By Michael Preston
The calculator came out five minutes into the second half of Sunday’s game between FC Edmonton and the Atlanta Silverbacks. Home striker Michael Cox lofted an overhead kick into the net to open up a three-goal lead and the Eddies looked good value for a fourth goal. That’s when the mathematics of the logjam that is the top of the NASL table began number crunching.
If Colin Miller’s side had been able to breach the visiting goal again and won 4-0, they would have joined the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Minnesota United FC with identical records and mirrored goal difference and goals scored in second place behind leaders the Carolina RailHawks. That’s a stressful moment when you’re trying to separate teams who are all in with a shout of hosting the Soccer Bowl by winning the current spring season.
As it happened, the Eddies could not add to their three goals, so the fourth tiebreaker that also came into play last week was only needed to separate the other two locked teams. Without playing at the weekend, the Rowdies climbed to second place by virtue of a better away goal difference than Minnesota. Edmonton sits fourth, but all three clubs have eight points and Atlanta is hanging onto their shirttails with seven points. And as their rivals from north of the border have shown, Fort Lauderdale and San Antonio can still jump into the pack by stringing a couple of positive results together. It could hardly be closer.
Back in the 80s, Moor Green, the non-league team I followed in England won the Tony Alden Cup Final, a trophy contested by the previous season’s league and cup winners, in a similar vein to the Community Shield winners from the Premier League and FA Cup.
Excited at the Moors winning and lifting the cup at the end of an exciting Tuesday night’s game I wondered who Tony Alden might have been to have a trophy named after him. I soon learned that in 1967, Tony Alden had been playing for my team’s local rivals Highgate United and had died after being struck by lightning during an FA Amateur cup match against Enfield. I also learned that my uncle had been at the game as a spectator and described it as a horrifying moment.
Years later, I interviewed the MVP of the then thriving Arena Football League Damian Harrell for a story and he described the time he was struck by lightning and lived to tell the tale. His position coach, who was rushing off the practice field with his players, was not so lucky as he was struck and killed. Harrell literally took a lightning bolt to the legs and told me how after a spell recovering in hospital, he smelled like a bonfire for several weeks afterwards.
So when the officials called the players off the field at Lockhart Stadium and began a game suspension that lasted 64 minutes because of lightning striking in the area, there we no complaints from me at having to wait more than an hour for play to resume. There were few grumbles from Strikers fans either, the majority of whom sheltered and then returned to see their side hold on to win their first game of the season against unbeaten Minnesota United. It’s much better to be safe than sorry.
Talking of unbeaten teams, since Minnesota relinquished that mark on Saturday, only the league-leading Carolina RailHawks can claim that honor after six weeks of action. This Saturday they travel to Atlanta, where the Silverbacks won their first game and lost the second. But Carolina has drawn twice and has yet to win on the road.
And just for good measure, the Rowdies return to action at Minnesota, pairing the two teams that are barely separable in second spot, while the Strikers and Scorpions – looking to catch up with the pack – meet in San Antonio.
So this season really is too close to call right now.
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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|