By Charles Cuttone
Every week, writers from the popular Soccer News Net online network contribute exclusive content to NASL.com, offering topical commentary on current soccer news and issues, as well as looking back at the history of the game in the United States.
With his two goals against the New York Cosmos on August 17, Carolina RailHawks forward Brian Shriver moved into the lead in the North American Soccer League Golden Boot race, one goal ahead of San Antonio's Hans Denissen, who has 10 goals.
The scoring output is a big step up from previous years for both strikers. Shriver, in two previous NASL seasons, had a total of 11 goals, while Denissen, a native of the Netherlands, scored four goals for the Scorpions last year.
Shriver, who was drafted by FC Dallas of Major League Soccer in 2009, but didn't sign in order to finish his education while rehabbing an injury, says the increase in production this year is largely due to a change in where he is playing.
"I played a lot of different positions in my time in Fort Lauderdale, as well as last year. I played some outside mid, so it's been great for me to actually play forward and it’s been awesome having teammates who have been able to find me good spots. For me it’s just been about keeping my composure and being able to finish when I get the chance."
Shriver said he and RailHawks coach Colin Clarke talked about the move to forward and what would be expected of him.
"We spoke before the season about my positioning, how I feel and where I feel most comfortable on the field", the native of Clearwater, Fla., said. "He gave me the opportunity to play up top. Obviously, him being a former forward he knows that you've got to score to keep your spot. You've got to contribute to the team. So I knew, goals are expected of anyone playing forward. For me I'm thankful for the chance to play forward, and hopefully keep scoring."
Denissen, who is in his second year with the Scorpions after playing in his native Holland, Finland and Cyprus, credits his teammates with his increase in scoring production.
"The team has helped me. I am just there at the right time at the right moment to be putting the ball into the net," said the 29-year-old Denissen. “So all credit goes to my teammates, for helping me to make those goals. I am just the end of the line. I am fortunate to be the one on the scoresheet. The team helps me in making those goals and I help the team in hopefully winning the three points."
Both players are aware of where they are in the Golden Boot race, and they each check on the other games around the league every week, but not to check on individual stats.
"I don’t check per se about the goals," said Shriver, 26. "I look at other games to see how the other teams have done, how the standings look, stuff like that. I am more concerned with how we do as a team and what we are doing week in and week out than the Golden Boot race."
Denissen says he looks at the stats, as well as the results.
"You always look at the other games, right after the game you want to know what the other teams have done, what the results are, and then you always view who the goal scorers are. You look at the stats, obviously," he said.
But for the well-travelled Dutchman, the Golden Boot really doesn't mean AS much, especially after the Scorpions came so close to first place in the first half of the season, just one point behind Soccer Bowl qualifier Atlanta.
“Winning the championship with the team, that would be way more valuable to me than winning the Golden Boot," said Dennison. "It's an individual prize. If you win it, obviously the more goals you score, it will be better to helping the team. If I can give an assist to a teammate, that would be valuable to me as well. It wouldn't matter to me if I win the golden boot or somebody else. That the team wins the championship is most important to me."
Four games into the Fall Season, it would appear that the RailHawks are in better position to take a title than the Scorpions. Carolina, who finished tied on points with San Antonio in the first half at 20, just one behind Atlanta, has moved into first place with 10 points in four games, while the Scorpions are winless in the half, a fact that on Tuesday cost head coach Tim Hankinson his job.
"He did a great job with the team," said Denissen of Hankinson. "We hit an unlucky four-game streak where we started off really strong the first 20 minutes against Tampa Bay going up 3-0 and then end up losing that game, and then three more games by one goal difference. It's tough."
Regardless of where they are now, in the standings and in the scoring race, all championship-caliber teams need a steady goal scorer. It would seem the RailHawks and Scorpions have two of the best in the NASL.
Charles Cuttone is Executive Editor of Soccer News Net, whose web sites include www.bigapplesoccer.com, www.dcsoccernews.com, www.DCSoccerNews.com and www.SunshineSoccerNews.com. Follow him on twitter @ccsports
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