By Michael Preston
Playing away from home is generally frowned upon, but it has its benefits.
But we’re not talking mistresses and an illicit hotel rendezvous here. We’re talking about taking the game to the opposition when on any given weekend in the North American Soccer League its your turn to go on the road and play away from home with a purpose.
Minnesota United found themselves atop the NASL standings on Saturday night despite sharing an identical record with opponent Carolina RailHawks, who had just forced a 2-2 draw at the Metrodome. The fourth tiebreaker that gave United the edge, after goal difference, goals scored and head-to-head were measured identically, was goal difference from games played away from home. Minnesota won 3-2 in Atlanta on April 27 on the team’s solitary venture away from the North Star State, earning a plus-one in the category. Carolina, by contrast has drawn twice away from WakeMed Park, so is edged out of pole position by that solitary goal. The fifth tiebreaker is away goals scored, which also sees Minnesota hold an edge.
Rewarding NASL teams for being bold on the road is a great for fans, particularly those who travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to cheer for their team. There’s nothing worse than forking out on travel costs, hotel rooms, and of course game tickets, only to discover that your team is playing a lumbering solitary forward up front in a 4-5-1 formation. Fans of Scotland’s national team have traveled overseas to watch their team play without even a single a recognized striker in the name of defending stoutly and hoping a swift counter attack creates a goal. The chances of bringing home a win are slim and the midfield is packed with the aim of stifling the home team and the game, and launching a smash and grab raid on the break.
By refreshing contrast, NASL teams are rewarded for being adventurous away from home and also for paying attention to defense. This isn’t just a case of going for goal, but recording a favorable goal difference on the road to take a hold on that fourth tiebreaker that could prove decisive come the race for Soccer Bowl 2013.
In all likelihood, goal difference and goals scored will prove sufficient to separate the teams at the top, but right now, close to the midpoint of the Spring Season, we’re having to delve deeper to determine an outright leader.
Other leagues around the world champion fair play, fewest numbers of cards received and even a playoff as tiebreakers, but surely rewarding playing positively away from home is more progressive and exciting.
The benefits already seem to be apparent to NASL teams when they travel with 19 away goals scored compared to 22 by home teams, a number you expect to be larger, but larger by a margin greater than three goals.
The Atlanta Silverbacks have a scored a league-high six goals in two games on the road, so watch out FC Edmonton when Brian Haynes brings his side to Clarke Stadium this weekend.
Talking of the Eddies, they remained within a win of the top of the table with a credible 1-1 draw at Tampa Bay at the weekend. This Sunday, they will have watched the other four teams in action play out their games on Saturday and while mathematically it is unlikely they will move into pole position, they can force a four-way tie for first place if results go their way.
Edmonton needs Fort Lauderdale and San Antonio and to kick-start their season by knocking off first and second placed Minnesota and Carolina respectively, and then to win at home themselves against Atlanta. Of course, United, the RailHawks and Silverbacks all have their own eyes on the prize and were results to fall in their favor, we could see a team emerge with a two or event three-point advantage at the top.
And at the other end of the table, Daryl Shore will be telling his Fort Lauderdale Strikers that if they can benefit from a bye week of rest and upset Minnesota at home on Saturday at Lockhart Stadium and then win away to San Antonio, where the Scorpions are yet to claim a home victory, they too will be back among the pack.
Whichever way you slice and dice it, there’s still all to play for with five weeks played in the 2013 NASL season.
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|New York Cosmos||14||9||4||1||10||31|
|Tampa Bay Rowdies||14||5||5||4||3||20|
|Minnesota United FC||14||6||2||6||2||20|
|Fort Lauderdale Strikers||14||5||3||6||-2||18|
|San Antonio Scorpions||14||3||1||10||-9||10|
|San Antonio Scorpions||12||6||2||4||4||20|
|Tampa Bay Rowdies||12||5||3||4||5||18|
|Minnesota United FC||12||4||2||6||-5||14|
|Fort Lauderdale Strikers||12||2||2||8||-14||8|