The Minors: NASL Labor Day Roundup

The NASL is the second-division league in North America, and will expand from eight to 10 teams in 2014. - Courtesy NYCosmos.com

In what promises to be a new recurring feature at Hot Time, correspondent Alex Lott - a/k/a Scrub - catches us up on goings-on in the American second division

Welcome to Hot Time in Old Town's coverage of American soccer's second division! Let those other sites bait casual traffic by saturating their homepages with fan-boy fluff and myopic speculation about the big European leagues. Here at Hot Time, we're dedicated to sharp-witted reporting on the Beautiful Game as it's played in the New World, and that means ensuring our savvy readership is in the know when the legendary club of Pelé and Der Kaiser drops a penalty shootout to a side named for a beloved zoo attraction. No expense was spared in bringing this extensive coverage to your computer screen, football fans!

Each week in this space we will recap the weekend's NASL action with an eye toward stories and personalities that matter to the (recently and unfairly maligned) Fire faithful. There will be talk of goals and results, tables and transactions. We'll even look ahead to upcoming matches. (Sorry, gamblers, despite the Hot Time brain trust's obviously encyclopedic knowledge of the lower divisions, this column will offer no handicapping advice.)

As the site's gracious and long-suffering editor-in-chief can attest [No comment - ed.], this coverage has been a long time coming, so without further ado, let's find out how the boys on the second level of the American pyramid fared over Labor Day weekend.

Our Story So Far....

As the eight active North American Soccer League clubs entered the second month in the fall leg of a split-season schedule, the Carolina RailHawks topped the standings on ten points from three wins and one draw. At the other end of the table, the San Antonio Scorpions hadn't scraped a single point out of four matches. The rest of the league was bunched somewhere in the middle, hoping to find their form over the next ten weeks and set a date with the Spring Champion Atlanta Silverbacks in the 2013 Soccer Bowl. The weekend offered some compelling matchups, featuring league leaders Carolina against the scrappy Fort Lauderdale Strikers and the winless Scorpions facing off with 1-1-2 Minnesota United FC. Here's how things shook out:

Fort Lauderdale Strikers 1 - 0 Carolina RailHawks

Friday night's marquee match between the league's two best sides ended in disappointment for Dan Paladini's old squad at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium. Despite fielding a starting eleven studded with veterans of MLS's Eastern Conference--Julius James, Austin da Luz, and Zach Schilawski--the RailHawks surrendered the game's only goal to Florida Atlantic product Darnell King in the 52nd minute. FC Dallas Homegrown Player and Mexican U-20 World Cup winner Richard Sánchez kept the clean sheet for the Strikers, where he is on loan for the remainder of the 2013 season. Real Salt Lake's Enzo Martinez saw some playing time for his loan club as well, substituting for RailHawks midfielder Tiyi Shipalane with twenty-two minutes of regulation on the clock. (Feel that intestinal bitterness, Fire fans? It's envy that other MLS clubs' youngsters on loan are actually seeing the field.) The Strikers handed Carolina their first loss of the fall campaign but couldn't vault them in the standings, as the RailHawks maintain a slender one-point lead over Fort Lauderdale in the NASL table.

Atlanta Silverbacks 1 - 1 Tampa Bay Rowdies

On Saturday night in Atlanta two teams that had tied a combined five times in eight total games played to another unsurprising draw in a match that saw a twenty minute lighting delay. The Silverbacks, Champion of the NASL Spring Season and host of the upcoming 2013 Soccer Bowl, took an early lead when Brazilian striker Pedro Mendes finished past Tampa goalkeeper Diego Restrepo in the fourth minute, but stormy weather cleared the field just nine minutes later, killing Atlanta's building momentum. After play resumed, the Silverbacks kept the advantage until centerback Martyn Lancaster handled the ball inside the 18-yard box four minutes into the second half, and Bulgarian attacker Georgi Hristov leveled things from the spot. Former Fire supplemental draft pick Evans Frimpong almost put the Rowdies ahead in the 80th minute, but his shot was saved by a sprawling Joe Nasco. The result keeps Tampa Bay undefeated but leaves both clubs mired in the middle of the standings, separated by one point.

Now that the match recap is out of the way, let's address the questions that Fire fans really want answered:

Q. Did Kellen Gulley play?

A. No.

Q. Did Kellen Gulley make the game-day eighteen?

A. No.

All right, then. On to the next match....

San Antonio Scorpions 2 - 3 Minnesota United FC

This match is a perfect microcosm of 21st-century soccer in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. On one hand, you have a team with a traditionally menacing and regionally appropriate American sports mascot and a logo that wouldn't look out of place on an Arena Football League helmet. On the other hand, you have a club that has cast about for a new identity and settled on a risible imitation of a worldwide European brand, complete with poorly designed faux-continental badge and ill-conceived nickname*. Generic American sports branding versus generic European sports branding. Fittingly, the generic European side won out. Minnesota kept San Antonio in the winless column thanks to a last-ditch Miguel Ibarra cross that Scorpions netminder Patrick Hanningan parried onto the shoulder of onrushing United defender Connor Tobin. The ball ricocheted off Tobin's shoulder and into Hannigan's net for the stoppage-time winner. Former Man in Red Floyd Franks and Impact loanee Calum Mallace started together in the Minnesota midfield, while former Rev Pat Phelan anchored the middle of the park in the Scorpions' 4-3-3. One-time Red Bull Sinša Ubiparipović also dressed for United but didn't see the field.

* Minnesota United FC are supposedly known as The Loons. Seriously.

FC Edmonton 1 - 1 New York Cosmos

There's probably some other allegorical lesson to be taken from a draw between the world's most storied and glamorous second-division side and a Canadian club from a city known for a hockey franchise suffering a two-decade championship drought, but if so, we aren't sure what it is. What we do know is that Edmonton midfielder Chris Nurse scored his third goal in as many matches and 37-year-old Spanish playmaker Marcos Senna scored on a 79th minute free-kick for the Cosmos. We know that former U.S. youth international Danny Szetela and one-time Dynamo left back Hunter Freeman both started for New York. We know that former Nittany Lion goalscorer Corey Hertzog is in Edmonton on loan from the Vancouver Whitecaps. We know that Pelé and Giorgio Chinaglia weren't available for the Cosmos because--despite their attempts to convince the public otherwise--this isn't really that Cosmos franchise. Still, this Cosmos franchise is currently third in the NASL standings with eight points while Edmonton is seventh on the table, ahead of only hapless San Antonio. We also know that Wayne Gretzky wasn't available for Edmonton because this Edmonton definitely isn't that Edmonton, either.

NASL Standings

Team

GP

W

T

L

Points

Carolina RailHawks

5

3

1

1

10

Fort Lauderdale Strikers

5

3

0

2

9

New York Cosmos

5

2

2

1

8

Tampa Bay Rowdies

5

1

4

0

7

Minnesota United FC

5

2

1

2

7

Atlanta Silverbacks

5

1

3

1

6

FC Edmonton

5

1

3

1

6

San Antonio Scorpions

5

0

0

5

0

Upcoming NASL Matches

Saturday, September 7, 2013

  • Atlanta Silverbacks at New York Cosmos (6:00 p.m. CDT)

  • FC Edmonton at Minnesota United (6:00 p.m. CDT)

  • Carolina RailHawks at Tampa Bay Rowdies (6:30 p.m. CDT)

  • San Antonio Scorpions at Fort Lauderdale Strikers (6:30 p.m. CDT)

For your viewing entertainment, all NASL matches are streamed live via Ustream on the league website. No subscription necessary. That way, if Kellen Gulley ever does get on the field for the Silverbacks, you can watch him play without needing to close a half-dozen pop-up advertisements for European pornography sites.


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