Between them, the current league-leading Carolina RailHawks and Atlanta Silverbacks have held top spot in the North American Soccer League standings for seven of the past eight weeks. But hot on their heels when the latest weekend of action kicks off on Saturday are the Tampa Bay Rowdies, jostling for pole position and ultimately the right to host Soccer Bowl 2013 by winning the NASL spring season
The first half of the 2013 campaign has been a closely run contest with six changes in leadership in ten weeks. The RailHawks have sat on top of the pile for half that time since first reaching the summit after Week 3, the Silverbacks twice, and Minnesota United FC, the Rowdies and FC Edmonton once each.
Minnesota sits out this week with the bye and will watch as Atlanta and Carolina both go on the road, to Fort Lauderdale and Edmonton respectively, while Tampa Bay entertains the San Antonio Scorpions. None of the leading group can clinch the Soccer Bowl berth this weekend as the race is set to go down to the wire with four weeks of action remaining.
“Looking at our schedule, we think Saturday is just a must-win game,” said Silverbacks defender Mark Bloom. “We’re entering this game with the same mindset we’ve had all year. We absolutely need to win, and if we continue to believe in each other, we come out just fine.”
For four teams still in the hunt, victory this weekend is essential. The Tampa Bay Rowdies have an eye on top spot, but also have to ensure they avoid defeat in a scenario that will see them ruled out of contention if they lose and both Atlanta and Carolina win.
The Scorpions must themselves win away to a travel-weary Rowdies team coming off a tough U.S. Open Cup loss in Portland. Complicating the issue slightly, a draw would also require an Atlanta loss for San Antonio to stay in contention, while defeat would leave Tim Hankinson’s side needing both Atlanta and Carolina to also lose.
“This match in Tampa is another chance for us to move up the table,” said Hankinson. “We are focused on trying to get three points in all of our remaining matches. We have a couple of new players that can hopefully give us a spark.”
The equation is simple in Edmonton on Sunday, where Colin Miller’s team must beat the RailHawks, a side high on the emotion of reaching the U.S. Open Cup quarter finals in midweek after a 3-1 extra time win against Chivas USA of MLS.
The Fort Lauderdale Strikers must beat the Silverbacks at Lockhart Stadium and then hope that Carolina fails to pick up any points in Canada the following day.
“We need to start turning our focus toward winning these three games to build momentum going into the fall season,” said Strikers coach Darryl Shore. “We have to keep moving forward with our soccer. We are creating more chances, now we just have to be better about finishing them.”
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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|