.

Geison Moura scored what proved to be the game-winning goal, in the 74th minute, finding the net for the first time this year with a shot that rolled past Maurer. Moura took a pass from U.S. youth international Luis Felipe Fernandes and put his shot through the legs of defender Carlos Mendes.

The Cosmos (6-0-4, 18) pulled one back in second-half injury time when Juan Arango’s free kick from the edge of the penalty area made its way through a clutch of bodies and past Diego Restrepo. Minutes later, substitute midfielder Ruben Bover nearly equalized, but his shot flew just over the crossbar.

The Strikers have not lost since Restrepo took over in goal from Bruno – a string of five games. The win was Fort Lauderdale’s first against New York in the NASL Modern Era; before Saturday, the Strikers last beat the Cosmos on May 4, 1983.

Rayo OKC 1, Minnesota United 0

Richard Menjivar and Tyler Gibson collaborated on the game’s only goal as Rayo OKC defeated Minnesota United, 1-0, dashing the Loons’ hopes for the Spring Season title.

In the first half, neither team caused the other goalkeeper much concern, though a Minnesota (4-2-3, 13) cross from Danny Cruz bounced dangerously near the goal line. Both Menjivar and U.S. international Robbie Findley had open looks at goal for Rayo OKC, but they couldn’t convert.

Menjivar continued to have a positive influence on the Rayo OKC (3-2-4, 11) attack, which led directly to the eventual game-winner in the 70th minute. With the ball on the left side of the penalty area, Menjivar wheeled and hit a cross to the unmarked Tyler Gibson on the other side of the area. Gibson’s first-time shot from about 10 yards out skipped inside the far post. The result held for Rayo OKC’s first ever home win.

Miami FC 0, Indy Eleven 0

Indy remained the NASL’s only unbeaten team, but the Eleven squandered a golden opportunity to take over sole possession of second place after a 0-0 draw against Miami FC at Ocean Bank Field on Saturday night.

A victory would have put Indy (3-6-0, 15) on 17 points with one match to play – next week against Carolina – and only one point behind the first-place Cosmos who have completed their Spring Season schedule. Miami FC (1-4-4, 7) is now unbeaten in its last three games.

Tampa Bay Rowdies 2, Ottawa Fury FC 1

Georgi Hristov scored goals in each half as Tampa Bay stayed alive in the Spring Season title race with a 2-1 victory over Ottawa at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night.

Hristov scored for a second straight game, using a skillful chip in the game’s 20th minute to beat Ottawa goalkeeper Romuald Peiser, finding the side netting to give Tampa Bay (4-3-2, 15) the early lead. The play was started by Michael Nanchoff’s throw-in from the near side that went to Kalif Alhassan, who slid a pass to Hristov.

Fury FC (2-2-5, 8) tied the score four minutes into the second half on a goal by Carl Haworth, but the deadlock did not last long. English veteran Joe Cole put a perfect lead pass into the path of a streaking Hristov, who scored his second of the game in the 52nd minute.

Ottawa now heads to Vancouver to take on Whitecaps FC of MLS in the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship on Wednesday. Fury FC won the first leg, 2-0, and would face the winner of the Toronto-Montreal series should they advance to the final round.

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